Tag Archives: theatres

The Queen’s Building in Rhyl… a place of delights for the town for many generations.

Rhyl developed as a tourist resort really, there was very little in the area that became the town before the railway from Chester to Holyhead arrived in 1848. Before that there was the large house called Ty’n Rhyl and a few scattered farms, one of which can still be seen at low tide between Rhyl and Prestatyn, swallowed by the sea.

The town quickly developed as a coastal resort when the railway arrived and there was a massive building programme which included hospitals and sanatoria as well as private schools, of which the town had many.  Other than the railway station, which was further expanded in 1900, the most impressive building was undoubtedly the Queen’s Building.

The Queen’s Building occupied a commanding position at the top of the High Street and faced north onto what was being turned from a beach with sand dunes, into an extensive promenade. The building developed quickly into what we might now describe as a leisure complex. From its opening in1902, it provided a host of facilities to keep both locals and holidaymakers amused.

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Initially the building had a large glass dome in which an exotic zoo was housed and a tower above in allowed visitors an unbroken view towards Snowdonia, Blackpool Tower, and some say the Isle of Man. I can remember a small  but engaging exotic zoo on the second floor of what later became the Queen’s market. The zoo had such exotica as piranha fish and large snakes, all presented in the semi gloom. I remember looking for what I think was a python, only to find that it had moved imperceptibly to within a few inches of me behind which I hoped was unbreakable glass.

Looking down from the balcony, which also housed a fortune teller, one could see the full extent of the Queen’s dance floor, a beautiful sprung floor which rivalled, and some say exceeded the floor at the Blackpool Tower. John Jones in his book Rhyl: the Town and its People (1970)  reckoned the floor could accommodate 2000 couples. Certainly in the war years it was full to bursting with the troops, Canadians in the first war and Americans in the second who were based at Bodelwyddan Camp a few miles away.  My mum and her friends had tales to tell of nylons and sweets readily available there, often in return for a dance. Delly Hagin told me of the excitement of dancing there and the disappointment of choosing a boyfriend for his looks and not his dancing ability, which resulting in her abandoning her dancing stilettoes, and walking home barefoot with her sore feet.

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There was also a theatre which accommodated all the stars of the day from the music hall acts to more modern singers like Cliff Richard. My uncle was lucky enough to meet Laurel and Hardy there and was presented with a  book in recognition of his creative writing.

The first talking picture shown in Rhyl was shown at the Queens Show Boat being followed by The Singing Fool and All quiet on the Western Front. Much of this part of the complex closed as a cinema in 1960.

I have only one memory of one of the two night clubs at the Queens. That was sneaking in whilst still at primary school in 1968 with a friend who crept between my legs to avoid paying. Being tall, I was not questioned about my age, although I doubt they would be happy to have known that two 11 year olds had gained entry. It was the first time I’d heard live music from a local band called the Purple Chapter and we placed ourselves next to the enormous speakers. It was several days before we could hear again.

In latter days the building experienced a rapid decline and only recently has it been purchased for development from the Parker family who have owned it for a number of years.

All the various elements and entertainments mentioned so far are as nothing when compared to the original building, much of which was destroyed by fire in 1906. It was rumoured that the original facilities extended to a large aquarium which was situated, appropriately at the road now called Aquarium Street, where my girlfriend used to live. That is a distance of almost half a mile from the initial Queens building. It was said that the sites were connected by a Venetian style canal with gondolas and gondoliers imported from Venice!

Many people have shown a great interest in what became of these underground canals. Certainly my cousin Gerald, has seen the entrance point to the canal system over fifty years ago when it was in disrepair. My friend, Rhyl Historian Stuart Jones, has become intrigued by the canals and set up a social media group to ‘Save Rhyl Queen’s Building!’ in the hope that some of the building could be restored to its former glory.

There have been documentaries and historians covering the canal system and it is part of the local mythology. The fact that the Parker family were so intent on keeping people out of what might remain of the system on safety grounds, only added to the mystery, with some people saying the system was intact, whilst other claiming that it had been filled with concrete and that there was nothing left to see.

The building is in the process of re-development and probably little of the original building will survive the process.

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Stuart and another local entertainment guru, Karen Woodham, were recently granted access to the building by the developers. Certain parts were off limits due to safety concerns, but here is their report of what they found of the former splendour of the building…

Queens Building Rhyl, a last visit to the building by Karen and Stuart.

