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Colour added to the the original photo in July 2011 by
Alan Ashton

The Empire Cinema in Neath was the only cinema in the town that had a cinema pipe organ - it was installed in 1931.  It was small compared to some - it only had two manuals, nevertheless, it was capable of providing some sweet music associated with this make of organ.

The best known organ in cinemas was the Wurlitzer - the most famous one in the UK being at the Tower Ballroom in Blackpool. The Christie was rated as having the nearest sound to the famous Americian made Wurlitzer organs.

The Empire Christie was played by Harold Williams, who was actually working for the GWR railway.  When he joined HM Forces during the war years it was played by the Chief Projectionist, Brynley (Bryn) Symmons, pictured above on the only known photograph of the instrument.   Harold Williams later worked for the GPO. 

The organ was played during the intervals between the supporting film and the feature film.

The six ranks of pipes were housed in a chamber on the right hand side of the auditorium.   The organ was on a lift and rose in front of the pale green curtains in the centre of the elevated stage.

In February 2012 Stephen Dutfield sent us the following photos of parts of the organ being removed in 1973. 

In 1973 the auditorium was being used for Bingo.  The above photo looks at the stage area where the Christie organ rose in the centre by means of its own lift.

The remaining parts were taken down the emergency exit stairway pictured above, to a van waiting in a back street.


The waiting van, shown above, was loaded to capacity.

Stephen writes:  "Larry McGuire who assisted in the removal of the remains of the Empire Christie to Scotland in 1973. His three photos are attached - he apologises for the quality, as the originals were Polaroids! 

Larry had this to say about the building/organ:-
"If it's of interest and they can be 'got' - there was still a couple of chests and regulators in the chambers as well as the Glock and Xylophone actions, which had had the bars removed before we got there, as well as the swell shutters, frames and engines. Our van got too full to get anything else in at the time.

I think the console lift was there but the platform was part of the bingo stage floor if I remember correctly. Not even me at 19 could stand up in the understage area. The blower was there too - it's DC motor was still connected and the AC motor was alongside it. The wire from the DC motor were sticking out, bare, and I dread to think of the voltage that thing developed as it rotated!!

Stage left had the main chamber, with string 16-2, celeste 4, and flute 8-2. A separate little room behind it had the relay panel, one of the types with two separate switch stacks at right angles and the key relays split between the 2 stacks, solo and pedal on one, accomp and accomp 2nd touch on the other.

The solo on stage right had Tuba 16-4, Vox 8 and Tibia 16-, as well as the chimes, xylophone and glock as well as the traps.

Chamber access was via trapdoors in their floors.

It's a shame the place is being demolished, it was a nice building. The locals didn't appreciate us removing what was left of the organ at the time, we got boo'd every time they saw us in the hall!"

February 2012 

Stephen Dutfield has brought us up to date on what happened to the Empire Cinema Neath Christie Cinema Organ.   This is what he has to say:-

"In my innocence I hadn't realised that the fate of the Neath Christie had become the subject of so much conjecture over the years! Broadly speaking, this is what happened...... 

The organ was used until after the war, then fell silent for a few years, only to be resurrected in the 1950s on Saturday evenings. The reason that it was only on Saturdays is interesting and amusing. The cinema was originally powered by its own generating plant, and there were two engines in the basement. One powered the cinema and one powered the ballroom. The organ supply came from the latter generator, and it was only thought economic to run it up when there was a dance on in the ballroom - as there was every Saturday night. The organ, therefore, could only be used once a week!
By the late 60s bingo had taken over, and the console was disconnected and moved off its lift. The shallow pit was boarded in and the lift taken up to the top of its modest travel. This formed a lower stage in front of the main stage, and the bingo caller was positioned here. The console was moved backstage where it was seen by a number of my friends at various times around 1970/71. By 1972 it had disappeared (apparently just removed and dumped outside, and eventually taken to the tip) but the chamber contents remained.
In 1973  a former BBC sound engineer, acquired some parts for a project to build a five manual organ at Bishop Gore High School in Swansea. It was to have four manuals operating pipes, plus a fifth synthesizer manual. A pupil who assisted with the project at the time was one Keith Evans who, in the early 80s, was working for a Swansea electronic organ store before becoming a well-known demonstrator of Cavendish organs for Boosey & Hawkes.   I think the Diapason unit went there, certainly the Tuba did and probably the Vox Humana as well. They appear to have taken the percussion bars, but left the actions.
Later in 1973 the remains were sold to the Scottish Theatre Organ Preservation Society who were installing the ex Lonsdale, Carlisle Christie at Bangour Village Hospital near Edinburgh. In the event, the only parts that I think got used were the Tibia rank and its chest which were added to the Hilsdon orchestral organ at the Playhouse, Edinburgh. Other parts were stored I think, but they left the percussion actions, swell shutters and some regulators behind at Neath as they'd run out of space in their van.
Around the mid-70s there was a serious fire at the stage end of the building, and what, if anything, now remains of the remains.... remains to be seen. 
The Bishop Gore School project became a great embarrassment to the headmaster, and was never finished. Eventually in the 1980s it was scrapped as it had never played and was condemned as a fire hazard."

Ed NOTE .... This certainly fills some gaps in the story and perhaps lays the Christie to rest - unless others can come up with more information that can be added to what seems to be a rather sad ending to a cinema organ.

More about the early days of the
Empire Christie Organ

In late October 1931 the Christie 2 Manual / 6 Ranks theatre organ was installed with console being on a lift. It was opened by organist Jack Courtney*.  In the summer of 1936 the building underwent some re-furbishment and it was closed until November of that year. The cinema was originally owned by the Hedge family, who also owned the Ritz cinema in Skewen.  Later both these cinemas were taken over and operated by South Wales Cinemas Ltd. of Swansea (Jackson Withers circuit).

*Jack Courtney was a colourful character and opened several cinemas during his playing career.  In 1946 he wrote a book entitled Theatre Organ World, which is cherished by many cinema organ enthusiasts. 

Cinema Organs in Storage

It is not generally known that there are several cinema organs in storage after venues having a change of use.  These organs are begging for a suitable venue with enthusiasts willing to install them just for the love of it.

Someone in the entertainment business said that the Empire Cinema in Neath with an organ installed could equal the popularity and attraction of the Tower Ballroom in Blackpool.

Something along these lines would put Neath on the tourist map, including visitors from America where theatre organs are so popular. 


If you would like to experience an organ interval with coloured slides - CLICK HERE

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