Grand Theatre

Closed in 1955

Text reproduced by kind permission from information sheets in Brighton Museum & Art Gallery

The Grand Theatre, North Road, was opened on the site of Ginnett's Hippodrome Circus. The building had been converted into the Eden Theatre in 1894, and changed its name to the Grand Theatre in 1904. The Grand had a spacious stage (30 feet deep and 32 feet wide or apprx 9 metres by 10 metres) and seats for an audience of 2,000.

Main competition to the Theate Royal
It presented productions of all types, becoming the main competition to the Theatre Royal in the town in the years before the First World War. However it was best known for its melodramas, plays with exciting, action-packed plots involving high adventure and romance. An example of one of these melodramas was In Old Kentucky, which was playing at the theatre in November 1895. The hero had to save the heroine from a burning stable and take part in a horse race with four thoroughbreds. Its climax came when the heroine had to leap across a chasm to save the unconscious hero. She then seized a lit bomb wickedly left by the villain and hurled it away to explode with a terrific roar.

Famous for its pantomimes
The Grand was also famous for its pantomimes, which involved lavish costumes, sets and special effects to thrill the crowds. A scene from Robinson Crusoe, produced in 1905, is described in the following terms 'a fairy grotto under the sea, with stalactites and twining coral, with mysterious hollows, pale green and blue, with shells and seaweed and wondrous marine plants all in the dreamy atmosphere of the kingdom under the sea. This effect of charm is heightened by the introduction of the fairy diving bell. In glittering, shimmering silver streamers it descends, and Robinson takes his place in the bell-shaped opening. Instantly it blazes with light. The bell is framed with fairy lamps. Robinson is the centre of a blazing brilliance, and rises in light...to tumultuous applause'.

Actor manager Andrew Melville
In 1922 Andrew Melville became actor-manager of the Grand, presenting melodramas such as The Reign of Terror, Dracula and Sweeney Todd to pull in the audiences. However, the Grand found it hard to compete with the growing popularity of film, and in January 1931 it was converted into a cinema.

Forced to close in 1955
The Grand Theatre re-opened as a live performance venue in 1941, putting on pantomimes, musicals and variety shows in the late 1940s and early 1950s. However it was forced to close in 1955, this time for good, as audiences dwindled. The building subsequently became a furniture factory, and was destroyed by a fire in 1961. Today Gresham House and the North Road car park occupy the site where it once stood.

Added to the site on 01-02-05
This page was added on 22/03/2006.
Comments about this page
My mum and dad took me to most theatres and picture houses in Brighton but The Grand stands out in my mind. Queuing outside this very grey building, the excitement of what was to come, I must have been only 9 or 10 (circa 1952). We saw Max Miller, Arthur English, Max Wall to name but a few. My Dad always took a pair of opera glasses so he could see better as we sat up in the circle. There were also static nudes on stage at the end of the evening; they were often obscured by a gossamer curtain, not that it meant much to me at that age, is that what my Dad went for?
By John Desborough (06/02/2005)
I seem to remember going to this as a child with my mother and seeing a Jewish comedian but I can't remember his name. Do any lists of performers exist for the 50s?
By Len Williams (08/02/2005)
I too spent many happy hours watching the then star turns, Nervo and Knox (the sand dancers) among many greats. But one of the best turns was the little pipe smoking busker who performed to the queue outside, I wish I could remember his name.
By Ted Ancell (02/03/2005)
I was in a pantomime there about 1948; 'Alladin' starring Alfred Marks and Wee Georgie Wood who really was a horror. He slapped my face on stage one night which was not in the script. It was my only claim to fame - not much is it?! But good to recollect the past.
By Ray Barontini (17/04/2005)
I remember going to the Grand with my mum and brother. There was a cowboy band and trick shot artist on stage called big Bill Cambell. He asked the audience for a coin and my brother threw him a halfpenny. He tossed it in the air and fired his six shooter. After a big bang, he picked it up from the stage and tossed it to my brother. It was bent and damaged and my brother started crying!
By Harry Atkins (20/04/2006)
I think the Jewish comedian referred to by Len Williams was Issy Bonn.
By John Wall (30/08/2006)

I recall going to The Grand several times in the early 1950s. Terry Scott (of 'Carry On' and 'Terry and June' fame) was the star. My sister was in the chorus line, with I believe, a very long-legged girl called Janet Ball. If my memory serves me well, her mother Molly Ball ran a dancing school in Brighton.

By David Eldridge (25/11/2006)

I recall my first visit to the Grand when I was 8 years old in 1924. I saw a show called Alf's Button; when this soldier polished his button on the uniform a genie appeared. The facade of the theatre had a circus horse each side made of stone. A Mr Ginett ran the circus there, he is buried at Woodvale Cemetry.

By Len Brown (18/02/2007)

I am very suprised by the fact that there appear to be no photographs of The Grand. Surely there must be some, somewhere in the archives?

