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Death of a major Compton announced

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6 hours ago, Rowland Wateridge said:

 

Are people taking on board that it was never intended to re-install the organ in the Civic Hall?  Mr Tovey was looking for another location.

 

Whilst it was never intended for the organ to be re-installed, the council's case for removing the organ was all rather shaky in the first place, before there was ever any mention of asbestos.  If you read the reports (written up by people who haven't the foggiest idea about pipe organs) on the WCC planning website, there are quite a few falsehoods about the instrument and its significance. They are basically using the refusal of Heritage Lottery Funding as the reason for removing it, going as far as to say because it was refused funding, it was not worthy of preserving.  As Mr Reynolds states in the meeting I linked to earlier, HLF are only interested in restoring visible pipe organs....

 

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Don't the BBC have some sort of informal "organ club"?

I should know more, but I don't.

The Maida Vale instrument SHOULD be quite easy to deal with, because there's not a terrible amount of organ there in the first instance, unlike Wolverhampton, which was possibly at least twice the physical size, and suspended from the roof.

MM

 

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On 26/02/2019 at 01:21, carrick said:

This is a webcast from a council meeting held on the 5th December 2018. You may have to turn your volume up pretty high, as the volume of the video is rather quiet. 

https://wolverhampton.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/384749/start_time/2504000

Utterly depressing....what happened to education and working-class pride?

At £250 per pipe, I think I want to be an organ- pipe inspector.  At 6,000 pipes, that works out at £1.5 million, less the cost of a noddy suit and breathing apparatus.

It's obviously more lucrative to destroy organs than it is to make them, play them or re-build them.

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On 17/02/2019 at 13:33, MusoMusing said:

Considering the fact that I have been writing the Compton story for what feels like decades (now finally coming to a conclusion) this leaves a serious hole in that story and that history, but I will make sure that it contains as many details as possible of this wanton destruction, so that future generations will know the truth and be able to draw their own conclusions.

MM

Ooh - this is tantalising. Do tell us more!




 

 

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3 hours ago, MusoMusing said:

Utterly depressing....what happened to education and working-class pride?

At £250 per pipe, I think I want to be an organ- pipe inspector.  At 6,000 pipes, that works out at £1.5 million, less the cost of a noddy suit and breathing apparatus.

It's obviously more lucrative to destroy organs than it is to make them, play them or re-build them.

Let us first learn the difference between the organ and the organ pipes.....there is no difference. As for the £250 per pipe.....the solution was simple to me. Test 1 pipe, if it has asbestos in it, then treat them all the same. Apparently, the blower intake was external too, so how the asbestos would have gotten into windlines etc is beyond me. 

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3 hours ago, Phoneuma said:

 

The Compton Story started off as an innocent pastime, but grew and grew and grew. For anyone who has a year to spare, it's worth digging back in the Mander Forum files under 'Compton'.
It turned out to be a massive subect, with all sorts of twists and turns, but the lack of a proper company paper-trail, things which obscure what really happened and technical details which are very complex, have all conspired to slow the process down. The trouble is, no-one other than Elvin has really tracked the complete history, but in fairness, he did cover a lot due to the fact that Compton and many of his people were still alive.

So in researching the history, I made it a rule that everything must have at least two and ideally three separate sources to back things up, and that has included pouring over patent drawings and application scripts, delving into alternative (often non-musical) sources of information as well as more normal things. For an organ-building company, the story is quite unlike any other, covering almost every aspect of organ manufacture, including player organs, cinema organs, church organs, dual-purpose organs and early electronics.....even one of the world's first combination organs (electronics and pipes).

I'm currently battling with the electronic side of things, and when that is done, I should be onto home ground again.

Almost certainly, it will be an electronic publication, because I don't expect it to win prizes or go to the top of a best-seller list, and sitting on a couple of pallets of printed books is not an attractive proposition.

MM

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Thanks for that information. I found Elvin’s Compton chapter fascinating and the forum thread equally illuminating. 

Yesterdays Yorkshire Post ‘Picture Past’ had a double page spread on the Selby Abbey fire. I think the text came from elsewhere but there were some interesting photos. 

 

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With my Whitlock hat on I wonder whether MM would be interested in any of the Compton-related material which is in Whitlock’s diaries? There are a couple of letters also in Whitlock’s widow’s diaries (which she wrote after Percy’s death) from John Compton and Jimmy Taylor. Edna Whitlock gave most of Whitlock’s organ library to Taylor. I think some of this eventually ended up with Felton Rapley and Robert Munns. PW was a frequent visitor to the Compton ‘woiks’ In the ‘30s. 

 

I would be happy to share anything we have in the Whitlock Archive.

I for one can’t wait to read the fruits of MM’s researches. Could it not be a BIOS publication?

Malcolm Riley

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1 hour ago, Phoneuma said:

Thanks for that information. I found Elvin’s Compton chapter fascinating and the forum thread equally illuminating. 

Yesterdays Yorkshire Post ‘Picture Past’ had a double page spread on the Selby Abbey fire. I think the text came from elsewhere but there were some interesting photos. 

