Webpage created: July 06, 2017.
Webpage updated: July 06, 2017
THEATRES AND CINEMAS IN OLD PLYMOUTH
HOE SUMMER THEATRE
The Hoe Summer Theatre could be said to owe its existence to Mr Gwyther Eastlake Prance, like so many other places of entertainment in Plymouth.
On Saturday June 25th 1921 he resigned from his position with Messrs Fredman and from the following Monday ran an 'al fresco' entertainment at the Bandstand on the Hoe.
This must have been successful because in April the following year, the Council granted him permission to rent a piece of ground for the purpose of holding open-air concerts. The site was to the rear of the National Armada Memorial and to the west of the Meteorological Station and the rent for the period from May 15th to September 30th was to be £100.
When the first show opened at what was known as "Arcadia" on Monday May 22nd 1922 there was 'a canvas covering in case of inclement weather'. Performances were at 3pm and 7.30pm and prices were 3d, 8d and 1s 3d, with reserved seats at 2 shillings each.
Arcadia seems to have lasted only the one season as there were no references to it in 1923.
The Hoe Marquee
The Plymouth Blitz in 1941 destroyed the Theatre Royal in Plymouth, the Grand Theatre in East Stonehouse, and all but the Forum Cinema in Devonport. The New Palace Theatre of Varieties had kept going. During the same period there had been public dances on the Hoe Promenade so perhaps that influenced the decision to erect a stage there for the summer months.
Whatever the reason, in June 1950 a marquee was hired from Messrs R B Tope & Company Ltd at a cost of £70 per week, inclusive of erection, maintenance, dismantling and insurance. It was 180 feet in length and 60 feet wide, and was especially designed for the purpose by Mr George Ryder of Tope's.
It was offered to the Corporation for purchase at £1,500 but they originally declined. The cost of erecting a platform, installing electrical equipment and providing wood/canvas seats was £250. When there was a summer storm, Mr Ryder used to make sure it was secure and he personally carried out any maintenance that was required.
On Sunday June 18th 1950 it opened with a military band concert. During that first season the bands of His Majesty's Grenadier Guards, Welsh Guards and Royal Marines (Plymouth) were booked to appear as well as the Black Dyke Mills Band and the Foden Motor Works Band. It was also used for concert parties, orchestral concerts and plays. Admission during that first season cost sixpence for afternoon concerts, which old age pensioners could enjoy for just threepence. In the evenings there was a choice of the shilling seats at the front or the sixpenny ones at towards the back. As can be seen from the picture below, all the seats were at the same level.
At the end of the season the Corporation took up the option to purchase the marquee for £1,200.
From then on all the army, Royal Marine and Royal Air Force Bands that existed after the Second World War played concerts in the big tent. For example, from Sunday August 1st 1954 until the following Saturday the pipes and dancers of the 1st Battalion, the Gordon Highlanders provided the entertainment. Performances were, as usual, at 3 and 7.15pm. August 2nd was the Bank Holiday Monday so naturally in rained. The following day the sun shone so the Band moved outside and played on the Hoe. The sun went in.
On the Thursday evening there was a Grand Scottish Night, which included piping in the haggis. During the programme the City Entertainments' Manager, Mr Percy Cole, tried to make off with some whisky but was captured by Pipers R Pearce and J Smith, who tied him to the pole that held the marquee up over the centre stage.
The Band of the Welsh Guards appeared the following week.
Permanent Hoe Summer Theatre
By the early 1960s it had been decided to provide a more substantial structure to replace the Hoe Marquee that had served Plymouth audiences as a Hoe Summer Theatre since 1950 and which could be used during the winter months as well. As a result the 600-seater prefabricated Hoe Summer Theatre was erected on the site of the Marquee.
The prefabricated Hoe
The first production was staged on June 8th 1962.
With the chequered life of the New Palace Theatre, which over this period opened and closed a couple of times, the Hoe Summer Theatre became the venue for the local amateur players as well as the professional summer shows. But it could not accommodate an orchestra so in November 1973 the decision was taken to add such a feature at a cost of £1,700. It was in place by the time the pantomime opened at the end of December but had reduced the seating to 545.
As the 1970s passed the lure of television kept people in their homes, especially during the winter evenings, and attendances fell. In September 1979 Councillor Tom Jones even wanted the theatre to be turned into a cafe and in May 1981 the first five rows of seats were taken out, reducing the capacity to about 400.
At a Council meeting on January 11th 1982 the decision was taken to close the Hoe Summer Theatre for good. Mr Peter Millington was the manager at that time. A special show called "The Last Night" was presented on Saturday February 13th 1982. Demolition started on May 18th 1982 and took about six weeks.
Many people who attended the children's talent contests at the Hoe Marquee and the prefabricated Hoe Summer Theatre during the 1950s and early 1960s will remember "Uncle Fred", who used to greet them at the entrance. His real name was Mr Frederick Douglas L Treleaven.
After leaving the Royal Artillery at the end of the Second World War, Mr Treleaven joined the Council's Entertainment's Department and was responsible for the Hoe Marquee. He was a familiar sight trying to entice visitors in to the various shows in the Marquee and later the Hoe Summer Theatre.
In 1963 he was made the deck chair inspector on the Hoe, from which post he retired in May 1974 after 25 years service with the Council.
Mr Frederick Douglas L Treleaven died in January 1993 at the age of 74.