2nd Dec, 2021

MUSIC MATTERS - Fond memories of Coventry's Forum Theatre

Coventry Editorial 1st Apr, 2021

Coventry Music Museum Curator Pete Chambers BEM writes for the Observer.

ANYONE member The Forum Cinema on Walsgrave Road? If you do, you may even recall the picture house’s organ?

The Forum cinema was located at the corner of Walsgrave Road and Longfellow Road and it opened on November 1, 1934, with the film ‘Blossom Time’ starring Richard Tauber.

It was equipped with a Conacher 3 Manual organ, which was designed by noted organist Reginald Foort.

On November 14, 1940, heavy bombing raids during the Second World War saw the cinema close due to loss of power, but it had survived the blitz and was reopened in December 1940.

It continued to be a cinema until it closed in May 1962 and was demolished in August 1962 and the site became the Forum Bowl.

The organ however was sold to The Northampton Grammar School for Boys, and it is now in the care of the East Midlands Cinema Organ Association.

Paul Bland, secretary of the association, takes up the story.

He said: “Peter Conacher and Co of Huddersfield, long-established organ builders, constructed just nine instruments for cinemas during 1933 to 35.

“Two of them came to Coventry houses owned by the Philpot Circuit, the Plaza and the Forum.

“The Forum opened on November 1, 1934, with Reginald Foort at the organ.

“The console boasted an art-deco wooden surround on a lift in the centre of the pit.

“It was occasionally heard on the BBC’s Midland Console Series – the organ led an uneventful life.

“It suffered water damage in the 1940s when a mains was ruptured during an air raid, but this was later rectified.

Closing on May 26, 1962, The Forum was quickly stripped out for demolition.

“In 1962, plans for the new hall for Northampton Grammar School for Boys allowed for the installation of an organ so the building contained chambers either side of the Proscenium.

“Teaching Physics was Chris King, also an organist, having played in the Granada, Rugby, for Saturday Matinees.

“It was agreed the school would look for a redundant cinema organ.

“Attention moved to Coventry where the Gaumont’s Compton was available.

“The Northamptonians arrived to discover it had just been sold.

“However, they were told the Forum had a Conacher for disposal.

“The cinema was to close in two weeks and the Demolition Contractor had been offered £50 for it by a local scrap dealer. The school’s bid of £100 was accepted.”

Paul added by the early 2000s the decision had been made to demolish the hall and there was no place for the organ.

“In 2006 it was sold and went into storage in Kent.

“In 2017, a young organist and professional organ builder, Carl Heslop, bought what remained of it and formed the East Midlands Cinema Organ Association to restore and maintain the instrument.

“The years had not been kind and the console had suffered serious water damage.

“However, it is now securely housed in the Association’s headquarters in a storage unit just outside Melton Mowbray in a small auditorium seating around 50. “Our intention is to promote public events, along with offering tuition and practise facilities.

“So do you remember the Forum and its organ? Please let us know.”

I’m indebted to Paul Bland, Secretary of the East Midlands Cinema Organ Association (with thanks to Cinema Treasures and the Coventry Society).

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