A short history, 1901-1965

Hippodrome 2002
From a private collection
Hippodrome 2002
From a private collection

Brighton Hippodrome in Middle Street, started life as Brighton Ice-Rink in 1897. In 1901 the building was enlarged and converted into a circus by the architect Frank Matcham and renamed the Hippodrome. The following year the Hippodrome underwent another conversion, this time into a variety theatre, which opened on 22 December 1902.

Wholesome entertainment
Under the management of Thomas Barrasford, the Hippodrome prospered, becoming the Brighton’s principal variety theatre. The policy followed at the Hippodrome was to offer two evening performances of high quality and respectable entertainment at affordable prices. A desire to attract family audiences made respectability and high standards important at the Hippodrome. As the Brighton Herald noted on the opening night “The entire programme was eminently wholesome in tone”.

Famous performers
The Hippodrome played host to many famous performers, including actors, comedians, singers and later, pop stars. Perhaps the most famous was the comedian Max Miller, Brighton’s own ‘Cheeky Chappie’, who regularly performed at the Hippodrome between the 1930s and 1950s. The decline of variety, especially in the years after the Second World War, saw the Hippodrome mount more musicals, concerts and one-off performances by celebrities.

In 1964 pop concerts by both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones played to capacity audiences, but this was not enough to save the Hippodrome as a live performance venue. It closed in 1965, becoming the Mecca Bingo Club in 1967, bringing to an end over one hundred years of music hall and variety theatre in Brighton.

Comments about this page

  • When the Beatles performed in October 1964, they were taken through the garage en route to the venue. So I’m anxious for a photo of the GPO garage in West Street that led out into Middle Street around the 1964 period.

    By David Rowland (18/11/2003)
  • I was in the audience also for the Beatles July and October 1964 – also the Stones. I can still remember Brian Jones’ white vox guitar with a mirror on it which reflected the spotlight back into the audience like a WWII seachlight….awesome or what!

    By David Deacon (15/03/2005)
  • I was a policeman in Brighton at this time. The Hippodrome was on my beat (Number 3 Beat). I remember standing outside the Hippodrome when the Beatles were performing inside. My sons are still fans of the Beatles!

    By John Lovelace (11/04/2006)
  • We have now learned that the Mecca Bingo Club is closing from the 8th August 2006 – what happens to The Hippodrome now?

    By Graham Maskell (30/07/2006)
  • We must not allow developers to destroy it, or turn it into flats or an office block.

    By Mjka Scott (11/08/2006)
  • My dad was working at the Hippodrome in ’64 and got me in to see The Beatles (I think it was the October show). I was only 10, but a fan since ‘Love Me Do’ – couldn’t see or hear much due to continuous screaming and girls jumping up and down, often fainting and St John’s people carting them away. Still one of my best memories though.

    By Griff (22/01/2007)
  • There are strong efforts to re-open it as a live venue and theatre since many productions bypass Brighton due to the lack of a suitable theatre but the Hippodrome has the required space and seating. I’m sure it was bought by a company who owns a number of London venues but nothing has been confirmed at the moment.

    By JT (01/02/2007)
  • The Hippodrome has been sold to the AMG group who own the Carling academy venues in major cities across the UK along with the Shepherds Bush empire in London.
    They plan to turn it into a major live music venue.

    By Richie (19/02/2007)
  • Thank goodness that the Hippodrome is to be saved and not sacrificed to the developers who on a moment of madness would tear it down in the name of so called progress.

    By John Wignall (05/05/2007)
  • Fond memories of the Hippodrome. We used to stand behind
    the stall seating, leaning on a padded wall, so that we would be first at the bar when it opened at the interval. This would be early 50s. Saw Julie Andrews perform with her Mum and Dad.
    Ted and Barbara .

    By John Stenhouse (20/01/2009)
  • As a child, living in Portslade, I remember, with my family, we used to go to the Hippodrome regularly. This was at a time when twice nightly variety was still being offered and I remember that we saw some big names performing there. I can clearly recall Max Miller, Gracie Fields, Jimmy Wheeler, David Ifield, among many others, and even the legendary Librace. The most famous comedy duo, to my mind, ever to appear there were Laurel & Hardy, in the 1950s. Their film career had ended and Bernard Delfont invited them over to England a couple of times to tour the Moss Empires Circuit, of which the Hippodrome was part. I was about 12 at the time of one of the tours but sadly they were one of the attractions that we, for whatever reason, did not go to see. In later years, in the Early 1960’s, I worked backstage at the Hippodrome during two consecutive Summer Shows. Variety was virtually finished by then and these were holiday shows featuring big star names and running for the season.During the two shows, I was delighted to meet Max Bygraves, Russ Conway, Alfred Marks, Eddie Gray and, amongst a number of others, Freddie Mills (Sadly very shortly before his tragic death back in London after one of the shows had finished it’s run). Just to round the story off, one of the old stage hands had been working there for years and I asked if he remembered Laurel and Hardy when they appeared. I am a big fan of the duo and I was keen to learn anything I could from somebody who had actually seen these living legends in the flesh. “Yes” he said, pointing to the wall where I was standing, “The thin one used to spit behind that radiator”. Oh dear!

