50-60 Mitcham Road
Wurlitzer (Opus 1523)
Original 1931 installation
Organ is not currently playable
Probably the most famous cinema interior in the UK, the Granada Tooting opened on September 7 1931 with Alex Taylor at the (then) 12 unit Wurlitzer organ. Originally installed in Sacramento USA as a 10 unit Model ‘H’ special, it was reclaimed by Wurlitzer and shipped to the UK in July 1931. The old console was used for the Granada Bedford organ and a new 4 manual one was supplied for Tooting. Also added were Saxophone and English Horn, bringing the specification to 12 units: Tibia Clausa, Open Diapason, Concert Flute, Violin, Violin Celeste, Vox Humana, Clarinet, Orchestral Oboe, Kinura and Harmonic Tuba.
Unfortunately it remained rather limited as the 3rd manual only had 12 speaking stops derived from 7 units and the top manual controlled percussions only. It was the first Wurlitzer to have a Grand Piano attachment on stage.
Alex Taylor broadcast the organ regularly as well as recording it for Decca and remained off and on at the theatre until November of 1932 during which time ‘Mr X’ was advertised extensively. The mysterious ‘Mr X’ was revealed as Harold Ramsay, who after a short spell at the Walthamstow Granada arrived at Tooting from June to September 1932 and eventually replaced Alex Taylor from November onwards. He too broadcast the organ extensively, including many during the prime Saturday afternoon spot and continued to record for Decca and later Parlophone.
In 1933 Ramsay had the organ enlarged further by adding a second Tibia and a Gamba and remained based at Tooting until he left to take over Musical Directorship of the Union Cinemas Circuit in 1936. He did however bring over from the USA two well known organists for guest runs: Don Baker during 1933 and Leo Webber during 1934. Ramsay returned for a guest period during 1946-47.
The organ continued to be played weekly by a variety of famous names, was broadcast continuously and recorded by Don Baker, Robinson Cleaver, Lloyd Thomas, Stuart Barrie and Reginald Dixon, who toured Granada theatres during the winter from 1936 to 1940. The organ was further recorded on vinyl by Robinson Cleaver, William Davies, Vic Hammett, Jackie Brown and Stuart Barrie.
The organ was professionally overhauled in 1953 and continued to be heard regularly on the BBC not just in solo broadcasts but when ‘The Organist Entertains’ began in 1970 it was used regularly by a variety of organists who would never before have got to broadcast it. However, in July 1973 a freak thunderstorm sent gallons of water flooding into the Granada. Cinema floors slope downwards toward the stage, and at Tooting the organ chambers are under the stage area. Consequently, the organ ended up under three feet of water. As if this wasn’t bad enough, the Granada closed suddenly in November of 1973 and the following year an action group was set up to save the Granada . However, in 1976 the Granada re-opened as a Bingo Club but with the floor levelled to stage height, thus entombing the Wurlitzer.
It was not until 1983 that the ATOS, headed by the late Les Rawle, arranged with Granada to carry out repairs to the organ, which had remained boarded over. Within a year the Wurlitzer was reported as being in 100% working order. In 1991 Granada merged with Coral and the Granada Cinemas were sold to Cannon whilst the Bingo Halls were sold to Bass Leisure (reportedly for £147 million) and renamed ‘Gala’. Already Grade II listed, the Granada became the first cinema building in the UK to receive Grade I listing in October 2000.
After some years of consultation and fundraising by Len Rawle the dream of raising the most broadcast Wurlitzer and fondly remembered cinema organ in the South of England became a reality when the present owners, Gala, agreed to allow work to be carried out on the former stage area. This work not only allowed the glorious sounds of the organ to escape through purpose-built tone chutes, but for the console to rise on its lift for the first time in over 30 years.