Happy birthday! Southend's Cliffs Pavilion is 50 years old

Echo: Former managers celebrate at the Cliffs Former managers celebrate at the Cliffs

IT IS always showtime at the Cliffs Pavilion, but this week, for once, it is the building itself that is the star of the show.

The Westcliff theatre complex opened for business for the first time 50 years ago. The subsequent half century has seen some of the world’s biggest stars pass through its stage door.

The story of the Cliffs actually began 100 years ago, on a July day in 1914 – the last month of peace before the outbreak of the First World War.

A temporary stage had been erected on the cliffs at Shorefields. Entertaining the holiday crowds was the great variety performer Clarkson Rose.

A small boy was enticed to go on stage and sing a song to the crowd. His name was Everard Morris.

“I sang my song and received a bar of chocolate as a reward,” he later recalled. “I think it was at that stage the notion of a permanent theatre was first implanted in my mind.”

Twenty years later, Everard Morris was a Southend councillor, pursuing his dream through endless committees and ranks of doubters.

Despite resistance, however, the idea gathered momentum. Councillors recognised the need for a “winter garden”, a big, spacious facility for year-round concerts and shows. Benchmark resorts (otherwise known as bitter rivals), such as Great Yarmouth and Brighton, enjoyed such venues. They kept the visitors coming through the twilight months. By contrast, the only winter visitors Southend tended to receive were London drunkards on an over-extended pub crawl.

The Cliffs Pavilion site was compulsorily purchased in 1935. The desirable spot, with its sweeping views over the estuary, was previously occupied by two private dwellings. In 1939, work began on the new theatre. By now, the ambitious plans for a soaring winter garden had been abandoned in favour of a more modest art deco theatre, seating 500 people. The original site planned for this theatre now forms the sunken garden in front of the Cliffs Pavilion – a winter garden, if you like, without a roof.

Builders got as far as constructing the foundations when the Second World War broke out, and all work was suspended. After the end of hostilities in 1945, the construction site lingered on as Southend’s favourite white elephant until 1963.

By now the plans had changed once again. Southend Council’s own architects’ department, led by Pat Burridge, was briefed to produce a building that could serve equally well for shows and concerts, and for private functions like weddings and company jollies.

John Wilson Marshall, the first general manager, envisaged it as a place that would be “all things to all people”.

He said: “The Pavilion should be used by lovers of the opera, ballet, revues, orchestral concerts, summer shows – even wrestling and boxing.”

The celebrity chosen to open the Cliffs was the actor and director Sir Bernard Miles, a man who knew a thing or two about new theatre projects. He had turned a derelict London Thameside warehouse into a thriving theatre, the Mermaid.

Sir Bernard cut the ribbon on July 4, 1964. The following day, comedian Norman Vaughan arrived with his troupe of dancers, the Swinging Lovelies, to start the town’s summer season rolling. The company arrived on the pleasure steamer Royal Sovereign, and headed in procession up the cliffs that had given the new theatre its name.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, Everard Morris, now Mayor of Southend, gave his verdict on the 50-year-old dream.

“The stage I mounted in fear and trepidation all those years ago was made of canvas and wood,” he said.

“Now, at last, it has been replaced by bricks and mortar.”

FORMER MANAGERS SHARE THEIR MEMORIES

In a positively unique joint appearance, three of the Cliffs’s former general managers joined Ellen McPhillips, the current manager, to cut cake and open the latest of countless thousands of bottles of champagne that have popped at the Cliffs down the years.

Les Cullen, who came to the Cliffs in 1966, carries particularly strong memories of Bruce Springsteen.

The great star was so concerned with his cash-flow, he insisted on being paid straight from the box office tills.

For Mike Pressling (1969), the stand-out recollection is provided by the great Hollywood star Bette Davis, who appeared on the Cliffs stage in a one-woman reminiscence show.

He said: “I met her in the car park and the first thing she said was ‘I just love your ocean’.”

