Conacher Opus 1740 – Ex Forum Coventry

Conacher Opus 1740 began its life in the Forum Cinema, Coventry. Having been built and installed in 1934 in time for opening, the instrument very quickly became popular with locals, played by then broadcasting organist Lew Harris (pictured above)

The instrument enjoyed regular use up untill the war years, where it was put out of action due to a ruptured water main outside the building, on account of enemy action, the chambers being under the stage. It was in the 1950s that the instrument was brought back to life by then Cinema Manager Clifford Bayliss, who also happened to be an organist and enthusiast, with the assistance of an apprentice from the local large electrical firm of GEC, the instrument was brought back to life.

It was around this time that the two Midland Console broadcasts were made, one by Arnold Loxam, and the other by Robinson Cleaver, regaining some interest in this somewhat forgotten gem of an organ. Little did they know that only a few years later, the cinema was to close, and the organ require a new home.

In 1962 the call came for the closure of the Forum, and demolition to create space for new development on the site. It was around this time that the Northampton Boys School were looking for an instrument for their new school hall, upon visiting another cinema in Coventry to find out that their Compton organ had already been sold, they were told about the Conacher organ, and after some negotiation, secured the future of this organ for their school.

The organ was removed over a couple of weeks, the cinema still being operational, the organ having to come out whilst films were still being shown, leaving any heavy moving of objects till the film happened to have a loud passage ! When removed, the organ began its treck to Northampton.

As with a lot of things in the 1960s, it was out with the art deco console styling, and in with formica ! The original surround was left in the cinema to become one with the wrecking ball, however the piano remained. The instrument was installed divided between either side of the school hall by an enthusiastic team of volunteers. Unfortunately the building was to prove problematic for the organ, in that glass ceilings, and oven like temperatures in the chambers do not make for a very happy instrument. Although used for school assemblies and functions to great effect over the years, serious concerts were never really an option due to the various quirks of the installation.

In the early 2000s, the school decided that the hall was to be demolished and the organ sold on, Roger Greenstead of Brownes of Canterbury, Organ builders bought the organ with the intention of installing it in the Kent area, the organ was dismantled and transported to Kent, and there it sat in storage until 2018, when chairman Carl happened to be undertaking some tuning work for Roger in the London area, after discussion, the organ was packed up in three trips in March that year, and relocated back to its native Midlands.

Having suffered extensive water damage in storage due to a leaky roof, the full stripping of the console began immediately. Due to the original relay having been lost, it was decided that this instrument was to be fitted with the latest in control technology from the Artisan organ company, that meant the console could be fully stripped of its damaged electrical components, and also gave scope to expand the organ with extra ranks sourced from other now dismantled Conacher cinema organs.

The manuals were fully recovered at home during the first Corona Virus lockdown in 2020, as well as being rebushed and refelted, as restrictions were lifted, the console was then provided with a new top, and a fresh paint job in the original colour, the new system was then fitted by our electrical expert Jamie, and that brings us to today.

More recently, the organ console has regained an illuminated surround, provided to us by our friends at the Cannock Chase Cinema Organ Club, this surround whilst not a copy of the original, certainly looks well on the Conacher, its original pedigree is from a Hammond Lafleur, originally in the Regal Cinema, Kennington. The program of work on this organ continues gradually over time, whilst the current focus is on building work to the museum its self, it will not be long before Opus 1740 sings again.