The Pavilion

The Pavilion Theatre and Ballroom, Westover Road, Bournemouth

The Pavilion, opening day Saturday 9th March 1929, note the buses lined up for the dignitaries
A capacity audience for the opening night concert in the Pavilion Theatre, Saturday 9th March 1929

Opened on Saturday 9th March 1929 by the Duke of Gloucester, the Pavilion grew out of the ashes of the Belle Vue Boarding House, one of the town’s first buildings. After a competition was announced for designs, the architects G. Wyville Home and Shirley Knight of London came out on top with a proposal that was not too lavish, as the council were under tight economic constraints. After the plans were submitted, the building company James and Seward were commissioned to demolish the Belle Vue and erect the new facility at a cost of £250,000. The complex housed a 2,000 seat theatre, a tea room with a sprung dance floor (now known as the ballroom) two restaurants, the largest being the Ocean Room on the ground floor and the smaller Lucullus French Restaurant and two small lounges that were demolished at a later date to make way for an improved and larger stage.

The steelwork frame being erected, The Pavilion under construction in 1927

From the outset the theatre staged plays, operas, ballet, musicals, variety shows, pantomimes, organ recitals and performances by the Municipal Orchestra, later renamed the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. In 1941, it was also used as a place of prayer when the Richmond Hill Congregational Church was bombed. A comprehensive list of the stars that have appeared at the theatre would be long and tiresome, but here’s a sample of some of the names that have graced the stage: James Mason, Sean Connery, Dirk Bogarde, Marlene Dietrich, John Gielgud, Stewart Granger, Dame Margot Fonteyn, Gracie Fields, Shirley Bassey, Lyn Redgrave, Richard Attenborough, Michael Caine, Terence Stamp, Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan, Max Wall, Ken Dodd, Morecambe and Wise, Tommy Cooper, the cast of Dads Army, Phil Silvers, Dame Edna Everage, Norman Wisdom and Sergei Rachmaninov. On 22nd October 1958 there was a rare treat for blues fans when when the Chris Barber Band with Ottilie Patterson appeared with Muddy Waters and his pianist Otis Spann as part of a ten date UK tour. During the mid-sixties, the odd package tour would bypass the larger Winter Gardens and Gaumont across the street, and call in to the compact Pavilion theatre. Featuring mainly Beat Boom era pop groups on the slide such as Freddie and the Dreamers and Gerry and the Pacemakers, some artistes like Cliff Richard and The Shadows and Roy Orbison were still big draws. Tragically, on 14th September 1968, before Orbison was due to perform, he was informed that two of his three sons, Roy Jr. aged ten and Anthony aged six, had died in a house fire back home in Hendersonville, Tennessee. At the time he was staying at the Royal Bath Hotel, Roy flew home immediately cancelling all remaining dates.

The Pavilion Theatre in the 1950s, the original fountain in the foreground was replaced in the 1960s

At the rear of the building, overlooking the pier approach, is one of the largest ballrooms in the south of England. Over the years it has hosted gala dinners, boxing and wrestling bouts, exhibitions and conferences, however, the main attractions in the fifties and sixties were the afternoon tea dances. Held every day from 4pm to 6pm except Sundays, a pot of tea and a cream cake would be served as part of the one shilling and sixpence ticket. Also popular, were the morning coffee dances held on Bank Holidays and the well-attended evening balls, two shillings and sixpence per person including a sandwich, sausage roll or vol-au-vent and a cup of coffee. In demand bands of the day included the Sim Grossman Orchestra and Singers, Stanley Osbourne and his Pavilion Dance Orchestra, the Hadyn Powell Orchestra, Sid Phillips and his Band plus drummer Syd Fay and his Orchestra. For that exotic Latin-American flavour, one couldn’t go wrong with the Achille Roma Band or Renaldo and his Latin American Quartet, for the sound of Glenn Miller, the Ray McVay Big Band filled the spot and from Easter 1961 a new fixture came on the scene, Jan Ralfini and his Orchestra.

