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Babbacombe Theatre seats are replaced after 80 years of use

By This is SouthDevon  |  Posted: January 16, 2009

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WORKERS at the Babbacombe Theatre are busy replacing seats that were first installed more than 80 years ago.

The seating, which was constructed when the venue opened in 1938, is being replaced as part of a £30,000 programme of improvements.

The chairs, complete with ash trays from when you could smoke quite happily as a show was performing, have seen the likes of everyone from Bruce Forsyth to Lenny Henry take to the stage.

At a time of dwindling ticket sales and recession, it's a massive investment from Colin Matthews at the privately owned Downs venue.

"We've been trying to find a grant for the past three years but we have not been eligible, mainly because we aren't a charity," Colin said.

"We got to the stage were we exhausted all the options and it's really important to us that everyone has a good experience.

"The good thing about our auditorium is there is a great view from every seat, and now people will be able to watch in comfort as well."

The auditorium will still be able to seat 600 people after the changes, which also involve investment in safety systems.

The permanent venue was built in 1938 in the guise of the Babbacombe Downs Concert Hall and remained virtually unchanged for almost 50 years, until the present management took over in 1986.

The first concert was on the afternoon of May 27, 1939, with the Earnest Gross Municipal Orchestra and BBC Baritone John Steabben, followed that evening by the opening night of the first summer show, Cabaret Revels, with tickets at 3/-, 2/- and 6d.

However, with the advent of the Second World War it was not long before entertainment had to give way to more important uses and the auditorium became a lecture hall for the air crew trainees of the RAF, although during this period there were various shows including those by ENSA and the RAF Flying Training Command Band.

This wartime use was commemorated with a plaque presented by the local RAF Association, now on display in the theatre foyer.

Since the war the theatre has seen many years of successful summer shows and it has the reputation of hosting household names on the threshold of their careers, including, in 1959, Bruce Forsyth.

Other well known names include David Nixon, Ted Rogers, Ray Allen, Norman Vaughan and Roy Hudd.

Since Colin took over in 1986, they have extended the season more each year to have the longest-running summer season in the country.

Work should be finished in time for their new 'summer' show Alive with Laughter which opens on February 10.

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