    By John Upton (23/02/2009)
  • I had the pleasure of a guided tour of the Hippodrome a couple of days ago and I thought that this site which first informed me of the illustrious history of a venue I only knew to be a bingo hall, should share it. The building interior still looks terrific, despite both the venue’s closure and the beginnings of work inside it. I got to see the elephant enclosure and the ramped access into the venue which the elephants took – I just love the idea of bringing elephants into a theatre!
    Work so far consists of scaffolding all the way around the balcony edge from the auditorium floor and the false balcony frontage (and ceiling) inserted over the stage (and effectively through the proscenium arch) has been completely exposed, providing an easy view to the flies – not to say that there are any, but you can see all the structural beams. The English Heritage listing has required a degree of archeological digging to be carried out. In the north corner the brick footings of one of the main columns have been exposed – no concrete here, just a beautiful arrangement of bricks laid deeply on chalk. The (existing flat) auditorium floor has also been exposed revealing the original raked floor – the orchestra pit is almost within reach! But I do have a few concerns…
    Whilst the pedigree of the new owners cannot be doubted, the overall expense of returning this venue to it’s former glory coupled with the need to operate at a profit once it’s open, suggests a much less certain future. This is undoubtedly a money-pit. There is no current work ongoing and I understand that thanks to the credit crunch, the anticipated August start has already gone back to the end of the year. As the new owners will intend to primarily stage rock shows in the venue, current planning permissions require zealous attention to noise reduction – so the current tin roof needs to be replaced and a new, fully-insulated, wall be inserted between the existing theatre and it’s nearest neighbours.  And then a much more fundamental question kicks in. Modern rock shows tour with significantly more equipment than The Beatles and The Stones did back in the Sixties. We’re talking at least a tour bus and a 40′ articulated truck, coming down Ship Street and somehow reversing in… Ship Street? I wish AMG luck in their planned renovations but I fear that the future for the Hippodrome may prove to be more ‘rocky’ than intended.

    By Tim Collins (23/05/2009)
  • Just spent a week in Brighton from my home in Leicester at the UNISON conference and really enjoyed walking the streets (and lanes) looking at the architecture of Brighton and Hove in the evenings. I came back with a list of things to google including the Hippodrome and the Dubarry factory. I really hope these plans come to fruition when the credit crunch is over.

    By John Dewsbury (20/06/2009)
  • I still remember this marvellous theatre when, as a child, my mother took me in October 1954 to see ‘South Pacific’, which from memory had most of the London cast. I remember the splendour of the interior and recognised even then that this place was something special. As a child, I loved the theatre’s posters which were stuck on walls and hoardings all over Brighton. Why is it not possible for the local authority or some enterprising entrepreneur to buy it, restore it and do what has been done in Southampton with the Mayflower Theatre? The City of Brighton & Hove boasts about being a really ‘smart place’ to be. Why can it not have the foresight to rennovate a real treasure and not continue to make the same mistakes it has made with the West Pier and some of its other former impressive centres of entertainment?

    By Peter (09/12/2009)
  • I worked as stage electrician at the Hippodrome and saw many great stars, when Dickey Valentine came the stage door entrance had 200-300 young girls shrieking ‘we want Dickey’. The police and staff were wearing big grins as they understood the connotation. South Pacific had Larry Hagman in the chorus as a marine, they all used to work out every morning to look fit and it was part of their contract to do so. Noelle Gordon (Crossroads later) appeared in Call Me Madam and was upset when the chorus opened the show and instead of singing ‘Mrs Sally Adams requests the pleasure of your company’ they sang Mrs Fanny Adams’

    By Robin Livett (04/04/2010)
  • My Dad (Jim Jeffery) worked backstage at the Hippodrome for many years, both before and after the War, and loved it. He wrote down many of his experiences at the ‘Hip’ and these are kept in our family. In 1954 the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company were at the Hippodrome for (I think) about a fortnight, and he got me some walk-on parts in “The Gondoliers”, “The Mikado” and HMS Pinafore”. It was an exciting experience, at the end of which they asked my Father if I would like to join the Company who would train and educate me – their next stop was New York! Well, I was only 14 and turned the offer down, I didn’t want to leave my family or mates! Perhaps they might have developed my singing voice, because everyone in the vicinity dives for cover when I start warbling.

    By James Jeffery (10/07/2010)
  • According to the 1911 census my Great Grandmother was working at the Hippodrome as a dresser and translator. The dressing bit I can understand, she came from a theatre background herself but I am curious about the translating. I wonder what and who she translated for?

    By Louise (03/08/2010)
  • In 1962 there was a Helen Shapiro concert at the Hippodrome. I was 10 years old and was totally besotted by her and her music, and she was extremely famous at that time. There was a great sense of occasion. I obtained Helen’s autograph and also the autographs of Jean Metcalfe and Cliff Michelmore, who were backstage. Then I came across postcards advertising the concert in the 1990s!