 

image.jpeg.b04379f23bf51b804cb1c200b6c1dbca.jpeg

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13 minutes ago, Malcolm Riley said:

With my Whitlock hat on I wonder whether MM would be interested in any of the Compton-related material which is in Whitlock’s diaries? There are a couple of letters also in Whitlock’s widow’s diaries (which she wrote after Percy’s death) from John Compton and Jimmy Taylor. Edna Whitlock gave most of Whitlock’s organ library to Taylor. I think some of this eventually ended up with Felton Rapley and Robert Munns. PW was a frequent visitor to the Compton ‘woiks’ In the ‘30s. 

 

I would be happy to share anything we have in the Whitlock Archive.

I for one can’t wait to read the fruits of MM’s researches. Could it not be a BIOS publication?

Malcolm Riley

Malcolm, that would be wonderful, for a very simple reason. John Compton was a very private, refined gentleman, who kept himself to himself. Almost nothing is known about him at the personal level, and in many ways, that leaves a hole in the story. We know what he did, but we never glimpse the inner soul. Apart from crashing his car on the way to see Peter Whitlock, the only thing I've come across was the alleged claim by JC that he had been married and had a son who died in infancy. Going purely on instinct, this just doesn't seem credible, and having told his adopted niece about it, he said that this was the end of the matter and he never wanted anyone to raise the subject again.

It would be wonderful to learn that he smoked 40 Woodbines  a day and accidentally burned his factory down three times, or that he had a liking for Guiness and hard-boiled eggs....but there's almost nothing to suggest that he was human.

 

MM

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The fire at Selby Abbey was, I believe, the result of the gas engine powering the organ blower, which burst into flames.

I didn't read the Yorkshire Post spread, but apparently, the local fire brigade couldn't put the fire out, because the town water supply was turned off at night. The Fire Brigade sent a message to their colleagues in Leeds, and they sent a fire appliance "drawn by four fast horses". (25 miles away, or so).
Sir John Betjamin broadcast from Selby Abbey, and I always love his description of the benefactor who funded the re-building of the abbey

"It was paid for by that ultra protestant, clock-making millionaire; Lord Grimshaw."

MM

 

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38 minutes ago, Malcolm Riley said:

With my Whitlock hat on I wonder whether MM would be interested in any of the Compton-related material which is in Whitlock’s diaries? There are a couple of letters also in Whitlock’s widow’s diaries (which she wrote after Percy’s death) from John Compton and Jimmy Taylor. Edna Whitlock gave most of Whitlock’s organ library to Taylor. I think some of this eventually ended up with Felton Rapley and Robert Munns. PW was a frequent visitor to the Compton ‘woiks’ In the ‘30s. 

 

I would be happy to share anything we have in the Whitlock Archive.

I for one can’t wait to read the fruits of MM’s researches. Could it not be a BIOS publication?

Malcolm Riley

BIOS possibly, but I see a huge restriction with that. Compton made such a huge range of things....a photoplayer, a player organ or two, numerous church organs, small Miniatura extension instruments,  cinema organs with spectacular illuminated surrounds,  fascinating components like npne other, luminous touch consoles, amazing inventions on file as patent applications and drawings; not to mention the electrostatic Melotones and the machinery of them . Producing a paper publication brings with it a restriction; that of photo limitations. With an electronic publication, the number of photographs is virtually unlimited, and believe me, I have a huge collection; many of them donated by other enthusiasts.

Also, from a commercial point of view, I very much doubt that the anticipated sales could justify the cost of hard print, but I suppose there is an international interest; especially among cinema theatre-organ enthusiasts.

All that is for the future, which isn't far away. I need to revise and clarify the electronic section, which is quite tricky to get right, even though people have been very generous with their time and superior scholarship As things stand, I'm at about 55,000 words, which probably amounts to about 180 pages with photographs. I've already written about the last years of the company, as well as Hull City Hall and the Jimmy Taylor masterpiece at St Brides, so once the electronic section is finished, it should be just a case of revising, tidying things up and correcting any mistakes.

Never write a book!  It's worse than writing fugues!

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12 hours ago, MusoMusing said:

Malcolm, that would be wonderful, for a very simple reason. John Compton was a very private, refined gentleman, who kept himself to himself. Almost nothing is known about him at the personal level, and in many ways, that leaves a hole in the story. We know what he did, but we never glimpse the inner soul. Apart from crashing his car on the way to see Peter Whitlock, the only thing I've come across was the alleged claim by JC that he had been married and had a son who died in infancy. Going purely on instinct, this just doesn't seem credible, and having told his adopted niece about it, he said that this was the end of the matter and he never wanted anyone to raise the subject again.

It would be wonderful to learn that he smoked 40 Woodbines  a day and accidentally burned his factory down three times, or that he had a liking for Guiness and hard-boiled eggs....but there's almost nothing to suggest that he was human.