It is Paul McCartney who stands out for Chas Mumford, primarily because of his impact, but also for one extraordinary anecdote.

He said: “I asked his people why they had chosen the Cliffs. They said Paul had originally wanted to play Folkestone. ‘But they had a tea dance on that day, and they wouldn’t shift it to make way for Paul’.”

Comments (11)

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12:06pm Sun 13 Jul 14

onorris24 says...

and its showing its age too
and its showing its age too onorris24
  • Score: -1

12:37pm Sun 13 Jul 14

Robin Reliant says...

onorris24 wrote:
and its showing its age too
was thinking the same, that water feature and 'garden' area could be so so much more appealing, plus the 'Cliffs pavilion' sign lighting stopped working a few years back, sure it costs money which is possibly not spare right now.
[quote][p][bold]onorris24[/bold] wrote: and its showing its age too[/p][/quote]was thinking the same, that water feature and 'garden' area could be so so much more appealing, plus the 'Cliffs pavilion' sign lighting stopped working a few years back, sure it costs money which is possibly not spare right now. Robin Reliant
  • Score: -2

12:48pm Sun 13 Jul 14

emcee says...

onorris24 wrote:
and its showing its age too
Indeed. It is definately a product of the 60s and is of its time.
Maybe the council should do what it does best... knock it down and let some developer loose on the land (only joking, of course).

Seriously, though, I am a huge theatre fan but for some reason, and this is only my personal opionion, the Cliffs Pavillion just does not create the right atmosphere or my liking. It has always seemed to me to be merely a large room with staging, not too disimilar to a school assembly hall or conference centre, rather than a place of entertainment.
For all it's faults, its dilapidation and neglect over the years, I would easily take the Palace Theatre over the Cliffs Pavillion for a truer theatre experience.
Still, lets be thankful for small mercies, live theatre is such a fantasic entertainment experience. Theatres have been disappearing in droves over the years and Southend is still lucky to have the two it does have. Shame we do not have more.
[quote][p][bold]onorris24[/bold] wrote: and its showing its age too[/p][/quote]Indeed. It is definately a product of the 60s and is of its time. Maybe the council should do what it does best... knock it down and let some developer loose on the land (only joking, of course). Seriously, though, I am a huge theatre fan but for some reason, and this is only my personal opionion, the Cliffs Pavillion just does not create the right atmosphere or my liking. It has always seemed to me to be merely a large room with staging, not too disimilar to a school assembly hall or conference centre, rather than a place of entertainment. For all it's faults, its dilapidation and neglect over the years, I would easily take the Palace Theatre over the Cliffs Pavillion for a truer theatre experience. Still, lets be thankful for small mercies, live theatre is such a fantasic entertainment experience. Theatres have been disappearing in droves over the years and Southend is still lucky to have the two it does have. Shame we do not have more. emcee
  • Score: 6

4:00pm Sun 13 Jul 14

SARFENDMAN says...

Still think wrong location but a case of when built "I've started, so I'll finish".
All aside, the Saturday Beat Dances were fun back in the 60's.
Still think wrong location but a case of when built "I've started, so I'll finish". All aside, the Saturday Beat Dances were fun back in the 60's. SARFENDMAN
  • Score: -1

4:35pm Sun 13 Jul 14

jolllyboy says...

Then it needs to pull its socks up. When I visited at beginning of March they had no brochures for the rest of the year - yes I know a new one was due but did they have to have leaflets there for shows that had been and gone.
And for that we have to pay a 1.50 booking fee for every seat even if you go there to book a show. The excuse is to maintain the building - really ? whose building is it !
Then it needs to pull its socks up. When I visited at beginning of March they had no brochures for the rest of the year - yes I know a new one was due but did they have to have leaflets there for shows that had been and gone. And for that we have to pay a 1.50 booking fee for every seat even if you go there to book a show. The excuse is to maintain the building - really ? whose building is it ! jolllyboy
  • Score: -3

4:50pm Sun 13 Jul 14

pierfan_43 says...