    By Derek Lennard (26/11/2010)
  • My uncle was manager of the Brighton Hippodrome sometime in the late 40’s early 50’s. His name was Henry “Harry” Emerson. He then went on to be manager of the London Paladium, which was under the wing of Moss Empires, until his early death in 1957. I remember as a young boy being taken to the Hippodrome to see the pantomimes and also some of the stars, Laurel & Hardy being one act. I have a signed autograph from them. It would be interesting to know if there might be any past empoloyees who may have known my uncle…?

    By Anonymous (30/11/2010)
  • I saw many memorable stars at the Hippodrome in the early 1960s including The Shadows, Gerryand the Pacemakers, Roy Orbison, Mike Sarne and of course The Beatles in 1963 where I had the last seat in the house. This was a front row in the circle and cost 10/-. One thing that puzzles me slightly is that all the history I have read says the Beatles performed there twice in 1964 but saw them in the Summer of 1963 when they just released “She Love You”. Can anyone explain this discrepancy?

    By David Seaton (20/02/2011)
  • This wonderful building must be preserved. It has such a great history that can not be replaced. All the great stars have appeared there including my favourite, David Whitfield. Please, please get it open to the public again. Brighton needs this venue, and I for one, do not want to see it go the same way as the Sports Stadium and Regent.

    By Vernon Brand (18/04/2011)
  • I remember Harry Emerson and when I got married I asked for an extra Saturday off (without pay) for the wedding followed by a week’s holiday. Times were different then and Mr Emerson asked whether I needed the whole day off or could I get married in the afternoon. I also remember Jim Jeffrey back stage, Tommy the Stage Manager and Harpy Gunn, Jasper Gunn and several more Gunn’s all working in the flies. Stan Young, who I worked with, and I, together with a casual Ted Wingham, rewired the whole Theatre in 3 phase Ac from single phase DC. All done in screwed conduit and VIR single cables. The Sadler’s Well Opera Company, used to have a 2 or 3 week season, and we took out the front 2 rows of the stalls for the 100 strong orchestra. Des O’Connor was called a ‘NEW STYLE COMEDIAN’. The inimitable Wilson, Keppel & Betty who sparked the anecdote when Harold Wilson became PM, Wilson was not the same without Keppel and Betty. We had a secondary lighting system that was gas lighting with Sugg No 1-2-3 silk mantles that I had to get from the Gas Board in Church Street, they all had to be individually lit before each performance and put out afterwards.

    By Robin Livett (08/08/2011)
  • Is there anyone that saw Laurel and Hardy on stage? I am trying to find out what year it was. They came over twice in the 50s, on the bill was a man who made balloon animals, if anybody knows could they leave the year on this page? Thank you.

    By Peter Cooper (29/02/2012)
  • Hi Peter, Stan and Ollie played at the Hippodrome on 07th July 1952 and again on 08th February 1954. Regards, Andy.

    By Andy Grant (01/03/2012)
  • Thank you Andy. The reason I asked was that in July 1952 my auntie and uncle took me to see them on stage. I was so excited and I enjoyed it very much. But the best bit was when the manager came round the audience to get six children to go on stage to get a balloon animal, just after Laurel and Hardy had finished the County Hospital sketch. And while we were waiting in the wings, they both came off stage and started talking to us. It was a dream come true.

    By Peter Cooper (09/03/2012)
  • How many can remember the Hippodrome being used as a cinema after the fire on stage at the Regent cinema?

    By R H Scott-Spencer (12/03/2013)
  • I saw Sammy Davis Jr at the Hippodrome but I can’t remember whether it was before I went to Singapore in the army in 1956 or when I was back between 1959 and 1963. He did the complete show, including impressions, dancing, tricks with guns etc etc. A brilliant concert. There was an American comedian on the bill too as the warm up act. 

    By Tony Hollis (07/02/2015)
  • I can remember seeing Dickie Valentine and the great singer Benjamino Gigli. Also Christmas pantomimes The interior was of red velvet with golden ornamentation. What a shame that Brighton has allowed this wonderful place to virtually cease to exist.

    By Mary Parker (20/11/2019)
  • A message for John Upton: John, did you live in Beecher’s Road in Mile Oak and attend Portslade County School for Boys in the early 1960s?

    By Alan Philips (21/11/2019)
  • Does anybody know what the current state of play is for the stunning building? I used to go to bingo inside with my Nan before it closed and loved sitting in all that history. The last comment where somebody said something was happening with it was 2009 on here? Any ideas who to contact to find out?! Thanks!

    By Victoria Rose Knight (08/01/2020)
  • My Great Grandfather was the resident conductor of the Brighton Hippodrome Orchestra from around 1903. I have just one photograph of him in action, with the audience behind him.

    By Ali (11/01/2020)
  • Spent last weekend in Brighton, and walked past the old place. Very sad to see it just sitting there. Any news of its fate?

    By Kaz Green (11/08/2020)
  • The latest news is that a roof is going to be Constructed over the dome and the roof to stop any further water damage so remedial work can start on the interior This is Fantastic News.

    By M Mountford (03/05/2021)

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