Babbacombe Theatre in Torquay

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The Agatha Christie & Babbacombe Theatre Timeline

babbacombe theatre
The refurbished Babbacombe Theatre is renowned for wowing audiences with their highly acclaimed variety shows. It has been a valuable asset to the town for over seventy years, most especially since 1986 when Matthews Productions took over the venue.

 

agatha christie
photo of agatha christie Christie has had 79 crime novels, 19 plays and 6 romantic novels under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott published. Described by the Guinness Book of Records as the best selling writer of books of all time she published one billion books in the English language and a further one billion in 43 other languages.
Born in Torquay on the 15th September 1890 at Barton Road, she played as a child, worked and socialised here as a young lady and is known to have used references in her books that are relative to the region, including Kent’s Cavern, Meadfoot Beach and the Paignton & Dartmouth Steam Railway being the inspiration for some of her locations.

  1920  
band stand 1920A small bandstand was built on the downs after a licence was granted by the council for Bands to perform on the Downs some years previously.   mysterious affair at stylesShe produced her first novel, introducing Hercule Poirot, in 1920 in 'The Mysterious Affair at Styles', although she actually wrote it during the war years of 1914-1918, it took some time to get it published, it was published in the USA in 1920 and a few months later in the UK. Styles incidentally is Torquay!
  1935  
A larger structure with a canvas awning was erected on the current site of the theatre, after the original bandstand was demolished. However, the weather also did its worst and so the local authority looked at building a more permanent structure.   three act tragedyCollins Crime club publishes A Three Act Tragedy in January of this year. This was her first book to sell over 10.000 copies in a year and it retailed for 7/6d.
  1938  
The BABBACOMBE DOWNS CONCERT HALL was built
babbacombe concert hall
  Agatha bought Greenway, a beautiful house overlooking the River Dart at Galmpton near Brixham. Initially she and her husband, Max, used the house as a holiday home. The Greenway estate dates back to the late 1400’s when among the first owners were the Gilbert family, favourites of Elizabeth 1, who occupied an earlier version of the house for over 200 years.
greenway house
Christie passed Greenway to her family and they in turn gave it to the National Trust. Greenway opened its doors and gardens to the public in August 2009.
1939 - 1945

programme coverThe first concert was on the afternoon of Saturday 27th May 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/- and 2/6.
The first Sunday concert on 4th June was broadcast live on the radio with Redvers Llewellyn followed the next Sunday by the great Richard Tauber with tickets for the concert priced at 10/6d, 7/6d. 3/6d and 2/6d.

View the newspaper article from May 1939

With the advent of World War II the auditorium became a lecture hall for the aircrew trainees of the RAF, although during this period there were various shows including those by ENSA and the RAF Flying Training Command Band.

  murder is easyWilliam Blunt in The Observer of June 4th raised a question regarding Christie's possible ability to write non-criminous fiction, which demonstrates that her nom-de-plume of Mary Westmacott was not yet public knowledge. On June 5th Murder Is Easy was published by Collins Crime Club. During the Second World War Christie worked in the pharmacy at University College Hospital of University College, London, where she acquired a knowledge of poisons that she put to good use in her post-war crime novels.
  1947  
The talented Torbay Operatic and Dramatic Society known as TOADS used to present a programme of plays through the winter season, which came to an end in 1991   radioChristie loved to write for the radio, perhaps her most famous radio work was written in 1947 when she was asked by the BBC to write an half hour play to celebrate Queen Mary’s 80th birthday, she delivered with, Three Blind Mice, this would later become The Mousetrap! Also in this year the remake of Love From a Stranger was released as a film, it was reported not to be as good as the original which had been released in 1937. The plot, typical of Christie tells of an impressionable sweepstakes winner Cecily Harrington Falling under the romantic spell of charismatic Manuel Cortez, she marries him after a whirlwind courtship. It doesn't take long for Cecily to figure out that Cortez is a dangerous psychotic, bent on murdering his wife and claiming her fortune. Unable to convince anyone else of Cortez intentions (even though his behaviour would, in real life, get him locked away in a minute), Cecily determines to outsmart her husband and catch him in his own trap.
  1952  
This was the 2nd season the legendary impresario Hedley Claxton bought his show ‘Gaytime’ to the venue. His productions ran for eight years with no well-known artistes reported at the time. Gordon Peters headlined in this year and he was supported by Barry Craine. It is worth noting that the artistes at the time were little known but many went on to become household names.   mousetrap original posterOn the 25th November The Mousetrap opened in London's West end and continues to this day.
  1956  

Bruce Forsyth appears in Gaytime for a summer season. It was whilst he was here he was discovered and went on to perform at Saturday Night at the London Palladium. gaytime programmeWhilst he was here, it is reported that the staff thought he was too thin and so tried to fatten him up by feeding his Cream Teas and pasties!