The Jan Ralfini Orchestra at the Blackpool Tower Ballroom, Jan’s birth name was John Goodliffe

Comprising of brass, violins, piano, banjo, drums and double bass and resplendent in red blazers, black trousers, white shirts and black bow ties, the Jan Ralfini Orchestra specialised in strict tempo waltzes, tangos, quicksteps, and foxtrots. Jan always looked debonair in his tuxedo, black patent shoes and thin black moustache, which was rumoured to be drawn on with a pencil. Born in London in 1896 as John Alfred Goodliffe, Jan made his first public appearance aged eight billed as the Boy Violin Virtuoso with his father, the professional saxophonist, John Trippello (his stage name). Later, as a duo, the young John, now known as Jan and his father, performed as Signor Trippello and the Boy Prodigy, however, their careers were cut short by the outbreak of the First World War. When peace was restored, Jan picked up where he left off and assembled a band that by 1926 were performing at venues in and around London and recorded for the Regal label. Later in his career he diversified by becoming a prominent booking agent representing a host of popular orchestras and solo singers.

Jan Ralfini started his career as violinist

On Wednesday 26th July 1961 Jan organised the first ‘Big Beat Night’ in the ballroom specifically catering for teenagers, with a line-up consisting of the Ralfini Orchestra featuring vocalist Don Neilson, Jim Pennel and His Penmen and The Ralftones. The run lasted through the summer season up until mid-September when the last of the holidaymakers had returned home. A poster from the fifties proclaimed, “Jan Ralfini and His Band, seventeen versatile artistes in a programme of new numbers with new ideas presented in a new fashion”, a rallying cry that Jan was still adhering to when he hired a young Tony Blackburn to strum a guitar as a sop to the growing contemporary pop scene. Being strictly old school and a stickler for time keeping, Jan stuck religiously to the same repertoire night after night, so much so, members of the audience would leave to catch the last bus home as the orchestra struck up a particular song. During the interval Tony would take over with his band, Tony Blackburn and his Swinging Bells, and regale the dancers with his interpretations of “Dancing Shoes”, “How Do You Do It”, “Devil in Disguise”, “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes” and the “Hully Gully” while sporting a gold lamé jacket.

The following year the ‘Big Beat Nights’ kicked off on Wednesday 11th July 1962 featuring The Rockravers, The Raltones Jump Band and The Sands Combo. As the word spread, guest groups such as Joe E. Martin and the Crescendoes from Weymouth, Tony, Howard and the Dictators, The Interns and The Trappers starring a young Al Stewart on guitar were hired to add variety. Over time the ‘Big Beat Nights’ moved to Mondays’ before eventually settling into a Tuesday slot. On the 5th July 1963 a Friday Night Special’ was added with a different group every week, usually a local outfit, although sometimes a name band such as The Nashville Teens, Davy Jones and the Lower Third or Steve Marriott and the Moonlites would entertain the young revellers who were christened the ‘Pavvi People’. When Blackburn handed in his notice in the spring of 1964 and signed up with the pirate radio station Radio Caroline, it also marked the end of the road for the now 68 year old Ralfini. Jan’s stranglehold on the ballroom was broken, as the Bournemouth corporation advertised for a new band of nine musicians plus a leader, to undertake a contract lasting approximately eighteen weeks commencing 1st June. It was also noted that the orchestra should incorporate a ‘Beat Group’ to entertain the younger clientele, that group was Roger and the Rallies.

In 1967 the joint forces of local promoter Carroll Hardingham, who started the ‘Sunday Beat Club’ and the students union from the Bournemouth and Poole Technical Colleges who put on a succession of ‘Rag Balls’, turned the ballroom into a happening venue by booking big names from London. Over the next four years Derek and the Dominos, Pink Floyd, The Small Faces, Joe Cocker and the Grease Band, Manfred Mann, Black Sabbath and Slade all trod the boards. In 2009 an article appeared in the local Bournemouth Echo questioning whether Cream with Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker ever graced the stage. Several people reported back that they were there, but nobody could pinpoint the date. I can now confirm that the gig was promoted by the Bournemouth College Students Union and it took place on Tuesday 25th April 1967 with support from Simon Dupree and the Big Sound.

