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Hackney Empire Collection

History of Hackney Empire

Hackney Empire Theatre was built in 1901. It was designed by theatre architect Frank Matcham (1854-1920). Matchamís design was inspired by Moorish, Gothic and Rococo architectural traditions, and was one of the first all electric theatres in London. Building work began in March 1901, and the theatre opened in December 1901.

The Empire was commissioned by Sir Oswald Stoll as a venue for music hall artists, and attracted performers including Charlie Chaplin, Stan Laurel and Marie Lloyd. In the inter war period, the Empire hosted variety and burlesque acts, reviews, plays and concerts. The growing popularity of television in the 1950s meant that in 1956 the Empire was bought by Associated TeleVision Limited (ATV), and it became a television studio, hosting programmes such as 'Take Your Pick' and 'Oh Boy!' This came to an end in 1963 when Mecca Bingo bought the building and converted it into a bingo hall.

In 1984 Mecca put the building up for sale, in response to the financial costs arising from the Empireís designation as a Grade II* listed building. Cartoon Archetypical Slogan Theatre (CAST), a touring political theatre company founded by Roland Muldoon and his wife Claire, spearheaded a campaign to buy the building. The Empire became a base for CASTís operations, including its New Variety project, with Roland as Theatre Director of the Empire. CAST founded the Hackney Empire Preservation Trust and Hackney New Variety Management Company (now known as Hackney Empire Limited), and focused upon restoring the Empire to its original function as a theatrical venue. Hackney Empire Limited still functions today as the management company in charge of the Empire. On 9 December 1986 the Empire was re-opened, marking the 85th anniversary since its original opening in 1901. The Empire became a centre for alternative comedy, featuring comedians such as Jo Brand, Julian Clary, Steve Coogan, Jeremy Hardy, Paul Merton and Arthur Smith.

The Empire is credited for having 'broke the mould' with its progamming policy attracting non theatre going audiences to its popular theatre shows. From opera to Russian Clowning Drama to Live Concerts. The Theatre pioneered Caribbean Farce, Black Comedies and the 291 show.

The Empire closed for a major refurbishment project in 2001 led by London firm Tim Ronalds Architects. The project was overseen by Roland Muldoon, its completion being marked by a celebration gala held on 14 September 2004. The gala was attended by business entrepreneur Sir Alan Sugar, a key project donor, and comedian Griff Rhys-Jones, one of the leaders of the restoration appeal. In December 2005 Roland Muldoon was succeeded as Chief Executive by Simon Thomsett, who had been General Manager of Hackney Empire Limited since January 1995. Claire Muldoon, Head of Theatre Programming since 1989, relinquished her role at the same time.

The history is based on the following sources:

'Business Plan for Hackney Empire Limited', 1995. http://www.hackneyempire.co.uk/4/about/history-of-the-hackney-empire.html [accessed 20 May 2008]. Please note that a digitised version of this document can be found on the ELTA website.

Scope and Content of the collection

Most of the digitised items are sourced from a deposit of material made to University of East London Archives in 2007. A smaller number of the digitised items are held by Hackney Empire Theatre at its base at Mare Street in Hackney, East London.

Copyright holders

Hackney Empire Limited; Roland Mudoon CAST; Dave Parry; Covent Garden Housing Project (CGHP) Architects; Michael Barclay Partnership LLP; Tim Ronalds Architects; Alison Shakspeare, Shakspeare Services Ltd (was AMS Marketing Services).

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East London Theatre Archive

East London Theatre Archive