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New Book - The Mighty Regal Wurlitzer

Posted: Tuesday 8th September

New Book - The Mighty Regal Wurlitzer

We have just heard about this newly released book outlining the history of the Wurlitzer theatre organ at the Musical Museum at Kew Bridge. I'm sure this will be of great interest to many of you. For more details, visit their OrganFax page .

A brief outlne...

A new book to celebrate an iconic instrument invented to be a substitute orchestra to accompany silent films. 

It could be said that the Wurlitzer organ was an early synthesizer, for the pipework was made to sound like instruments in an orchestra or band. The instrument owes its existence to the invention of the moving image between 1860 and 1900. A major contributor to this development was Eadweard Muybridge, born in Kingston upon Thames, Surrey in 1830. 

Other contributors were George Eastman (USA) who invented flexible photographic film material and the Lumière Brothers (Paris) who created the first moving picture show in 1895. The public loved this new form of entertainment and there was a rapid growth in cinema building for an ever- expanding audiences. In the days before sound films, music was used to add an emotional element to the show. Initially, a pianist was used, but as buildings got larger a small orchestra was needed. 

Then came the ‘Mighty Wurlitzer’ (among others) to replace the orchestra in larger cinemas in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. So was born the ‘Regal’ Wurlitzer, named after the Regal Cinema in Kingston upon Thames, its original home for 40 years. Inside the book, is a pull-out souvenir programme from the inauguration of the Regal Cinema in February 1932. 

Not only is this the story of an organ, but also of the social background of the times and the technological changes through which it has survived. By 1940, in the centre of Kingston upon Thames there were 7,500 cinema seats to be filled every night. At its peak there were some 250 cinema organists earning their living playing in cinemas, making recordings and broadcasting live on BBC radio. 

In 1972, EMI took over ABC and decided to dispose of all their cinema organs and many ended up as scrap metal. A deal was struck with the Musical Museum in Brentford, West London and in October the daunting task of moving the instrument was undertaken. Complete restoration was a slow and highly skilled process and today The Mighty ‘Regal’ Wurlitzer is one of the star attractions. It is played in concert for live and streamed performances by Chris Barber, Director of Music and resident organist at the Museum and by many of the most renowned organists in the UK. 

It is a popular element in guided tours of the collection, provides prelude music before film shows, and can be found accompanying silent films several times each year. A new exhibition celebrates its 90 year history from its manufacture in Tonawanda in the state of New York 

The instrument has its place in history and requires skilled performers to make it sing out for future generations. As a charitable trust the Museum’s task is to conserve, preserve and restore instruments and to do so we need to bring forward all those skills of an earlier age no longer taught in modern society. 

The future of the Museum depends on earning its living and paying its way. The future of the Wurlitzer depends on exposing it and its music to new audiences that may never have imagined silent films, interlude music, or full and exciting concerts. 


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