Portsmouth band Heaven performing at the Pavilion Ballroom circa 1969
The Kinks performing on stage at the Pavilion Ballroom, Tuesday 15th August 1967
Eric Clapton at the Pavilion Ballroom with Derek and the Dominos, Tuesday 18th August 1970

Most gigs were memorable and went off without a hitch, but there were incidences of typical rock ‘n’ roll shenanigans along the way. On an August night in 1970, an impatient crowd were left staring at an empty stage while awaiting the non-arrival of The Kinks. As the majority of the audience gradually drifted away muttering about refunds, a flustered Mick Avory (The Kinks drummer) suddenly rushed in with a bemused look on his face. He was immediately accosted by a group of fans demanding to know where the rest of the band were. After apologising profusely, it appeared he was just as much in the dark as they were. It now transpires that the volatile Kinks were notorious for no shows around this time, so in the great scheme of things, it was business as usual.

On another occasion, instead of the expected delicate, mellotron drenched arrangements of the Moody Blues, the crowd were subjected to a loud, ramshackle performance of hard edged r&b and psychedelia from The Pretty Things. Apparently the Moodies bailed out at the last minute and the Pretties were roped in at short notice as a replacement. Not exactly like for like, but there again the audience were already in an antagonistic mood because earlier in the evening they had been continually berated by one of the support acts, Roy Harper, who wasn’t happy with the noisy, well-oiled crowd talking during his set of lengthy, complex songs. Unsurprisingly, he cut his set short and walked off in a huff.

Then there was the evening Family’s deranged frontman, Roger Chapman, spent an entire song smashing light bulbs in the overhead lighting gantry with his microphone stand and the night in 1965 when The Who gate-crashed a private function downstairs in the Ocean Room and delighted the bemused crowd with an impromptu couple of songs using the gear owned by the local group hired for the event. A great story to tell the grandkids, but still a bit disconcerting, as I’m not sure every drummer would allow Keith Moon anywhere near their kit. The Who would return in April 1969 and play a forty five minute set for £450.

The Pavilion’s spacious ballroom, home to the ‘Big Beat Nights’ (Photograph John Cherry)
The Pavilion frontage today, the canopy was added later (Photograph John Cherry)
Rear of the Pavilion, ballroom upstairs, Ocean Room below (Photograph John Cherry)
The Pavilion side elevation, taken from the lower Gardens (Photograph John Cherry)

Throughout its history, the Pavilion has had its difficulties with threats of imminent closure hanging over it. Firstly, in 1956 and again in 1961 the council inaugurated feasibility studies but nothing came of them. Then, in 1965 and 1974 the idea was floated that the theatre and ballroom should become a conference centre, and by 1978 it was earmarked to become the prime site for what eventually became the Bournemouth International Centre. Fortunately for the Pavilion, the BIC was eventually built on the west cliff. However, that didn’t mean the Pavilion was out of the woods just yet, as on more than one occasion the council suggested it could be converted into a shopping arcade and in 1983 it nearly closed its doors for good due to financial difficulties. All that changed in 1998 when English Heritage took the decision away from the council and designated the Pavilion a Grade Two listed building. Now it is operated by the charitable trust BH Live and its future has been secured. 

If you have any memories you would like to share of the Pavilion, please use the contact box at the bottom of this page.

Bands and singers of note that appeared at the Pavilion during the sixties. Have I missed any ? Please contact me using the box below.

The Action (A well thought of Mod band that inexplicably failed to chart, even with The Beatles producer George Martin at the helm of their recordings)

Adam Faith (Sixteen top twenty hits for the former Terence Nelhams Wright)

The Alex Harvey Soul Band (Alex formed the Sensational Alex Harvey Band when he was 37 years old)

Amen Corner (Five top twenty hits for Andy Fairweather Low and his Welsh chums)

Arthur Brown Union (Before Arthur became the God of Hellfire)

The Big 3 (A highly rated, hitless, trio from Liverpool managed by Brian Epstein)

Black Sabbath (Heavy Satanic riffing from Ozzy and the boys)

The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band (Anarchic fun from Vivian Stanshall and his Dadaist chums)

The Bo Street Runners (Mick Fleetwood on drums and Mike Patto on vocals)

Bruce Channel (Famous for the boozy singalong “Hey Baby”)