 

 

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Rhyl Promenade 1970s… the way we were.

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Came across this video taken by a discerning holidaymaker from the top of the slide at the Ocean Beach fairground.

I reckon, given some of the sites featured that it was taken in the seventies, which to me feel like last week. I was in Rhyl yesterday at the Hub café, just the other side of the river estuary from where this film starts. So much has changed.

A lot of investment has gone into the town, mostly focussed on the promenade, with a refurbished theatre, a new Sun Centre SC2, most places to eat and a number of hotels open, or under development.

The next stage of the development is the town centre and the Savoy Hotel, former home of the Bistro, and the Queen’s Building. The persistent rumour is that there are still gondolas and part of the underground canal that once was rumoured to stretch past Aquarium Street. No doubt the redevelopment will reveal what, if anything is left.

Anyway, enjoy the film and see how many places featured in the film crop up in the Reso book…

Rhyl Promenade 1970s

 

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Nativity Play, Ysgol Emmanuel 1967

 

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The nativity play was a real rite of passage in British primary schools and this one took place in my last year in Ysgol Emmanuel, 1967.

My earliest friends are all on this photo, but I’m struggling to identify them for three reasons, a grainy photo, a grainy memory and the cunning Middle Eastern disguises many of them have adopted.

I was relieved to be picked by Mr Williams to be one of the narrators, as in a previous production on that stage I had played the King of Hearts. My tights split when we had to ‘all fall down‘ in the final scene. Apparently is was felt to be a ‘tour de comic force’ by the audience. It was seen as the most embarrassing moment of a fledgling acting career by me and I determined never to darken the boards again with a theatrical presence. I have not spoken of that event from that day to this.

Then I was given the script …76 foolscap pages (in the age before the reign of the A4 format) from the smelly roneo machine that lurked in Miss Hasting’s office. All the letter o s had been inked in by the machine. I was told that I had to learn all my lines by heart as I would not be allowed to take the script on stage on the nights! He relented in the end and it was some comfort to have the words to refer to.

I am in the top left of the picture in the dark shirt. I was very tall for my age, which tended to enrage many older, yet smaller boys. ‘You think you are dead tall don’t you!’ was the regular preamble to a fight. Well, I say a fight, more accurately it was me getting a punching.

Coming out on to the stage that first night, with several hundred expectant parents gazing upward from an almost black auditorium and a blinding spotlight focused on me, did little to settle my nerves. I had been told to speak loudly and slowly, pausing at every comma to draw breath and to count to three between each sentence. Apparently I had gabbled my way through practises and the dress rehearsals. It seemed such a difficult thing to do, even with the most sympathetic of audiences willing me on. I have struggle to speak coherently and slowly ever since.

And lo, it came to pass…’ were my first words and I remember thinking that we had been told never to start a sentence with ‘and’. I wondered which was correct, the Bible or Mr Williams. I decided on this occasion to follow the Biblical words to the letter… on all other occasions I followed Mr Williams’ grammatical rulings… it made for an easier life.

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A Man called Horace and other Saturday morning Odeon Tales!

I have many happy memories  of the Odeon Cinema on the corner of High Street and Brighton Road.

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Induction into the fantasy of film started early with us. The Odeon Cinema cleverly had a Saturday morning Mickey Mouse Club and for the princely sum of 6d (2.5 pence) you could gain entry into a world of Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton, Harry Langdon and the firework capers of Flash Gordon and his unfeasibly good-looking girlfriend, pitted against the Oriental looking Emperor Ming whose every thought was dastardly!

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There would be cowboy serials featuring Hopalong Cassidy or the Lone Ranger and Tonto.  and more modern films made in the fifties and early sixties that featured childhood stars who would go on to feature as staples in seventies and eighties TV. People like Dennis Waterman and Richard O’Sullivan.

These British Film Institute youth films always involved middle class children from comfortable homes and well off parents discovering spies, whilst flying their radio controlled planes, or spotting bank robbers whilst casually sailing along the estuary in their dinghy. Not the sort of thing that happened on the Reso.

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The short and longer feature films were punctuated by an intermission when the lady with the tray of ice cream would appear and fight her way to the front. The tubs of ice cream were out of reach for me if I was to buy a Beano on the way home to complete my weekend expenditure of my pocket-money, so I settled for the latest fad, the Zoom Lolly which looked a little like Fireball XL-5 and had traffic light colours.

