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Friends of Alexandra Palace Theatre
Newsletter February 2013
  • Heritage Lottery bid: For Ally, England and St George
  • Open House to new members
  • Ghost of Christmas past
  • Archives
  • Organ transplant
  • Hoxton Hall
Heritage Lottery bid: For Ally, England and St George

Mark April 23 in your diaries. That's the day the Heritage Lottery will announce whether Alexandra Palace has been awarded funding for the first stage of its bid to regenerate the east end of the Palace. After 10 frustrating years, the renovation of the Theatre could be about to happen as part of £20 million-plus project that will also turn the BBC studios into a visitor attraction and learning centre, and refurbish the east Palm Court (the Ice-Rink end) to link together the eastern part of the building and fully integrate it with the rest of the Palace.

The outline plan, developed after consultation with the many stakeholders, including the Friends, the public and heritage specialists, was submitted at the end of November. Much of the derelict space in the east wing will be brought back into use, including new access from the East Palm Court to TV studios A and B, and a reception and learning centre,

The Theatre will take the largest share of the funding to turn it into a multi-purpose space for uses from everything from theatre and music performances to conferences and other commercial activities. The aim is that the theatre will be able to generate the revenues needed to maintain and support the new facilities.

Much of the funding will go into stabilising and making safe the structure, particularly the roof and ceiling. But no big makeover is planned for the decor, to keep the unique atmosphere of the theatre. Front of theatre and backstage facilities will be created in now derelict spaces. The only major structural change will be to the raked floor. A multi-purpose space will require a flat floor.

The next stage, if it gets the go-ahead will be to develop the detailed redevelopment plans. This is expected to take around 18 months, with construction set to take two years, for completion and opening in 2016.

Full plans are on the Alexandra Palace website, together with a computer model of the restored theatre (click "Regeneration" then "Downloads" then "Farrells Masterplan") or use direct link: or . You can also download the Conservation Management Plan from this location.

The Friends committee has decided to postpone the AGM until early May, so that it can take key decisions on how to gear up our activities to support the next stage of the bid. Though it will be one of the biggest ever lottery schemes, all concerned are optimistic of success.

Open House to new members

As in previous years, participation in the national Open House weekend was a great success. with several hundred people turning up to see the Theatre and BBC Studios on September 22 last year. Unfortunately, the auditorium could only be viewed through a Perspex screen, while it remains closed for safety reasons. But many people stayed to listen to a relay of talks about the theatre throughout the day - and to join the Friends. Membership now stands at close to 290 who have subscribed, with a further 30 who have asked us to keep in touch with our newsletter bringing the total to nearly 320. Funds were also raised by the sale of Fred Clarke's Alexandra Place and People, kindly donated by Friends' committee member Colin Richell.

[Photo by Chris Doyle showing the audience at one of the numerous talks given by FAPT Chair, Nigel Willmott during Open House day.]

Ghost of Christmas past

Drama returned to the Theatre for the first time in more than three years, with A Ghost Story of Christmas by Charles Dickens on December 16. The performance of Dickens' classic was played out on the stage by two actors, with both performers and audience on the stage. It marks an important step in keeping the theatre in use. The whole auditorium and the stage were closed for safety reasons in 2009. A new risk assessment has allowed stage to be used again, raising hopes that the Palace might reassess risks and possible solutions for use of the auditorium.

Stephen Middleton was at the show. "After a welcome of glass of mulled wine, we were led around the back corridors and, much to my surprise, onto the stage of the theatre. In fact, the both the performance and the audience, were to be on the stage. This was a two-man show giving a good flavour of the Dickens work. We could look out over the auditorium and imagine the future with a successful lottery bid. It was also most interesting to see some of the stage machinery above our heads. The play itself proceeded at a goodly pace, was witty and much enjoyed by the audience. We came out having passed a very enjoyable afternoon in this historic setting."

[Photos by Stephen Middleton showing the nice, amusingly 'vintage'-style poster, and the performers on stage.]


At the beginning of last year, members of the committee, led by secretary Pat Brearey, started new archival research on the theatre to bring its history to life and hopefully feed into the development of the lottery bid. Many hours spent in the local archives at Bruce Castle Museum, the London Metropolitan Archives and British Library has produced a wealth of new information and leads. Other sources of information on specific areas are now being investigated, such as the Imperial War Museum and The V&A.

The sources are being catalogued on a spreadsheet and include books, booklets, pamphlets, magazines, newspaper articles, plans, minutes, reports, letters, memos, programmes, theatre bills, stage play licences, photographs, paintings, drawings and even sheet music, from the period 1872 to 1985.

Work to assess and validate this information is now beginning under Pat's guidance and will start to be made available in suitable form, hopefully contributing to the understanding of specific periods of the theatre‘s and social history: the Victorian era, the Edwardian era and up to 1914, WWI, 1920s to mid-1930s, the BBC‘s period of tenure and beyond; and in understanding specific themes, such as theatre decor, pantomime, cinema development and peace and conflict. The research has already been used to answer a query from a major museum and to contribute to preparations for a local history talk.

Organ transplant

The theatre foyer has new organ. Some years ago the Friends obtained free of charge a Wurlitzer organ for occasional use in the foyer. As age unfortunately withered it, committee member Colin Richell found a secondhand, fully reconditioned instrument from an organ studios in Suffolk, which he has generously donated to the Friends. It is a more sophisticated organ that can reproduce the sounds of piano, cinema organ, church organ, orchestra and much more. It's also lighter and easier to move to other locations. Ideal for Sunday concerts or small receptions, it only now lacks organists to bring it to life.

Hoxton Hall

It is encouraging to find that recently Hoxton Hall in north London, which is a grade II listed music hall, has beern awarded £1.8 million from the Heritage Lottery fund, and has been described as a rare surviving example of a saloon-style music hall. This follows nearby Wiltons Music Hall, in Aldgate, successfully raising development funds after being threatened with closure. Good omens for our own lottery bid, and projects which we may be able to learn from.

[Photo by KB Thompson at en.wikipedia]

Friends of Alexandra Palace Theatre
Full details of the Friends, including new and renewal memberships, are on our website.

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