By John Wall (23/07/2007)

My father Albert Rose ran the Grand in the 1940s. I was four when I can remember seeing pantos and shows there. My sister appeared in some of the pantos. There were some wonderful photos which were lost after my father died. I met Alfred Marks, Alma Cogan, Norman Wisdom, to name a few, in those wonderful years.

By Judy Rowland (03/02/2008)

My father Harry Allchin was the general manager of the Grand theatre in the years just after the war. We then lived in Powis Square and every Sunday morning we would walk down to watch the rehearsals for the coming weeks show. Little did we know then that some of the young people appearing would become international mega stars! Petula Clark was a huge favourite of mine when she was just into her teens. Another child only ever appeared with her parents, that of course was Julie Andrews! Monday nights was my turn to see the whole show, we always had a box and sometimes I was allowed to take a friend making me very popular at school. My father always greeted us dressed in his dinner suit, after leaving the Grand he went on to manage the Princes News Theatre in North Street. I have so many happy memories of both venues.

By Rosemary Barlow (13/03/2008)

I remember Norman Wisdom in the circle of the Grand heckling Gerry Desmond's performance. I was unaware that it was all part of his act and was astonished to then see him climb over the balcony, grab a wire and slide onto the stage. No safety net, he just did it.  The funniest episode though was in a pantomime called Dick Turpin where they used two real horses on stage. One did what horses do as a steaming pile on the stage apron and the house was brought down when the thigh slapping principle boy (always a girl) tried to avoid it during a dance number, but couldn't.

By Roy Grant (20/03/2008)

In the late 1940s I remember going to the Grand Theatre with my Uncle John, he worked there in his spare time and he used to take me back stage. I also remember the little ponies when they had the pantomime Cinderella and I was given a toy by one of the cast. I watched the girls putting on their make-up and one year, when they had a production of Jack and the Bean Stalk, Brenda Bruce (the star) fell from the top of the stalk but, like the true star that she was, finished the show. My mother used to do her washing while Brenda was in the show and it was always hanging in our basement drying. She also did the stage washing of Rene Huston and Donald Stewart. I just loved going to the Grand, it was such a magical place to go. Happy days.

By Pamela (24/07/2008)

I remember a show at the Grand sometime in the fifties called 'Tarzan comes to town'. This had all kinds of wild animals in it including an act that used about eight crocodiles/alligators; they seem to be fast asleep as the trainer just seemed to pick them up like toys. Part of this act involved placing a crocodile/alligator on a table at each end of the stage only at the performance I saw one of these creatures fell from the table, the drummer looked like he was about to do the four minute mile as it was only about six feet away from him, however the trainer just picked it up again and emplaced it on the table. This wouldn't be allowed today under health and safety regulations plus the banning of performing animals, it was an exciting show for a nine year old though.

By John Wignall (02/08/2008)

Note for David Eldridge higher up the page:  I was a pupil at the Molly Ball Ballet School and remember Janet Ball well. I believe she was the niece of Molly and went on to work in television. I only met her once when she visited our class one evening but always looked out for her when we saw her advertised to appear on TV.

By Sandra (12/12/2008)

My aunt Ronn'e Conn appeared at the Grand Theatre, Brighton in the early 1940s. Would anyone have a billing of this? I have a wonderful photo of her on stage, the drapes were amazing.

By Maxine (20/12/2008)

Maxine I have put some Grand photos on the site. Can we see your photo please?

By Jennifer Tonks nee Smith (01/01/2009)

Hi Maxine, there are some programmes from the Grand on arthurlloyd.co.uk,dated 1947. Slso Google: "Grand theatre Bighton", click on the Melville Collection in the library, Kent. There you will see a photo of the cast of the Queen of Hearts, it looks very similar to the one on this site.
Small black and white print of the stage of Grand Theatre, Brighton showing the cast of Queen of Hearts in 1929/30 season. Andrew Melville II is amongst the actors on the stage. Also featured are Sam Mayo, Beryl Riggs, Bert Elmore and Tessie O'Shea.

By Maralyn Eden (08/01/2009)

My first claim to show bizz fame came to me at the Grand Theatre, Brighton when I was about eight years old. They were putting on the pantomine of Dick Whittington when volunteers were asked to go on stage and meet Tommy the Cat. Terry Scott was the comedian in this show and all stage fright went as he talked to us like a benevolent uncle and got us to impersonate various characters. Mine was  a spiv trying to sell black market food. After this we sang a song. I don't remember what it was but the experience and the handful of toffees were enough to capture my imagination for the rest of my life.

By John Wignall (18/02/2009)
When my father Albert Rose ran the Grand in the 1940s, I was allowed to watch the pantos and some of the shows. I remember Babes in the Wood, and shouting out at the top of my voice "that's my sister Patsy", much to the amusement of the audience and the horror of my sister. I was only three!
By Judy Rose (09/07/2009)

My Grandmother actress Isabel Norman was on stage at The Grand Theatre in 1930/1. The play was 'Sweeney Todd', which had lots of controversial press at the time. G.mother was for many years in plays and productions. Does anyone have any reviews or information please?