In the intermission, young punters were encouraged to take to the stage and show their talents. Besides the fact I did not have any talents, I wouldn’t be seen dead trying to entertain the assembled masses. Duncan and Andy had no problem with warbling their hearts out though. As they finished there was a second’s amazed silence, followed by rapturous applause. I wish I had the courage!

I had been a Mickey Mouse Club regular for a couple of years when I caught the eye of the management for what seemed the right reasons. Apparently the manager wanted to interview me. My first thought was that I was suspected for some heinous criminal offence, like opening the exit doors nearest the toilets to let our mates in.

It turned out my name had been forwarded to him as a reliable sort of lad for an important mission. Perhaps I had become middle class and a radio controlled plane was on the way, or otherwise there were spies operating in the area? It was none of these escapades, but a position of great responsibility was being thrust on my shoulders, or rather round my rather feeble upper arm.

I was being made a member of the Committee, which I thought might involve both riches and status. It conferred none of these, but merely a command to arrive no later than 9.45 on a Saturday morning, and to don a Perspex badge to be worn on the left arm saying COMMITTEE. When I enquired what the remuneration package for the role was, the manager was taken aghast, saying it was a great honour, a position of responsibility and would be the making of me. He also said that I would get in free on Saturday morning.

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It only occurred to me three weeks after accepting the role, that I now spent Saturday morning walking around the cinema, most usually with my back to the screen, telling people to sit down and stop ruining it for the rest of the audience. Saving sixpence in return for abuse and sore feet seemed little compensation once the swagger of wearing a Perspex badge, like some latter-day one horse town sheriff,  wore off.

Week four was the crunch point. I quickly realised that the secret to this job was to do a cursory tour of the stalls so that the manager saw you and then loiter around the stairwells head up to the balcony where the older children congregated.  Given a little luck, I could drift into the high seats on the left hand side of the auditorium so that my badge would not be visible and settle in for the main feature.  Even better if some of the girls from my school were there we could call it an informal date (you know who you were).

I was, like with Watch With Mother, sitting comfortably and about to begin,  when the Manager caught me. I was taken out to the corridor next to the Projection room, and with the flickering and clicking of the Projector as the backing track, was given a right dressing down. The manager seemed under the impression that he was still fighting the War and used a number of military adjectives to describe my dereliction of duty.  Apparently he knew my dad, and would not relish having to tell him what a towering disappointment his son was to the Odeon Organisation!

He watched me return to the Upper Circle and immediately address a couple of lads with their feet on the seats in front, a common occurrence. Flustered from the altercation and with the crescendo of the film blinding and deafening me, I didn’t realise who I had addressed my ‘Get your feet down, lads!’ to. At that point the film froze and out of the darkness came a terse reply… ‘Or else?’

I’d made the mistake of addressing the Cardno brothers.

If I learnt two things whilst living on the Reso, the first one was the TV jingle about mints which went ‘Never Hurry a Murray!’ the second which came from experience, was “Never hassle a Cardno!’

My badge went back at the end of the shift and in the following weeks I resorted to bunking in from the queue at the Fire Exit, by way of compensation for a near death experience.

As to a Man Called Horace, when we were teenagers, my cousin Tim and I went to see a Richard Harris film about a guy captured by Native Americans who came to appreciate their ways. To prove himself, he went through terrible rituals involving eagle claws and needles and being suspended by ropes by tender parts of the anatomy. Tim had mistakenly thought the film was called A Man Called Horace. We still laugh about it almost fifty years later. A Man called Horse is still a remarkable film.

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Copyright: Alamy, United First Artist Pictures and Odeon Cinemas. Used under Creative Commons Usage.
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Rhyl Regeneration: The Promenade

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Like most seaside resorts, Rhyl has found the regeneration journey a difficult one in the last decades.

For many years, much was talked abut and little achieved. In recent years, a number of initiatives are at last coming together and the pace of change has turned decisively, I hope.

These pictures show the Promenade of Rhyl at night. This was a scene once dominated by the massive ice cream white dome of the Pavilion Theatre, with coloured lights  playing on it as selected for the cover of the Beyond the Reso book.

 
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Now the Promenade is looking spectacular again with coloured lights highlighting all the features from the Foryd Harbour, with the Dragon Bridge all the way through to the Garden of Remembrance in the East End.

 

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The lights are more sophisticated than the illuminations on the characters from Disney that used to stand no more than four foot high on the grassy area near the road in the East End!
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