Cream (Eric, Jack and Ginger, say no more)

Chicken Shack (Stan Webb and Christine Perfect before she left to join Fleetwood Mac)

Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers (Bass player Chas Hodges and drummer Mick Burt teamed up with Dave Peacock in the seventies and became Chas and Dave)

Chris Farlowe and the Thunderbirds (Chris was invited onto Ready Steady Go to duet with Otis Redding no less, hit big with “Out of Time” written by Jagger / Richards)

Cliff Richard (The Peter Pan of pop)

Cupid’s Inspiration (“Yesterday Has Gone” hitmakers)

Dantalian’s Chariot (Zoot Money and his fellow travellers ingest too much LSD and transit through a paisley patch)

Dave Dee Dozy Beaky Mick & Tich (Fourteen top fifty hits for Salisbury’s finest)

Davy Jones and the Lower Third (Played the Pavilion four times in 1965, came back as David Bowie and the Lower Third in 1966)

Derek and the Dominos (Eric was Derek)

Desmond Dekker and the Aces (Early pioneer of ska music in Britain)

Don Partridge (One man band from Bournemouth, hit number four with “Rosie”)

Duffy Power (Came through the Larry Parnes stable of pop singers. After a nervous breakdown he returned as a blues singer)

The Easybeats (The biggest group in Australia came to the UK and scored a top ten hit with “Friday on My Mind”)

Family (Roger Chapman and friends were big in Britain but failed to crack America, mostly down to ‘Chappo’ nearly decapitating the promoter Bill Graham with a flying microphone stand)

The Foundations (British mixed race soul band, hit number one with “Baby Now That I’ve Found You”)

Free (Raw, minimalist and tight as a drum)

Freddie and the Dreamers (Energetic antics, if nothing else, from the clown princes of pop)

Gerry and the Pacemakers (First three singles were all number ones)

Geno Washington and the Ram Jam Band (Hugely popular, had two big selling live albums but never a hit single)

Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames (The former Clive Powell scored three UK number ones)

The Gods (Local boy Lee Kerslake on drums)

Graham Bond Organisation (Ginger Baker on drums and Jack Bruce on Bass)

The Greatest Show on Earth (Progressive rock band recorded two albums for Harvest in 1970)

The Groundhogs (Named after John Lee Hooker’s song “Groundhog Blues”)

Gun (Big hit with “Race with the Devil”)

Heaven (Brass rock band from Portsmouth, released a solitary album, Brass Rock 1 in 1971)

Heinz and the Wild Ones (A lightweight performer with a heavyweight band featuring Chas Hodges on bass and Ritchie Blackmore on guitar)

Herbie Goins and the Night-Timers (Herbie was a former American GI)

The Herd (Front man Peter Frampton was dubbed ‘The Face of 1968” because of his boyish good looks, went on to Humble Pie then a long solo career hitting big with “Show Me the Way”)

James and Bobby Purify (American cousins on a UK tour)

Jet Harris and Tony Meehan (Ex members of The Shadows, knocked their former band off the top of the charts with “Diamonds” in 1963)

Jimmy James and the Vagabonds (Creditable rivals to Geno Washington and the Ram Jam Band)

Joe Cocker and the Grease Band (The former gas fitter from Sheffield made The Beatles ”With a Little Help from my Friends” his own)

John L. Watson and the Web (The Web came from Bournemouth, John L. Watson travelled slightly further from Mississippi, Tennessee)

John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers (Not long after their Pavilion gig, drummer Jon Hiseman and saxophonist Dick Heckstall Smith left to form Colosseum)

Johnny Johnson and the Bandwagon (American soul group who had a big hit with “Breakin’ Down the Walls of Heartache”)

Johnny Kidd and the Pirates (Probably the best rock ‘n’ roll band to come out of Britain, Mick Green on guitar)

John Peel (The longest serving DJ on Radio One spun a few discs at a John Mayall gig)

The Keef Hartley Band (Keef was one of many drummers who followed Ringo Starr in Rory Storm and the Hurricanes)

Killing Floor (Their pianist, Lou Martin, went on to play with Rory Gallagher)

The Kinks (Hugely influential, but hugely volatile group from Musswell Hill)

