Birmingham Hippodrome was built in 1899 when Queen Victoria was still on the throne and has become one of the city’s most famous landmarks helping to make and shape memorable theatre moments for generations of visitors.
The theatre originally opened as The Tower of Varieties and Circus with a bill which included The Wonderful Brothers Clarke, Little Valdo – the Funniest Clown on Earth and Willie Richards – alias Rabbit. In later years it has welcomed some of the biggest stars in showbusiness from Laurel and Hardy to Frank Sinatra, from Shirley Bassey to The Who and has gained a reputation for attracting the West End’s most famous musicals including Les Miserables, The Lion King, Wicked and Miss Saigon.
Birmingham Hippodrome has firmly established itself as the home of Britain’s biggest pantomime, with over 50 years of pantomime tradition. Star names from Les Dawson and Danny La Rue to more modern times with Gok Wan, Julian Clary, Jane McDonald and Blue’s Duncan James have all performed at the theatre.
The theatre’s famous Moorish tower, which dominated Hurst Street, was sadly demolished in the early 1960’s due to safety reasons but for many patrons and those living in the area at the time, it still holds fond memories.
Most recently Brian Conley, one of the theatre’s most popular performers and a great favourite with pantomime audiences, celebrated his 600th performance on the Hippodrome stage – a milestone in the theatre’s rich heritage.
Now, thanks to a £76,700 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund Birmingham Hippodrome has launched its Hippodrome Heritage Project.
Over the next 12-18 months the theatre will be working alongside over 30 volunteers to catalogue and digitise the theatre’s archive, collect oral history interviews with performers, staff and audiences and research fascinating stories from the past.
The volunteers, who will play an important role throughout the project, come from across the Midlands with diverse backgrounds and are aged 18 to over 65. They include Camilla Fisher from Edgbaston who holds 21 years’ experience as BBC Radio 4’s Archivist for The Archers, John Purser from Coventry who has experience in Banking History and Olivia Kimberley, from Stourbridge currently studying A-Level History.
Caroline Davis, Special Projects Manager, Birmingham Hippodrome said “Much of our archive material has been lost or destroyed over time so this project is extremely important to the theatre and surrounding area. The 30 volunteers will work alongside our full-time archivists Jenny Smith and Gwendolen Whitaker on the Hippodrome Heritage Project to help create a digital archive website and touch table installation which will be launched in 2016 and will be available to theatregoers, the local community and schools.
“The team have already unearthed some fascinating stories about the theatre and I am sure there will be many more as the project continues.”
Volunteer Krystyna Curtis, a Visual and Sound Artist from Wolverhampton added: “I am passionate about the arts and fascinated with the past so I’m very excited to have been given the opportunity to volunteer for the Hippodrome’s Heritage Project.
“I am particularly looking forward to being involved with the content and design for the public touch table installation and of course interviewing the many stars that tread the theatre’s famous stage.”
If any member of the public can help the Hippodrome Heritage Project by donating memorabilia or participating in oral history interviews please contact the heritage project team on 0121 689 1085 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Hippodrome Heritage Project is supported by Heritage Lottery Fund, The Mackintosh Foundation, The Oakley Charitable Trust, The Aurelius Charitable Trust, Alan Woodfield Charitable Trust.