Conacher organs

The Peter Conacher organ company was established in 1854; it is the only original builder of theatre organs still in business, although all their theatre organs were built in the inter-war period. The firm’s website contains historical information and current business details.

Conacher built around eight theatre organs, including three sister organs of 4 manuals and 22 ranks (Regals Wimbledon and Hull, and the Ritz Nottingham), and three 12 unit organs in the Regals Margate and Southampton and the Odeon Blackpool. A number of 8-rank organs were built, including one with – unusually – a 4 manual console, which was destroyed during World War 2.

Conacher organ
Conacher organ

Probably the best known Conacher theatre organ was the 1933 model 20D of the Ritz Nottingham. Conacher recognised the competition they were up against from the more established theatre organ builders, and the Reginald Foort-inspired design pulled no punches with its widely unified scheme, similar to those at Hull and Wimbledon. The percussions were supplied by Deagan and, rarely for a British organ, included a 61-note metal bar harp. A Steinway grand piano was connected to the organ and was placed on the stage of the 2,490-seat theatre. The organ was made famous by Nottingham personality Jack Helyer who broadcast the instrument from 1934, with a final broadcast on the BBC Midland Console series in 1959. One LP recording of Jack was issued which included his own composition ‘Brush Off’, now something of a theatre organ classic. The organ was removed in November 1964 and split up for parts, an ignominious end for a mighty instrument that had given pleasure to so many.

Unfortunately, none of Conacher theatre organs remain in their original locations, and at the present time only one (ex-Forum Coventry) is installed, in the Northampton Boys Grammar School. Most of the rest have been split into parts and their identity lost, although some parts do surface from time to time.