Les Fleur De Lys (Freakbeat heroes originally from Southampton, Gordon Haskell from Verwood was a member)

Liverpool Scene (A poetry band featuring Liverpool wordsmith Adrian Henri)

The Love Affair (Singer Steve Ellis was in the band Ellis with Bournemouth’s Zoot Money)

Manfred Mann (By the time the Manfred’s came to the Pavilion, Mike D’Abo had replaced Paul Jones)

Marianne Faithfull (Scored seven top fifty singles)

Marmalade (Their best single, “I See the Rain”, failed to chart)

The Mindbenders (Hit number two with ”A Groovy Kind of Love”)

Moody Blues (Hugely popular progressive rock band who dabbled in the classics)

The Move (Brumbeat hitmakers, Roy Wood, Bev Bevan and Jeff Lyne formed ELO)

Muddy Waters (Came to the Pavilion theatre with his pianist Otis Spann in 1958)

The Nashville Teens (Formed in Surrey, their keyboard player John Hawken was born in Christchurch)

The Nice (Their first appearance at the Pavilion was backing former Ikette P. P. Arnold)

P. P. Arnold (Former Ikette, should have been a star)

The Paramounts (Robin Trower, Gary Brooker, Chris Copping and B. J. Wilson all past through the ranks of Procol Harum)

The Peddlers (Organist Roy Phillips grew up in Parkstone)

The Pretty Things (Wilder and more degenerate than The Rolling Stones, apparently)

Roy Harper (Bolshie singer songwriter from Manchester)

Roy Orbison (Over thirty top fifty hits in a long distinguished career)

Sam Gopal (Psychedelic rock band with tabla instead of drums, Lemmy was their guitarist)

Sandie Shaw (The barefooted songstress from Dagenham had eighteen top fifty hits)

The Searchers (One of the best Mersey Beat bands after The Beatles)

Scott Walker (Scott went from being a teenage heartthrob to a way out avant-garde adventurer)

Screaming Lord Sutch (A Monster Raving Loony)

The Shadows (Hank B. Marvin, the first British guitar hero)

Simon Dupree and the Big Sound (Portsmouth band, became Gentle Giant)

Slade (Played the Pavilion when they were experimenting with a dodgy skinhead image)

The Small Faces (The diminutive quartet gained much kudos after their demise)

Solomon King (American soul singer had a top three hit with “She Wears My Ring”)

The Soul Agents (Southampton band, Rod Stewart was their vocalist from December 1964 through to June 1965)

Sounds Incorporated (Top notch instrumental group from Dartford, were the support band to The Beatles at Shea Stadium, New York)

The Spencer Davis Group (This Bum Beat band scored five top twenty singles with two number ones)

Spice (Became Uriah Heep in March 1970)

Spooky Tooth (Their experimental third album Ceremony with the French composer Pierre Henry virtually scuppered their career)

The Springfields (Dusty went on to international success)

Status Quo (Hair, denim and boogie)

Steve Marriott and the Moonlites (Marriott also appeared at the Pavilion in Steve Marriott and the Moments and The Small Faces)

The Swinging Blues Jeans (Mersey Beat band, hit number two with “Hippy Hippy Shake” in 1963)

Ten Years After (Alvin Lee, the fastest guitar slinger in the west apparently)

The Temperance Seven (Novelty 1920s jazz specialists)

Third Ear Band (Improvisational drone merchants)

Tim Rose (American singer-songwriter who wrote the heavily covered “Morning Dew”)

Tony Jackson and the Vibrations (Jackson was The Searchers original bass player)

Tom Jones (The Pontypridd knicker magnet has scored an incredible 41 top fifty UK singles over a long career)

Tony Rivers and the Castaways (Recorded six singles that failed to chart)

The Who (Townsend and co. played the ballroom twice, in 1965 and 1969)

The Upsetters (Jamaican ska outfit, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry’s house band)

Unit 4 Plus 2 (Hit number one with “Concrete and Clay” and not much else)

Van Der Graaf Generator (A marmite band from Manchester, big in Italy)

Wayne Fontana (Sans The Mindbenders)

The Zombies (Underrated but talented group from St Albans)

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