History of the Compton


The Penistone Cinema Organ Trust

Line drawing of the Compton Organ

The Paramount, Birmingham

The early days

The Paramount Birmingham


The Paramount Corporation began operating in this country by opening the Plaza, Piccadilly Circus. This cinema had one of the First Wurlitzer organs to be installed in this country and the first one on a rising platform. The plaza was soon designated as the UK headquarters for the Paramount organisation in this country and following the success of the Plaza, Paramount went on to open further cinema theatres in many of the country's largest cities, including London, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, Liverpool and Glasgow.

Opening on 4th September 1937, Birmingham's Paramount Theatre, (known as the "Showcase of England"), was the last of the large Paramount’s to be built in this country. This large and luxurious theatre, boasting 2,750 luxury seats, was built on the site of the old King Edward Grammar School in New Street, Central Birmingham. It is said that in the theatre's basement the remains of the old Grammar School walls and windows can still be seen.
The official opening ceremony began with the National Anthem and then followed several greetings from the stars of the day, shown on the large screen. The 'Paramount Sound News' was shown next which, according to the opening programme, was the 'Eyes and Ears or the World’. A Paramount Technicolour Musical Romance, "Trees" was followed by the ever popular Popeye the Sailor in the cartoon "Morning, Noon and Night Club".

The Paramount, Liverpool

Al Bollington at the console of the Paramount Tottenham Court Road, London

Then came the highlight of the evening as with a mighty roar the console of the mammoth Compton Organ rose out of the stage in the expert hands of Al Bollington, the famous organist from the Plaza and Paramount Theatres in London. The spotlight glistened on its gold paint as the console slowly rotated on the turntable. This whole spectacle overwhelmed the audience. After an interval, the main feature, "The Charge of the Light Brigade" starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Haviland, was shown; however, as the audience left the theatre, the talking point was Al Bollington and the Compton Organ.    The Compton organ continued to thrill Birmingham audiences over the years with its mighty sound and a succession of resident organists followed.

Al Bollington, Charles Saxby and Gerald Shaw played guest weeks at the Paramount in the opening month. The first resident organist was Arthur Raymond, who remained there until the outbreak of World War II when he retired. Harold Eadie was the resident organist in the 1940's. The first post-war organist to be appointed was Leslie Cooper, a pupil of Henry Croudson, who had supervised the installation of the Compton in 1937. Others followed, including Allan Cornell and Charles Smitton from 1950-51. Foley Bates also played at the theatre on several occasions in the late 1950s.

In 1965, the theatre was modernised and drapes were hung over the side walls of the auditorium. This deadened the sound of the organ and also covered the decorative plaster work from view. For a time, the four manual organ console was buried under the stage, when the orchestra pit was covered over by a new stage extension.
The Compton lay disused for 15 years until 1976, when the theatre acquired a new manager. Chris Mott, former manager of the neighbouring Gaumont Cinema, who decided to re-establish the Odeon to its former glory. This new plan included
the reincarnation of the Compton, which was given a new lease of life.

The Odeon Birmingham Console

By the late 1970s, the Odeon was used not just for cinema presentations, but also as a venue for some of the biggest stars in -show business. This was possible because the screen could be lifted clear of the huge stage. Stars such as Shirley Bassey, Frank Sinatra graced the boards, and even Roy Rodgers and his horse, Trigger, once made all -appearance. In 1951 the theatre staged a replica Royal Command Performance in aid of the Cinematograph Trade Benevolent Fund. The famous Blackpool organist, Reginald Dixon appeared at the Compton on this occasion.

Sadly, the use of the Compton was to come to an abrupt end. In the late 1980s, the Rank Organisation, who had bought tile Paramount Theatres, announced that the Odeon, Birmingham was to close for major refurbishment and conversion into a six screen cinema complex. This work would, in effect, cut the organ in half - the Upper chamber being in one cinema and the lower chamber in another. The race was then on to find another home for the Compton. 

The Birmingham Odeon Cinema is still operating and is currently the only city centre cinema still showing films. Other city cinemas were short-lived, and eventually these converted for other uses, such as Bingo halls. For many, the Paramount/Odeon, Birmingham, will never be the same again. The large auditorium, now divided into separate screens is barely recognisable. Gone are the days of  the special concerts and the days of the Mighty Compton which Birmingham audiences had listened to and adored over the years.