By Maureen Noble (07/09/2010)

This is a message to all ex students of the Molly Ball School of Dancing. I met Miss Ball yesterday, she is now 95 years old and as you might expect, quite well but now living in a retirement home. Miss Ball spoke about the students she remembered and I would love to be able to send her messages from as many of her ex students as possible. I know that she would love to hear from you.

By Ann Norman (Morrison) (24/09/2010)

How amazing to hear that Molly Ball is still with us! My name when she taught me was Davina Coull and that was in the 1954-1964 timeframe. She may remember teaching me Spanish dancing with castanets. I still have photos of myself in those costumes and many others besides. I was also a singer and later turned professional. My parents and I moved to New Zealand in 1964 where we lived for 24 years. I have lived in Australia since 1988 and am now 60 years of age. Gosh - doesn't time fly!

By Davina Rosendale (12/03/2011)

Someone mentioned nudes at the end of a show. I was taken there one evening by my dad, while my mother and brother were away. I think it was 1949 when I was 12 years old. Can't remember the show, but was stunned when the still nudes were displayed, showing the "glorious beauty of the female form". Oh boy, how I blushed in the darkness.

By Brian Hatley (28/04/2011)

My Father took me to the Grand in what must have been its last years. I was quite young. I remember seeing the pianists Ravitz and Landauer and Eddie Calvert playing his golden trumpet. I also remember seeing the static nudes covered by fans in strategic places, which were removed as the lights dimmed. I remember exclaiming, ' I don't think Mummy would like me to see this"!

By Jackie G. (01/05/2011)

I can't believe my eyes! Thank you, Anne Norman, for your entry about Molly Ball. I have wondered so many times over the years if Molly is still with us. How marvelous you are in touch with her. I started in her dance class at the age of 7 (1953), and my name then was Sandra Baldwin. Sad to say I no longer have, and deeply regret, any photos from my ballet days. Nor any photos of my mother's time with Molly either. My mother, Sylvia Baldwin (nee Ransom), knew Molly from earlier years as they were in shows together. That is why later on mum took me to Molly for my lessons. I have searched Molly sometimes to see if I could find contact. Blessing for My B&H web. What wonders are performed here daily by this amazing team of volunteers! I would dearly love to send Molly a card or little letter. If it is apropriate for you to recieve something on my behalf and send, or take, it to her I would love to hear from you please. My email address is as follows; TheMossFairy@cooptel.net Thank you, Anne, for the time you took to track us all. I wonder if you and I know each other too?

By Sandra (02/07/2011)

What a shame the Grand was painted in such a drab grey. I wonder what its original colour was. I remember playing hooky from Hanover Terrace school in about 1953 to see Gypsy Rose Lee the striptease artiste with fan dancing and the obligatory static nudes - naughty boy!

By John Snelling (08/11/2012)

Have just traced that my Aunt and Uncle both performed on the stage, in about 1930 His stage name was The Great Como, an illusionist who used live animals Doves, Chickens and a Pig! My Aunt played the Piano for the Strongman act Samson, real name Alexandra Zass, he used to pick up the Piano with her seated at it with her still playing! I have pictures of The Great Como and the old van he used to go all over the UK in. Samson I think travelled with him.

By Richard Cosstick (23/02/2013)

My memories of The Grand are early 30's. All the comments made of the artists, I saw at the Brighton Hippodrome. In those days the Grand was a Cinema. My Gran used to meet me from school, and we would walk either to the Grand or the Court Cinema. I can remember the ticket price was 3 pence for the Court and 4pence for the Grand. The films were mostly Westerns. Gran always brought me a sandwich and a drink. Maybe someone is still alive who remembers! It was lovely seeing all those great artists, who I had seen, written about. Ruby. 

By Ruby Maynard (17/07/2014)

In about 1950, my first and last performance on a stage was at the Grand. My godmother's husband Tommy Godfrey was the Dame at the pantomime. When it came time for the kids to be pushed on to the stage I was one of the first up there on account that we always got comp' tickets near the front. Anyway, the children were to blow up balloons and the first one to pop their's won. I was only 5 or 6 and did not stand much chance against the bigger kids but that was soon resolved as Tommy took mine and popped it with his finger. I won a turtle which walked when one squeezed a rubber ball attached to a tube. To anyone who was on the stage that night - sorry! I went to many other performances after that until the theatre closed and well remember the nudes, all of which I fell in love with. One, Val, ran the Volunteer pub in Lewes in the '70s. My aunt Dee Davis and Tommy Godfrey  had a comedy act  which featured the song April Showers, where a hose was pushed through the curtain and drenched her. Tommy had a row with Jack Parr who ran theatres in London and got kicked of the tour, ending up in Australia  where he was quite successful. He returned to the UK in the '80s and was in the West end production of "The Crazy Gang", but he got his start at The Grand. 

By Michael Nichols-Marcy (18/06/2016)

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