The Compton Organ

The Penistone Cinema Organ Trust

Line drawing of the Compton Organ

The Compton organ

The birthday of a cinema organ is often regarded as the day that it was officially opened. By this premise, job number A400 was born on Saturday, September 4th, 1937. The John Compton Organ Company of London was responsible for       the construction of the new instrument, in total, the Company were to build four almost identical instruments for the new Paramount theatres at Liverpool, Glasgow, Tottenham Court Road in London and the new Paramount theatre, New Street, Birmingham. All four instruments were built to a similar specification, although the Birmingham organ differed slightly from the other three, and it was regarded as one of the finest instruments ever to leave the Compton Factory.

The cinema organ that Compton installed at the Paramount, Birmingham, was a truly remarkable instrument. It boasted not three, as was customary at the time, but four beautiful keyboards, which were covered in the finest quality ivory, specially imported. The Compton was built at Birmingham by E. Betts & R. Turner, who were the principle  installation team for the John Compton Organ Company, although the whole installation was very carefully supervised by organist Henry Croudson, rumour has it, that it was also given the final once over by Mr. John Compton himself.

Each rank, or set or pipes, produces a different tone colour. The Paramount, Birmingham, organ contained ten ranks of pipes. All the pipework was contained in two chambers, or rooms, to the left of the proscenium arch. The upper, or Accompaniment Chamber, housed the two rank Violin Celeste, Gamba, flute, Diapason and the Percussion, or “Toy Counter" effects as they are known. In the lower, or Solo Chamber, was the beautiful wooden Tibia Clausa, the Foundation sound of a cinema organ. It was customary for Compton to manufacture this rank using metal pipes, however, for Birmingham, only the finest quality wooden Tibia would suffice. The Solo Chamber also contained the Krummet, Tuba, Trumpet and Vox Humana ranks, as well as the usual tonal percussions - the Glockenspiel and Xylophone units.

The Compton organs built for the four Paramount Theatres also included either a Solo Cello unit, or the much more usable Melotone device. The Liverpool and Glasgow instruments contained the Solo Cello, the London and Birmingham instruments did not. Instead, these two organs included the electrostatic Melotone units which produced several different electronic sounds that b1ended better with the pipework and was of greater use than the Solo Cello.
On the opening night, the appearance of Al Bollington and the thrilling sound of the "Mammoth Compton Organ" was quite a spectacle. This instrument rose majestically from the depths of the stage and, on reaching the top of the lift, the Console slowly turned to the left to give the audience a better view of the organist’s hands and feet.

The Compton Organ

 It was regarded by many famous cinema organists of the time to be one of the finest examples of a British-built cinema organ. Over the years, there have been many popular and well known organists associated with the instrument, such as Al Bollington, Henry Croudson, Charles Saxby, Jess Yates - (father of TV presenter Paula Yates), Charles Smitton, George Blackmore and Steve Tovey, who was the last full time resident organist at the cinema, Reginald Dixon, the world famous Blackpool Tower organist played this instrument in 1951, when the theatre staged a Royal Command Performance.
Unfortunately, the era of the cinema organ waned in the late 1950s and 60s. Many of the country’s cinema organs were removed and broken down. The famous Paramount Compton’s were no exception. Parts of all four instruments still survive in one form or another. The console of the London instrument is stored in a disused church on the Yorkshire coast, although the rest of the organ was demolished with the theatre. There are parts of the Liverpool organ all over the country, including some in a church, a public house and a private house in Lancashire. Most of the Glasgow, instrument has survived and is located in a private residence in South Wales. It is believed that the ex. Paramount/Odeon, Birmingham Compton is the only one of the four to have survived intact.
For 15 years the Birmingham organ lay disused beneath the stage. It had received an overhaul shortly after the end of the war when it was dismantled and cleaned, the first since the organ's installation in 1937. A further complete renovation took place in 1980, carried out by organ specialist & organist, Ron Curtis, from Bolton. Some of the wind pressures of the organ were altered at this point and the voicing of the wooden Tibia Clausa and Trumpet ranks were altered slightly, to improve the lush richness of the rest of tire instrument. The organ was now over forty years old, and the pedal board had begun to show serious signs of wear and tear. It was therefore a sensible decision to replace all the pedals with new ones made to the specification of the originals.
Over the years, the Compton has had several changes made to it. One of the most noticeable was the removal of the original Tuba rank, replaced by the 1930 vintage Tuba from the Forum Cinema. Birmingham. This change was made because the original Tuba was slightly too powerful for the rest of the instrument. The original Tuba was sold and has been installed on various other instruments over the years. After several years of research, the original Tuba was found in a barn in the Spalding area, where it had been stored since 1997. A price was negotiated with the owner and the original Tuba is currently stored at Penistone, where it will be reinstalled or added to the organ. The Melotone unit was removed in the early 1970s and was donated by Gerald Shaw to the Cinema Organ Society for the attachment to their ex. Tower, West Bromwich Compton.

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