The Regal Theatre, on the corner of Silver Street (re-named Sterling Way) & Fore Street in the outer north London district of Edmonton, opened on 8th March 1934. A lavish movie and live performance venue, with capacity for 3000 sitting and another 1000 standing, it had a separate restaurant and ballroom. It was one of five megacinemas built in Middlesex between the two World Wars, and was said to have the largest footprint of any film theatre in the world at the time of its construction.
The Regal was fitted with a Christie 4 Manual/15 Ranks theatre organ with an illuminated console, first used in the cinema by Sydney Torch who then became the Regal’s regular organist. Torch had been Assistant Organist at the Regal Cinema, Marble Arch, to Chief Organist, Quentin Maclean. He later went on to become conductor of the RAF Concert Orchestra in WWII. After the War, Torch became a hugely prolific conductor, arranger and composer for the BBC, coming up with the ‘Friday Night Is Music Night’ format in 1953, which continues to be broadcast. Among his vast roster of compositions is the theme to BBC radio’s RAF-oriented comedy series ‘Much Binding In The Marsh’. His recording ‘Off Beat Moods Part 1’ is the theme for the fictitious BBC news programme ‘The World Tonight’, seen on the spaceship Discovery in Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’. Many of his compositions have been used more recently, especially in ‘Sponge Bob Square Pants’.
Torch’s signature tune at the Wurlitzer organ was ‘I’ve Got to Sing a Torch Song’ from ‘Gold Diggers of 1933‘. The sequence where the song was performed by Ginger Rogers was cut before release and it only remains in the film as the “hit” that Dick Powell’s character has been working on for his first Broadway show. The other standout tunes from ‘Gold Diggers’ are ‘Pettin’ in the Park’ (which Busby Berkeley gives an overtly kinky spin) and the knock-out opening number ‘We’re in the Money’, sung by Ginger Rogers and a bevy of showgirls hiding – apparently semi-dressed – behind giant coins. The second biggest box office draw in 1933, ‘Gold Diggers of 1933’ spawned three sequels and a genre of revue-style Busby Berkeley musicals featuring huge numbers of showgirls and their – usually old, rich – suitors. Some of the sequences in ‘Gold Diggers of 1933’ were considered so lewd in the pre-Hays Code era that different versions were shot which, along with two different endings, were sent out to different markets labeled ‘New York City’, ‘the South’, ‘The United Kingdom’. In the Seventies, Chic used ‘Happy Days Are Here Again’, which ended another Pre-Code romantic comedy – ‘Chasing Rainbows’ (1930) – as inspiration for their era-defining disco hit ‘Good Times’. Much like the Ginger Rogers number in the 1933 Busby Berkeley film, the construction of Art Deco cinemas such as the Regal in Edmonton in Britain in the 1930s, and disco itself in the mid-70s, ‘Good Times’ was an effort to pull an economy up by the bootstraps by telling Ol’ Man Depression ‘you are through, you done us wrong’.
On 5th March 1965, the Rolling Stones played the Regal at the start of their eighth British tour, continuing a string of month-long zig-zag bookings across the United Kingdom, performing to increasingly bigger crowds in old Gaumont, Regal and Odeon film theatres, in places like Guildford, Taunton and Doncaster. Beautiful old cinemas from their grandparent’s youth – built to brighten up Depression-era suburbs – were now old-fashioned, falling apart. In 1965, the smart money wasn’t to be made in amiable efforts to tart the place up with a bit of glamour and illuminated theatre organs. It was in Art School-educated bluesmen-poets providing a soundtrack to teenage acts of rebellion just by existing; by being intense, serious and a bit dangerous.
Keith Altham wrote in the New Musical Express:
‘I discovered the secret of the Stones act last week at the Edmonton Regal. It is — THEY DON’T HAVE ONE! Brian Jones summed it up neatly back stage when he said “I don’t do anything, I just stand there and earn money.”‘