jolllyboy wrote:
Then it needs to pull its socks up. When I visited at beginning of March they had no brochures for the rest of the year - yes I know a new one was due but did they have to have leaflets there for shows that had been and gone.
And for that we have to pay a 1.50 booking fee for every seat even if you go there to book a show. The excuse is to maintain the building - really ? whose building is it !
I agree that the booking fee and postage fees are over-inflated. The theatre already makes money out of the ticket sales without inflated add-ons.
[quote][p][bold]jolllyboy[/bold] wrote: Then it needs to pull its socks up. When I visited at beginning of March they had no brochures for the rest of the year - yes I know a new one was due but did they have to have leaflets there for shows that had been and gone. And for that we have to pay a 1.50 booking fee for every seat even if you go there to book a show. The excuse is to maintain the building - really ? whose building is it ![/p][/quote]I agree that the booking fee and postage fees are over-inflated. The theatre already makes money out of the ticket sales without inflated add-ons. pierfan_43
  • Score: 1

6:13pm Sun 13 Jul 14

Kim Gandy says...

emcee wrote:
onorris24 wrote:
and its showing its age too
Indeed. It is definately a product of the 60s and is of its time.
Maybe the council should do what it does best... knock it down and let some developer loose on the land (only joking, of course).

Seriously, though, I am a huge theatre fan but for some reason, and this is only my personal opionion, the Cliffs Pavillion just does not create the right atmosphere or my liking. It has always seemed to me to be merely a large room with staging, not too disimilar to a school assembly hall or conference centre, rather than a place of entertainment.
For all it's faults, its dilapidation and neglect over the years, I would easily take the Palace Theatre over the Cliffs Pavillion for a truer theatre experience.
Still, lets be thankful for small mercies, live theatre is such a fantasic entertainment experience. Theatres have been disappearing in droves over the years and Southend is still lucky to have the two it does have. Shame we do not have more.
The Palace Theatre was built in the first decade of the 20th century so of course it's going to be different to a more modern building. And the atmosphere will be different too. Two totally different venues.

I have spent many happy hours in both as I used to do theatre reviews for the Enquirer years ago and I quite liked the two different "personalities".

The Cliffs has a much bigger stage and serves well for big touring productions whereas the Palace lends itself to smaller productions, particularly dramas and farce such as Oscar Wilde plays and anything "period" it can lend its atmosphere to.

The Palace stage also has the deepest rake in the country giving it a uniqueness - along with resident ghosts and the fact that it is situated over an underground river which often floods. I know this having been taken on a tour by staff once when doing a review there. And having encountered the ghost during a production!

Both Southend's theatres serve the town and indeed Essex - very well. The Clliffs I believe has a bigger stage than some of the West End theatres.

I have been on that stage as an "extra" and it is quite daunting up there - but impressive.

Here's to the next 50 years. Both Southend Theatres, I think, are superb and provide a wide range of entertainment. Long may it continue.
[quote][p][bold]emcee[/bold] wrote: [quote][p][bold]onorris24[/bold] wrote: and its showing its age too[/p][/quote]Indeed. It is definately a product of the 60s and is of its time. Maybe the council should do what it does best... knock it down and let some developer loose on the land (only joking, of course). Seriously, though, I am a huge theatre fan but for some reason, and this is only my personal opionion, the Cliffs Pavillion just does not create the right atmosphere or my liking. It has always seemed to me to be merely a large room with staging, not too disimilar to a school assembly hall or conference centre, rather than a place of entertainment. For all it's faults, its dilapidation and neglect over the years, I would easily take the Palace Theatre over the Cliffs Pavillion for a truer theatre experience. Still, lets be thankful for small mercies, live theatre is such a fantasic entertainment experience. Theatres have been disappearing in droves over the years and Southend is still lucky to have the two it does have. Shame we do not have more.[/p][/quote]The Palace Theatre was built in the first decade of the 20th century so of course it's going to be different to a more modern building. And the atmosphere will be different too. Two totally different venues. I have spent many happy hours in both as I used to do theatre reviews for the Enquirer years ago and I quite liked the two different "personalities". The Cliffs has a much bigger stage and serves well for big touring productions whereas the Palace lends itself to smaller productions, particularly dramas and farce such as Oscar Wilde plays and anything "period" it can lend its atmosphere to. The Palace stage also has the deepest rake in the country giving it a uniqueness - along with resident ghosts and the fact that it is situated over an underground river which often floods. I know this having been taken on a tour by staff once when doing a review there. And having encountered the ghost during a production! Both Southend's theatres serve the town and indeed Essex - very well. The Clliffs I believe has a bigger stage than some of the West End theatres. I have been on that stage as an "extra" and it is quite daunting up there - but impressive. Here's to the next 50 years. Both Southend Theatres, I think, are superb and provide a wide range of entertainment. Long may it continue. Kim Gandy
  • Score: 7