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

  medalChristie won the Commander of the Order of the British Empire decoration in this year for being the most popular British crime mystery writer.
  1986  

Matthews Productions (Matpro Limited), take over the venue. Managing Director Colin Matthews has produced and directed variety, comedy and musical shows throughout the South of England at theatres in Torquay, Newquay, Sandown, Eastbourne, Poole and Bournemouth. He has also promoted concerts and bands covering all genres including pop, rock, big band and classical orchestral at numerous venues nationally.
Colin has devised and directed all of the highly acclaimed shows at both the Babbacombe Theatre since 1986 as well as the Royal hippodrome Theatre in Eastbourne since 1991 as well as successful seasons at the Pier Theatre in Bournemouth in recent years.
Having in the past worked with some of the biggest names in the world of entertainment, Colin now actively seeks out new and versatile performers for his productions which, together with his youth policy, has resulted in the discovery and development of young talent with success nationally and in the West End for many performers that have appeared in his shows.

matpro logo

  During this year three movies were aired, Dead Mans Folly, Murder in Three Acts and Murder at the Vicarage, the latter being its first movie adaptation for the screen.
vhs game boardgame
A VHS murder mystery game, called Behind the Screen was released. The players had to try and solve the case of who killed Tyler Dudden. This game has more than 250 different endings so you will never play the same game twice. The short story "Behind the Screen" was not actually written just by Agatha Christie herself - it was collaboration by the London Detection Club; another author who contributed was Dorothy L. Sayers. It was published with another story called "The Scoop" in the 1980s, but both were originally presented as radio plays in the 1930s.
Peggy Ashcroft starred in a TV play, playing Christie, called Murder By The Book. Very simply, this is an obviously fictional tale about what happened the night Hercule Poirot paid a visit to Dame Agatha Christie and accused her of murder….And Hercule Poirot is the victim.
  2007  

Colin celebrates his 21st Anniversary at the helm by holding a big bash at the fabulous historical landmark, Oldway Mansion, the family home of the Singer family. Fun and laughter was had by all… well almost, Sharon Waring, the General Manager was sunning herself on a Mediterranean cruise, that left Marie Garlick, the Theatre Manager and Anthony Whitehurst, the Stage Manager to organise the speech and ceremonial gift presentation. Also in this year, the show Strictly Comedy and Dancing welcomed a new headlining act Tank Sherman, who went onto to star for 3 consecutive summer seasons and for 3 Christmas shows all of which received much critical acclaim.
  Published by Headline Review and written by Laura Thompson, the biography ‘Agatha Christie - An English Murder’ is released.
To read The Observers review, written by Rachel Cooke use the following link: laura thompson
  2009  
This year the theatre celebrated its 70th anniversary and to mark the occasion the theatre auditorium was refurbished. There was also a fabulous 4-page supplement in the local paper, the Herald Express on Friday 3rd July, with an additional double page spread celebrating the achievements of Colin Matthews. The show this year was Alive With Laughter starring Tank Sherman, Torbay’s Got Talent was in its third season with the amazing Holly Cosgrove coming out as the very worthy winner, Des O’Connor appeared on his UK tour in November and the hugely successful Christmas Cracker ensured that 2009 went out on high!
alive with laughter poster
  Christie goes digital with two of her novels used as the inspiration for video games one for the DS, The ABC Murders and Dead Man's Folly created as an I-Spy hidden-object game available for the PC.murder game screenshot
  2011  

2011 began and ended on a high note! Matpro Limited, the company that owns the venue celebrated its 25th anniversary whilst also enjoying producing its 50th production, Heatwave'. The show was awarded 5 star reviews, which marked the milestone in the theatres history quite fittingly. Step Into Christmas, became the most successful Christmas show in the history of Matpro and Colin Matthews threw a big party at the Spanish Barn to ensure all involved with the success of the theatre had a day to remember. (Read J.P Hedges, Herald Express review of the afternoons antics)

Colin, Pete Leonard the Musical Director and resident Choreographer, Georgia Lee are seen captured together in a commemorative photograph.

Georgia Lee

 

The English Riviera's Tourism Company release a promotional DVD highlighting her links with Torquay and the surrounding area

  2013  

The venue goes from number 2 to number 1 early in the year on the TripAdvisor Torquay Attractions page, due to some lovely reviews for both Spellbound & West End Encore! Help maintain the top slot by adding your review of your visitor experience to the Babbacombe Theatre in 2013.

 

Each year, the English Riviera transforms itself into the murder mystery capital of the country, with ladies and gents in their period finery immersing themselves in tea parties, theatre, dinners on steam trains and vintage bus tours. Why? For the annual award-winning Agatha Christie Festival in honour of the Queen of Crime.

Round every corner there is a murder mystery: on steam trains, in spooky country inns, and in rambling seaside pubs. You'll also find competitions, book launches and other exclusive events as well as Poirot on-hand should there be a case or two to solve.

This years festival dates are 15th – 22nd September. For more information visit the festival website www.englishriviera.co.uk

agatha christie bust

The Babbacombe Theatre wishes to thank and acknowledge the assistance received in compiling this page, most especially local historian, Terry Leaman. He provided us with the limited edition Volume II Pictorial & Historical Survey of Babbacombe & St Marychurch, where we have been able to take copies of images, articles and press releases. Also Gordon Peters, Tom O'Connor. the Herald Express and the English Riviera Tourism Company.

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