The Hackney Empire

by Robert Moffat January. 04, 2011 1853 views

Designed by Frank Matcham and built in 1901, the Hackney Empire with its electric lights, central heating and in-built projection box was a technological wonder of its time. When the theatre opened it attracted acts from all over the world. Chaplin appeared a number of times and Stan Laurel perfected his act upon its boards. But undoubtedly the most important star to appear was Marie Lloyd, who lived just by the theatre.

Between the wars the Empire hosted burlesque, reviews, plays and concerts as well as variety, and even Louis Armstrong was happy to leave Harlem to appear. In the years following the Second World War, audiences flocked to see artists such as Charlie Chester, Issy Bonn,Tony Hancock and even Liberace.
Then in 1956 it became the first commercial television studios in the country. Programmes such as Take Your Pick and Oh Boy! on which Marty Wilde appeared with Cliff Richard were filmed at the Empire, as was Emergency Ward 10.

In 1963 Mecca purchased the theatre and converted it into a bingo hall.

The Theatre reopened in 1986 and the process of restoration and modernisation began. The immediate focus of attention was to resurrect the 1901 Hackney Empire from a bingo hall and turn it once again into a venue for popular theatre. Many of today's top comedians got their first break on the stage!

In 2001, the Empire's centenary year, Griff Rhys Jones, who led the appeal, was able to announce that after many years of hard work the Empire had raised £15 million to fund the renovation and restoration of the theatre. Work on the original Matcham building was completed and it was reopened in January 2004.

All the public areas have seen improved access , repainting and repairing to ensure Matcham's masterpiece lasts another century and beyond.

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