The Kingsway Cinema, Kings Heath

Detail from the building plan of ‘The Kingsway’, showing the front of the building [Ref. BBP 36328]
The Kingsway façade as it stands today [Author’s own photograph, March 2019]
The Kingsway Cinema, described as Super-Cinema of its time, stood as landmark on the High Street of Kings Heath village.  The initial planning of the Kingsway was scheduled in 1913, but due to the intervening World War 1, the completion could not take place till 10 years later.  Premiering with Down to the Sea in Ships, on Monday 2nd March 1925, the Kingsway was publicized as a state of the art cinema of the time, providing ‘high-class amusement tastefully presented’, for the rapidly growing district of Kings Heath, described as ‘one of the finest suburbs of England’s second city’.

Opening night listing, The Kings Heath Observer, Monday 2nd March 1925 [Microfilm 18/7]
‘Grand Opening Night’ programme, Monday 2nd March 1925 [Ref. Birmingham Scrapbook Vol.10]
Residents were assured of ‘a cinema of excellence of design, with the architectural design by Horace G. Bradley, who was also credited for many respected Birmingham cinemas, including the Broadway, Coronet and Lozells. Continue reading “The Kingsway Cinema, Kings Heath”

Yo! Ho! Ho! Christmas Again! Oh! No It Isn’t!

Well I hope you can all see where this one is going…..

It’s Panto Season again and a really good opportunity to visit the Theatre Royal Prompt Book series we have here (MS 2899). The Theatre Royal was a venerable institution operating in New Street from 1774 to its final demolition in 1956. The special collection consists of play texts and prompt books dating from mid to late 19th century. The collection was formed by successive theatre managers and finally came to the library in 1935. There is a plethora of pantomime plays in the archive, some familiar, some not so.

Pantomime as a dramatic form dates back to classical theatre, well, doesn’t everything!

Oh, no it doesn’t! Oh, yes it does! …….. ermm, where was I?

The Greek word ‘panto’, meaning ‘all’ and ‘mimos’, meaning ‘imitator’ took on the meaning, first as a group who ‘ imitated all’ with song and music to eventually encompass the event itself. The Greeks and the Romans liked their pantos, lots of tragedy, comedy and sex, a bit like Eastenders if you cut out the comedy.

Pantomime as we know it today is a Christmas pudding mix of lots of different ingredients: the commedia dell’arte tradition from 16th century Italy, along with European and British traditions like 17th century masques, mummers plays from the English folk traditions of the Middle Ages, the giddy larks of the Lord of Misrule from the revels of Saturnalia up to the Tudor fancies of Twelve Days of Christmas when the natural order becomes reversed and, hence, the gender role reversal of ‘slappa my thigh, Dandini!’ becomes a tradition.

By the 19th century, the English traditional pantomime genre was based on European fairy tales and English literature and nursery rhymes, with a fast paced slapstick element of ‘Harlequinade’ thrown in for good measure. The ‘Harlequinade’ was the plot within the plot that featured the lovers, Harlequin and Columbine, chased by Pantaloon, the grumpy potential father –in –law.  No nodding off here please, you have to have your wits about you when watching the show! Continue reading “Yo! Ho! Ho! Christmas Again! Oh! No It Isn’t!”

Behind the Scenes

Part of the Rep archive before being catalogued and packed.
The Birmingham Repertory Theatre archives before being catalogued and packed.

Archives often go on a journey before they get to their destination. This can involve a move to a new building or a change in personnel and the clearing out of an office. Not everything survives and reasons for this include deliberate destruction, an act of war or not knowing that something should be kept. Some of the archives of Birmingham Repertory Theatre have faced these issues on their travels and I thought it would be interesting to look out for any mention of archives in the archives.

They get noted in a report on the future of The Birmingham Repertory Theatre written in November 1960 when it was pointed out that the new Rep building being planned would require storage for material such as theatre archives, photographs, sets of scripts, music, accounts, and reference books.

After the death of its founder Sir Barry Jackson in 1961 The Rep accepted material that had been left by Jackson to the Actors’ Benevolent Fund and his Private Secretary. This included his entire library of theatrical books and drawings by his friend the artist Dame Laura Knight (such as backstage and rehearsal scenes and a portrait of Jackson).

The Repertory Theatre archive after cataloguing and packing, in its new home

By 1964 it was being suggested that the archive should be catalogued by the University of Birmingham’s English Department and in 1967 it was agreed that Jackson’s books be catalogued in the Shakespeare Institute (the material finally got there in 1971). In 1972 one of the Rep’s Directors hoped that the Jackson material currently held at his home could be put into the theatre archives.

The books were still at BirminghamUniversity in 1973 for cataloguing and temporary housing and by this time The Rep was holding photos, prompt books and Laura Knight paintings. The storage of this material at the theatre was discussed again, especially as an archives room had been included in the design of the new building but had subsequently been used for other things. One alternative was to offer material to the City Library or the TheatreMuseum in London.

Continue reading “Behind the Scenes”

The Woman With The Missing Face

Poster promoting the 1934 film ‘As You Like It’, depicting one of the stars Elizabeth Bergner.
Poster promoting the 1934 film ‘As You Like It’, starring Elizabeth Bergner.

Dealing with archives is often like being a detective or putting a jigsaw puzzle together. You have some information or records, but the picture is incomplete and you have to do some research. This was the case recently when one of the conservation team at Archives & Heritage asked that a large film poster that was loose in pieces be put together into some sort of order so it could be packed ready for the move to the new Library of Birmingham building.

