Compton Theatrone

An Appreciation

By

Lew Harris

Lew Harris organist
Lew Harris
The advent of the Electronic organ into the Theatre brought with it much heated discussion amongst brother organists as to the respective merits and shortcomings of both Pipe and Electronic instruments.
My aim is not to compare the virtues of each type, but mearly to record my personal impression of the Compton Theatrone as a means of musical entertainment - this I feel qualified to do, having played an instrument of this type for the past eighteen months.
I must confess that - after a number of years pipe-organ experience - my first reaction after playing a Theatrone was that it did not help the performer in any way; for -although extremely pleasing in its purity of tone - I found a certain oral strangeness which I can only attribute to the fact that the many accepted impurities always present in Pipe-tone were missing.
That, of course, was some eighteen months ago; now, having become thoroughly acclimatised to the Theatrone, and having learned through experience how to exploit the instrument to its best advantage, I have no hesitation whatever in comparing it most favourably with any pipe-organ of similar size.
I think a few remarks at this point concerning my particular job might prove interesting.
It is a two-manual console embodying the electronic unit, this supplying four amplifiers, each of which feeds its own battery of loudspeakers (there are twenty in all).
The amplifiers can be cut in and out by the organist at will, enabling some remarkable effects to be achieved, as the four sets of speakers placed - (1) Back Stage, L.H. side; (2) Back Stage, R.H. side; (3) Behind the screen alongside the W.E. speakers; (4) Around the Proscenium Arch.
1 and 2 alone are particularly useful for stage work, the entire accompaniment coming from behind the artist - thus eliminating any tendency for too much organ, a fault so difficult to avoid where the job is built outside the stage, and more or less directed at the audience.
An additional innovation has been the incorporation of bass boost controls on the amplifiers, these producing a delightful pedal which can be built up to literally roll round the building.
The Theatrone as we know it today is in its early stages of development, and consequently has very definite limitations, for while the flue work is just about all that could be desired, the reed section is by no means perfect - this, of course, being quite forgivable in view of the few harmonics at present available for the purpose of building up anything really "fiery."
Quite recently, however, I visited the John Compton works and had the great pleasure of trying out the new Compton Theatrone (as yet in its experimental stage), and although Mr. Bourne was most emphatic that the job was by no means near completion, I was amazed by the terrific speed and certainty of the action, and by the pungency of some of the reed tones.
I am convinced that the Electronic organ is going to be the thing in years to come.

At the time (1947) this article was published Lew Harris was playing a Theatrone organ at the Rex Cinema Haselmere.

Extract from "Theatre Organ World" by Jack Courtney
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