Dudley Hippodrome Theatre

13 Castle Hill,
Dudley, DY1 4QF

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Additional Info

Architects: Archibald Hurley Robinson

Styles: Art Deco

Nearby Theaters

Dudley Hippodrome Theatre

Located in Dudley (formerly in Worcestershire), now the ‘Black Country’ West Midlands, on Castle Hill, close to the entrance of Dudley Zoo and adjacent to the Plaza Cinema(which has its own page on Cinema Treasures).

The Hippodrome Theatre was built on the site of the Opera House, which was destroyed by fire in November 1936 (it has its own page on Cinema Treasures). Benjamin Kennedy employed noted cinema architect Archibald Hurley Robinson (who had designed the adjacent Plaza Cinema), to build a new theatre on the site of the Opera House. The Art Deco style Hippodrome Theatre was opened on 19th December 1938 with Jack Hylton and his Band, plus variety acts. It seated 1,621 in stalls and a steeply raked circle levels, and had a 40ft wide proscenium. There were ten dressing rooms and two chorus rooms which could accommodate 40 people. It was equipped to screen films, but there is currently no record of any films being shown in what was dubbed the ‘Showplace of the West Midlands’, a major touring theatre for variety shows and pantomimes.

Many stars appeared at the Dudley Hippodrome Theatre, including; Flanagan & Allen, the pianist ‘Hutch’, Allan Jones, Chico Marx, Jackie Coogan, Laurel & Hardy, Bob Hope, Vera Lynn, Evelyn Laye, Jack Buchanan, Tommy Handley and George Formby. The theatre presented an annual pantomime which ran for several weeks around Christmas and into the New Year’s with casts that included Harry Secombe, Derek Roy, Tommy Cooper, Eve Boswell, Beryl Reid and Morecombe & Wise. In 1958 the pantomime “Cinderella” starred Shirley Abicair, and this was followed by one night concerts by Chris Barber’s Jazz Band and a sell-out concert by American singer Paul Anka. The Dudley Hippodrome Theatre was closed by the Kennedy family on 14th March 1958.

It was taken over by new operators, and was little used apart from a couple of concerts in 1958 by Eric Delaney and his Band, and Johnny Dankworth and his Band. In 1959 there was a pantomime “Sleeping Beauty” and sell out concerts by Cliff Richard. The building was then closed more often than it was open, and then began presenting a string of strip-tease type shows, with a pantomime at Christmas and evenings of wrestling. The pantomime “Cinderella” starring Reg Dixon was staged at Christmas 1963. The final show at the Hippodrome Theatre was presented by the West Bromwich Operatic Society of Ivor Novello’s “Glamorous Nights, which ended a weeks run on 29th February 1964.

The theatre was taken over in March 1964 by Vic Kendrick and re-opened as The Dudley Hippodrome Casino Club, in use as a bingo club and nightclub. Taken over by Ladbrokes, it became Cesar’s Palace on 15th October 1973 with Tommy Steele performing. Bingo ran in the daytime and the shows began at 10pm. Others stars appearing at this time include; Ken Dodd, The Bachelors, Mike & Bernie Winters and Des O'Conner, Tommy Cooper, Bob Monkhouse, Gene Pitney, Frank Ifield, Frankie Vaughan. Roy Orbison was the final star ever to perform on the Hippodrome Theatre’s stage on 16th August 1974.

It became a full time Gala Bingo Club which closed on 19th September 2009.

The building was purchased by Dudley Council, with plans to demolish the building and replace it with a University campus, in hopes of reviving the area with £25 million Government investment. Local campaigners have fought to save the historic building, however after finalising plans, the Council are determined to demolish the building, claiming it would cost too much to renovate it. The ongoing battle to save the Hippodrome Theatre has featured on regional TV. However, the Hippodrome Theatre has been on the Theatres Trust list of ‘Theatres at Risk’ register for 10-years. Despite the many years of hard work trying to save the building, the Council chiefs have approved demolition of the Hippodrome Theatre in September 2021.

On 24th March 2022, Dudley Council Cabinet members met to discuss its compulsory purchase powers of the Hippodrome theatre and its surrounding sites. The council are determined to demolish the Hippodrome Theatre, with councillors taking legal advice from Tim Mould QC, on the nature of the covenant on the site, which states the building (and its site) is to be used for public entertainment and leisure use. The council wants to enforce the Housing and Planning Act (2013) with the intention to use this mechanism to override the covenant. The proposed plans to override the covenant has been strongly opposed by the family of the Earl of Dudley, who want the Hippodrome Theatre to be restored for Public use. In April 2022 the council agreed to override the covenant. The fight to save the Hippodrome Theatre continued and on 28th June 2023 the Dudley Hippodrome Theatre was placed on the Buildings at Risk Register. Sadly, the interior of the theatre was secretly stripped back and fixtures & fittings were removed. It was prepared for demolition, which began on 3rd August 2023 and is planned to be completed in November 2023.

Contributed by Ken Roe

Recent comments (view all 7 comments)

Robbie25646 on June 19, 2013 at 11:26 am

I can remember going to see pantomimes here as a child in the 1950’s and loving the place.

Mike_Blakemore on December 30, 2014 at 9:09 am

Have loaded the picture of the Archibald Hurley Robinson Theatre. Our Company “The BT Davis Circuit signed contracts to Buy the Kennedy Circuit. but was gasumpt..

Brad_L on August 11, 2021 at 11:15 am

The ongoing battle to save the Hippodrome was highlighted on ITV Central News on 11/08/2021.

Mike_Blakemore on August 12, 2021 at 5:58 pm

It is a shame that the CTA are very quiet and seems not to be interested in Saving this Theatre

70mmbobbyj on June 28, 2023 at 4:54 am

A report on BBC news, The Cinema has been added to the buildings at risk register

Mike_Blakemore on June 29, 2023 at 8:04 am

Well The Earl of Dudley sold that land cheap with that covenant on. So the Council should have to pay the Earl a Massive compensation claim.

70mmbobbyj on August 4, 2023 at 5:21 am

A report on BBC news, the building has been striped internaly and demolition will start soon. clowncil got it’s 30 pieces of silver.

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