ATV knew they would need two large theatres that they could convert into TV studios to use mostly for light entertainment shows. Fortunately variety shows were not as popular in theatres as they had been a few years earlier and there were several suitable buildings standing empty. They selected the Wood Green Empire and Hackney Empire but only had time to fully convert one of them into a studio ready for transmissions to begin in September 1955. Wood Green was the one they concentrated on first with Hackney becoming available in February 1956. In the meantime they carried out a very basic conversion of the New Cross Empire, which was serviced by an OB unit.
The New Cross Empire was one of many theatres designed by the great Frank Matcham. It opened in 1899 and seated 2,000 over stalls, 2 circles and a balcony. The proscenium width was 36ft and stage depth was 40ft. It was originally managed by Oswald Stoll, later by Moss Empires.
In the late 1940s the theatre was used by BBC radio for their Happidrome show. It closed as a variety theatre in July 1954.
ATV took over the theatre in 1955 and it was used on the opening night of ITV for the show People Are Funny. It was very likely the home of several other TV shows too for the 6 months until the Hackney Empire was available as a studio.
Interestingly, the New Cross Empire was also used as a film location more than once. In 1955 it became an opera house for the film King’s Rhapsody, starring Errol Flynn and Anna Neagle. One assumes this was before ATV took over the theatre. In 1956 it was a location for two films – The Long Arm, starring Jack Hawkins and Charlie Moon, with Max Bygraves. The latter film apparently has many scenes shot in the auditorium and on stage.
The theatre was demolished in July 1958 and very sadly simply became a petrol filling station. Apparently the site is now a car wash.
Many thanks to Ken Levon for bringing ATV’s use of this theatre to my attention.