Shining a light on Blackpool’s ABC console

Keyboard king Alan Ashton makes light work of the console in the projection room at Blackpool's new ABC Theatre in 1963
Keyboard king Alan Ashton makes light work of the console in the projection room at Blackpool's new ABC Theatre in 1963
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PEOPLE are pulling out all the stops to save the ABC building - for right or wrong, depending on your point of view.

But if you went to a show when the theatre opened 50 years ago, chances are keyboard maestro Alan Ashton was pulling out all the stops for you.

When the Hippodrome became the ABC Theatre Alan was appointed as co-chief projectionist and lighting engineer.

He recalls: “ABC commissioned a huge lighting console, and unlike most lighting boards of the old theatre type which were usually sited at the corner of the stage, this was to be placed in the actual projection room looking down at the stage.

“The design was based on that of a Compton organ console, but whereas ‘stops’ controlled organ sounds these now selected individual banks lights. The normal ‘manuals or keyboard’ were replaced with miniature dimmers, and the organ sound ‘pre-set’ buttons controlled quick changes of lighting from one scene to another.”

Alan explains: “Normally an organ has a swell pedal to control the overall sound of the instrument.

“On the lighting console, this enabled the operator to slowly dim all the lights by depressing his foot on the pedal.”

But before this bespoke unit could be used it had to be put into place.

Alan says: “This behemoth of a console arrived at the front door in Church Street and was then manhandled by about eight of us through the theatre and up to the back of the circle where it was passed through a gaping hole that was subsequently bricked up.”

Alan worked for ABC at Northamnpton, his home town, Wellingborough, Blackpool and Preston for 15 years as a projectionist. Then he was offered a position as a dubbing theatre projectionist at Granada TV studios, Manchester. He became a freelance broadcaster for the BBC in the 1970s and 80s and now, although retired, broadcasts via the internet at and still writes for numerous organ magazines.

He says: “I have photographs of the lighting console in the projection room and footage of the opening of the ABC can be accessed via the Pathe News web pages, where yours truly can be seen operating the console.

“The relays controlling the lights that were selected at the console, were actually in another room in the roof void over the stage.

“For various technical reasons, this system was a nightmare and was not 100 per cent reliable when it came to selecting the lights you wanted. This kind of lighting system was not new by any means, and a smaller and pioneering version of the ‘light console’ had been installed in the London Palladium many years earlier, and operated by a female.

“My feeling is that unless someone has chopped it up, it will still be in there to this day. I’d love to know if that is the case.”

A phone call to Mike Nordwind, whose family turned the empty building into The Syndicate nightclub 10 years ago, suggests the console is now in a museum, an arrangement brokered by one of the club’s early DJs.

Mike says: “We certainly did not want to destroy the old lighting desk and so it was donated to a museum in London.”

Meanwhile, local stage historian Barry Band is preparing an article about the old Hippodrome/ABC for Memory Lane and needs the help of local rock fans. Barry is trying to establish if Jimi Hendrix really did appear at the ABC. He knows Jimi played at two other local venues. So, if any reader saw Jimi at the ABC, please give Barry a call on (01253) 400908.

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