6:42pm Sun 13 Jul 14

MHWoods says...

The fact that we still have two such venues as The Cliffs and The Palace is cause for celebration indeed. OK so it may be getting a bit shabby around the edges but then so are many of London's West End Theatres. It was meant to be a multi-purpose venue and the strength of its programme is that it can accommodate a wide variety of shows and other events that a dedicated theatre just couldn't cope with. Happy birthday Cliffs Pavilion and keep up the good work of bringing happiness and entertainment to the people of Southend.
The fact that we still have two such venues as The Cliffs and The Palace is cause for celebration indeed. OK so it may be getting a bit shabby around the edges but then so are many of London's West End Theatres. It was meant to be a multi-purpose venue and the strength of its programme is that it can accommodate a wide variety of shows and other events that a dedicated theatre just couldn't cope with. Happy birthday Cliffs Pavilion and keep up the good work of bringing happiness and entertainment to the people of Southend. MHWoods
  • Score: 7

9:37pm Sun 13 Jul 14

Robin Reliant says...

Remember going to see The Jam there, fantastic, also Bottom on tour, and the great Bernard manning.
Remember going to see The Jam there, fantastic, also Bottom on tour, and the great Bernard manning. Robin Reliant
  • Score: 1

2:37pm Mon 14 Jul 14

John Right says...

Trouble with the Cliffs, is the poor acoustics, of the main hall, which it is better for antique fairs than live music, though Gandy's Farce might do fairly well..
Trouble with the Cliffs, is the poor acoustics, of the main hall, which it is better for antique fairs than live music, though Gandy's Farce might do fairly well.. John Right
  • Score: 2

1:05pm Tue 22 Jul 14

JonMuso says...

John Right wrote:
Trouble with the Cliffs, is the poor acoustics, of the main hall, which it is better for antique fairs than live music, though Gandy's Farce might do fairly well..
What specifically do you feel is wrong with the acoustics?

Many many venues nationwide can vary. For concerts, the sound is almost always best by the sound guy. Even famous venues like Brixton Acadamy, and Hammersmith Apollo can suffer.

It's all to do with the equipment brought in by the tour, and how it's set up. London theatres have permentant 'designed for venue' installations and modern purpose built music venues are designed with computers to sound good. Tours are not familier with the venue, and almost never use the in house systems. Only the local productions from schools etc will be using the in house PA.
[quote][p][bold]John Right[/bold] wrote: Trouble with the Cliffs, is the poor acoustics, of the main hall, which it is better for antique fairs than live music, though Gandy's Farce might do fairly well..[/p][/quote]What specifically do you feel is wrong with the acoustics? Many many venues nationwide can vary. For concerts, the sound is almost always best by the sound guy. Even famous venues like Brixton Acadamy, and Hammersmith Apollo can suffer. It's all to do with the equipment brought in by the tour, and how it's set up. London theatres have permentant 'designed for venue' installations and modern purpose built music venues are designed with computers to sound good. Tours are not familier with the venue, and almost never use the in house systems. Only the local productions from schools etc will be using the in house PA. JonMuso
  • Score: 0
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