The HISTORY OF THE HIPPODROME
Derby Hippodrome - Music Hall and Palace of Varieties, was opened on 20 July 1914 with the opening show 'September Morn' being played to a packed-out auditorium.
The theatre, designed by architects Marshall and Tweedy of Newcastle upon Tyne, was described as "palatial" with an elaborate first floor foyer, comfortable lounges and a dress circle balcony rich in decoration. It had a bioscope (cinema projection) for showing one reel films between stage acts.
The theatre was to produce 1,158 live programmes in two periods from 1914 to 1930 and 1950 to 1959, operating as a cinema in between times.
Over the first 16 years, top class acts filled the theatre, including international stars such as Marie Lloyd, Gracie Fields, George Formby, Max Miller, George Robey and Flanagan and Allen. It was in the Derby Hippodrome that Bud Flanagan composed ‘Underneath the Arches’ during one of his visits; the song is thought to have been inspired by Derby's Friar Gate railway bridge.
Amongst the star studded performances, Operas and Ballets, there were some more bizarre acts such as racing whippets, performing pigeons, crazy cyclists and even aquatic shows - truly something for everyone.
On 15 September 1930, the theatre then converted to a cinema with the first film shown being ‘Sunnyside Up’ starring Janet Gaynor, and it would be for the next twenty years, that the very best British and Hollywood movies could be seen at the Hippodrome.
On 28 October 1950, live theatre was once again restored to the Hippodrome, and under the management of Ray Lane the theatre had some golden days…
In 1952 Al Read filled the theatre to capacity. Frankie Howerd, Frank Randle, Norman Evans, Charlie Chester, Morecambe and Wise and Max Wall all trod the boards. As did Alfred Marks who came directly from the Royal Variety performance, and even Bela Lugosi appeared in his Hollywood role as Dracula. Tommy Cooper starred in 1953, Benny Hill and Shirley Bassey in 1954 and Ken Dodd in 1955. Cliff Richard and Lonnie Donegan performed in Sunday concerts, as did the Hallé Orchestra and the Big Band names of Geraldo, Eric Delaney and Ted Heath.
It was common to see famous stars of the day mingling with the shoppers of Derby, and some local firms took over the whole theatre for staff outings.
During these golden years 10,000 people attended each week to see the acts that were at the very top of British live entertainment.
However, the arrival and growing popularity of TV, meant that people could watch regular screenings of their idols in their own homes, and live entertainment at the Hippodrome died almost overnight in 1956, and the theatre started to close for long summer recesses.
In 1959 the management declared that the theatre was no longer viable and closed after the Christmas pantomime. The theatre remained idle until bought by entertainment company Mecca in 1962 when it was refurbished as a Bingo hall. In 1996 the Hippodrome was given Grade II listing, mainly for the internal decorative plasterwork. Bingo ended in 2006.
The Hippodrome was bought in 2007 by a developer, who, following an Urgent Works Order from Derby City Council to determine the construction of the roof, brought down the roof and a side wall of the auditorium, the roof and the walls of the stage house.