View of the Rep posters on the floor of the searchroom from floor 7
View of the Rep posters on the floor of the searchroom from floor 7

This poster was first seen right at the start of the REP100 project which is celebrating the 100th anniversary of Birmingham Repertory Theatre and putting together a website using images and information from The Rep’s archives held at Archives & Heritage. It was used to show the project team examples of The Rep archive material and was put on display in the Archives & Heritage searchroom on the 6th floor of the Central Library. We wondered why the poster was with The Rep material but it was put to one side as other records were catalogued, until the request came to sort it out. The first attempt at putting the poster together where it was housed on the 7th floor failed because there were more pieces than expected and it kept growing larger as it was placed on the floor and we ran out of room. Continue reading “The Woman With The Missing Face”

All The World’s A (Smaller) Stage

Photograph of the company in the Birmingham Repertory Theatre Company production of 'Mary Barnes' by David Edgar, 1978. Ref: MS 2339.
Photograph of the company in the Birmingham Repertory Theatre Company production of ‘Mary Barnes’ by David Edgar, 1978. Ref: MS 2339.

As Birmingham Repertory Theatre moves back into its Broad Street home after its refurbishment it is looking forward to working on its own stage again.

When The Rep first moved into its then new building in 1971 it was able to make use of a much larger stage. But thoughts soon turned to smaller productions as The Rep wanted to continue its founder Sir Barry Jackson’s belief that it should produce experimental work or plays by new writers. This often required a smaller stage and theatre space so in October 1972 The Studio was opened.

Photograph of Judy Dench with James Larkin rehearsing 'Much Ado, 198. Ref: MS 2339.
Photograph of Judy Dench with James Larkin rehearsing ‘Much Ado’ about Nothing, 1988. Ref: MS 2339.

The Rep collections at Birmingham Archives & Heritage help to explain the story of The Studio. It was originally designed and used as a rehearsal room but was sound-proofed so that productions could be held there at the same time as performances on the main stage. It was also equipped with sound, lighting, and seating. The work was completed in the summer of 1972 and the first performance was ‘Grab’, directed by newly appointed Studio Director Christopher Honer and based on improvisations.

The Studio (or Brum Studio as it was sometimes called) also hosted workshops, late night folk evenings and poetry readings. The target audience at first was youngsters and The Rep had already put together two initiatives for younger audiences with its Theatre 67 and Theatre 71 clubs. Continue reading “All The World’s A (Smaller) Stage”

Celebrating Tulips!

Tulip Festival, Cannon Hill Park
The Tulip Festival, Cannon Hill Park, 11 May 1968 [Recreation & Parks / Box 4]
To celebrate the arrival of the spring sunshine I thought I would post this uplifting photograph of the Tulip Festival that was held in Cannon Hill Park, Birmingham. As far as I know the festival was extravagant and successful in the 1960s, reportedly drawing crowds of over 20,000 people. However, the celebrations disappeared in the late 1970s to be replaced with other events.

The festival included stunning floral displays, people in Dutch costume, fair ground attractions, a road train, performances. People may remember the windmill in Cannon Hill Park which was built in the 1950s. There was a windmill which was actually a mock mill, it was created with the co-operation with the Dutch and survived until the 1990s. 

There is not a wealth of information about this festival generally available, although Archives and Heritage hold some really interesting material in numerous collections. For example, relating to the strategic organisation and success of the event, in the Council Minute Books. We also hold newspaper coverage, photographs and we have a DVD converted from a cine-film of festivities in 1962.

One of my favourite quotes I have read relating to the festival is It was a little bit of Holland in the centre of Birmingham’.

Amanda Edwards
Digitisation & Outreach

The Detail’s In The Design – Birmingham Repertory Theatre archives

The Birmingham Repertory Theatre logo designed by Paul Shelving, MS 978
The Birmingham Repertory Theatre logo designed by Paul Shelving, MS 978.

Birmingham Repertory Theatre celebrated its 100th birthday last month and with Heritage Lottery Fund support has produced a website and other activities to commemorate this event. The REP100 project is overseeing this work and one of the tasks is looking at The Rep collections held by Birmingham Archives & Heritage (MS 978 and MS 2339). This is why I have been selecting items for digitisation and also cataloguing unlisted material to reveal in more depth what records exist so they can tell the story of The Rep.

Paul Shelving’s costume design used as the programme cover for ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ (1936), MS 978.
Paul Shelving’s costume design used as the programme cover for ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ (1936), MS 978.

Some of this material is on display at the current exhibition and back stage tour at The Rep’s former building in Station Street (the ‘Old Rep’), and ranges from programmes, photographs and correspondence, to posters, leaflets, scripts, newspaper articles and designs. The set and costume designs are looked at more closely in one of the project themes ‘The Detail’s In The Design’. The Rep’s founder Sir Barry Jackson studied as an architect and also had a talent for design, producing many for early Rep productions. He also managed to attract skilled designers to work for The Rep and one of these was Paul Shelving.

Design for modern dress production of ‘Cymbeline’ (1923), MS 978
Design for modern dress production of ‘Cymbeline’ (1923), MS 978

Shelving started work for The Rep in 1919 and was there until 1961. He was involved in over 200 Rep productions and also worked on over 100 productions at The Malvern Festival, Stratford and London. His designs were integral to many of the Rep’s successes, including modern dress performances of Shakespeare plays such as ‘Cymbeline’ in 1923 and ‘Hamlet’ in 1925. As well as costume and set designs for The Rep, Shelving also designed The Rep’s logo that was used from the late 1920s until the 1970s, the logo for The Malvern Festival, and even a china tea set produced by Royal Worcester in 1934. Continue reading “The Detail’s In The Design – Birmingham Repertory Theatre archives”