The Babbacombe Theatre was built on the grounds of a site where bands played during the summer months. Originally named The Babbacombe Downs Concert Hall, it was built in 1938 to replace the weather damaged bandstand, and awning, which had been constructed in 1920 and 1935. The hall could be built no higher than the original height of the old awning and, consequently, all of the seats in the auditorium had to be situated on one level. Ernest Goss’ Municipal Orchestra, along with dapper suited baritone John Steabben, were the inaugural performers at the theatre's 27th May 1939 debut - with the first Sunday concert, a live radio broadcast featuring Redvers Llewellyn, performed on Sunday 4th June.
The military commandeered the Hall during World War Two to give lectures for the aircrew trainees of the RAF. It is documented that 27,000 aircrew were trained at the theatre. In June 1940, the venue became the Number One Air Crew Receiving Centre, with new airmen being kitted out at the nearby Babbacombe Garage. ENSA shows took the place of summer entertainment during the war years. Little else is known of the venue's wartime history, except for an anniversary concert which took place on 17th November 1942 with Music of the Allied Nations, presented by the Royal Air Force Flying Training Command Band. On the tail end of the victory celebrations Leslie Vernon starred in Tissington and Craig's new production of Moonshine. A production enthralling Babbacombe audiences for seven years.
Many years of summer shows followed and the venue, now renamed The Babbacombe Theatre, was rapidly developing a reputation for hosting rising stars on the threshold of their careers. Many of these rising stars, who were soon to become household names, appeared as part of Hedley Claxton’s Gaytime productions, including, in the mid 1950s, Bruce Forsyth, who appeared over two seasons in 1955 and 1956. Many other well known names took to the stage over the years including everyone's favourite magician David Nixon and Ventriloquist Ray Alan along with Ted Rogers of 321 fame. Other illustrious performers delighting Babbacombe Theatre audiences over the years were comedian, actor, radio host and authority on the history of music hall entertainment Roy Hudd and Norman Vaughan: the charismatic host of the Sunday Night at the London Palladium television variety show which was originally produced by ATV for the ITV network from 1955 to 1969, and went by its original name of Sunday Night at the London Palladium from 1955 to 1965; until the name was later changed to The London Palladium Show.
Considered a valuable part of the Babbacombe and St Marychurch community, the venue works with other local attractions, retail and licensed establishments to promote the area. The theatre's season runs from mid February to the 1st January, with midweek shows throughout the year, and weekend shows during the season. Acts appearing have included Frank Carson and Jethro, along with Liverpool born comic Jimmy Tarbuck and Des O'Connor, to name but a few. Many other household names have also graced the stage of this wonderful little theatre including Kiki Dee and The Rubettes with other fascinating acts such as Elkie Brooks and Showaddywaddy also putting in an appearance. However, to discover further celebrities who have performed at the venue you will have to visit the theatre's website.
The theatre has been owned, and operated, by Colin Matthews since 1986, and he is the man responsible for devising and directing all of the shows. The theatre encourages and develops up and coming talent and also hosted the 'Torbay’s Got Talent' live event for five seasons from 2006 up to 2011. The theatre's production of Heatwave, in 2011, featured two of the event's winners, a young and talented performer named Holly Cosgrove, who won in 2009, and an equally impressive Stephanie Blackler, who won the event in the following year. More recently, in 2013, soprano singer Keedie, who was one of the judges on the 'Torbay's Got Talent' show, took to the stage in the theatre's spectacular production of Spellbound.
In 2007, the venue's site became a part of the English Riviera Geopark. And in 2009, coinciding with the theatre's 70th anniversary, and prior to the season opening in February, the venue's entire complement of 600 seats were fully refurbished, including restoration of the original metalwork, and the original parquet floor which was stripped back and polished. The proscenium arch was also completely rebuilt after the original asbestos was carefully removed. In 2011, just a couple of years later, Colin Matthews celebrated his 25th anniversary at the Babbacombe Theatre - with the show 'Heatwave' being his 50th production.
Having worked with some of the biggest names in the world of entertainment for over 30 years, producer Colin Matthews now actively seeks out new and versatile performers for his productions which, together with his youth policy, has resulted in the ultimate discovery, and development, of new young talent with success not only nationally but also in the West End. For further information regarding these talented young entertainers, who have since performed on both the glittering stages of London's West End and many internationally acclaimed stages beyond, please click on the Hall Of Fame tab which you will find located under The Theatre tab on the Babbacombe Theatre website where all will be proudly revealed.
The Babbacombe Theatre, with its extended season running from February to October, along with many visiting shows providing early and late dates and the now regular Christmas Show being a part of the glittering itinerary, means that the venue now has productions running virtually throughout the entire year. New shows are also constantly being added to the programme at this Trip Advisor's three times Certificate Of Excellence awarded theatre as a season progresses, so to keep abreast of all the latest and greatest shows taking place at this celebrated venue, then please visit the Shows section of the Babbacombe Theatre website - where you will be informed of both current, and forthcoming, attractions.