 

MM

You mentioned JC's adopted niece above, but did he not also have an adopted grand daughter?  She was alluded to by name in another 'Compton' thread here a few years ago:

https://mander-organs-forum.invisionzone.com/topic/651-john-compton/page/13/

(See the post by Philip Wells further down the page).

Is it possible she might be contactable?

As for genealogical issues such as marriages and offspring, surely these are easy to trace nowadays via the internet?  As an example, last December I was amazed at how easy and quick it was to trace how a relative had died during the second world war, when I had thought that publicly-available sources would have been widely suppressed and therefore difficult to recover nowadays.  It only took an evening and the expenditure of £6 to discover, among other details, that he had been accidentally killed in Scotland and had died in the Gleneagles Hotel which had been commandeered for use as a military hospital.  Elsewhere on the web was a photo of his beautifully-maintained current grave, and I was also able to discover who keeps it thus.  All this was previously unknown to the family.

In other posts above it was mentioned that BIOS might be a suitable vehicle to publish your researches.  I would not recommend this because of the very limited circulation it would receive.  BIOS only has a global membership of a few hundred as far as I am aware, and their publications are not well known or all that easy to get hold of outside that circle.  Whenever I mention BIOS to the non-Brit organ fraternity, most of them think I am talking about computer motherboards.  So although their material is worthy and without doubt scholarly, I do not regard it as well known in the public domain.  From what I have seen of your work so far I think it deserves far wider recognition than that.

Elvin's work was also mentioned above.  He published most if not all of it privately using assistance from the Marc Fitch Fund.  This is still alive and well, thus you might be able to draw on it also.

CEP

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6 hours ago, Colin Pykett said:

You mentioned JC's adopted niece above, but did he not also have an adopted grand daughter?  She was alluded to by name in another 'Compton' thread here a few years ago:

https://mander-organs-forum.invisionzone.com/topic/651-john-compton/page/13/

(See the post by Philip Wells further down the page).

Is it possible she might be contactable?

As for genealogical issues such as marriages and offspring, surely these are easy to trace nowadays via the internet?  As an example, last December I was amazed at how easy and quick it was to trace how a relative had died during the second world war, when I had thought that publicly-available sources would have been widely suppressed and therefore difficult to recover nowadays.  It only took an evening and the expenditure of £6 to discover, among other details, that he had been accidentally killed in Scotland and had died in the Gleneagles Hotel which had been commandeered for use as a military hospital.  Elsewhere on the web was a photo of his beautifully-maintained current grave, and I was also able to discover who keeps it thus.  All this was previously unknown to the family.

In other posts above it was mentioned that BIOS might be a suitable vehicle to publish your researches.  I would not recommend this because of the very limited circulation it would receive.  BIOS only has a global membership of a few hundred as far as I am aware, and their publications are not well known or all that easy to get hold of outside that circle.  Whenever I mention BIOS to the non-Brit organ fraternity, most of them think I am talking about computer motherboards.  So although their material is worthy and without doubt scholarly, I do not regard it as well known in the public domain.  From what I have seen of your work so far I think it deserves far wider recognition than that.

Elvin's work was also mentioned above.  He published most if not all of it privately using assistance from the Marc Fitch Fund.  This is still alive and well, thus you might be able to draw on it also.

CEP

Thank you for this Colin. I shall have to dig around a bit for "the marriage", but I think I tried this previously and got nowhere. (I wish I could list all the cul-de-sacs I have wandered into....that would be a thousand pages!)

We do know that he left Birmingham after a fairly short time with Halmshaw's, and turned up in Sheffield working for Brindley & Foster as a voicer and tonal finisher. That must have involved an awful lot of travel, and Elvin mentions how he met many important organists etc.

. He was soon on the move again (about 2 years I think) and returned to the Nottingham area working for Lloyds. Age then about 25. In 1902 he was in partnership with Musson on Woodborough Road, Nottingham, and then on his own when Musson went to Conacher and hurled himself out of a third floor hoist door.

 Then came the fire which destroyed his premises in 1907....age then about 30. Then he teams up with Harry Mills as Compton & Mills at Measham, by which time he had met and then taken on the young Jimmy Taylor as an apprentice. At this point, both Compton and Taylor were registered as lodgers at a house in Measham.

In 1908, his mother Mary died, and I wonder if, at that time, he didn't inherit a bit of cash, because he was soon back on his own, working out of premises in Castle Boulevard, Lenton, Nottimgham..

In all my searches, I found nothing about a marriage. However, he was very partial to holidays in Capri, which at the time, enjoyed quite a libertine reputation and a very relaxed approach to certain things; usually gentiley linked to the word "aesthetes".

Then there is the curious business of the young lad he got to know in Italy. He wanted to bring him to England and give him the best education, but Mama refused. I'm not sure whether he was intent on borrowing, stealing or trafficking, but said boy turns up in London some years later as a young man, and lives with JC. Then the young man eventually marries and becomes a father. Hence the "adopted niece" scenario, which hadn't the slightest weight in law.

It's all very obscure, but not very relevant to the story of his work.

MM



 

 

 

 

 

 


 

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The justification given for removing the organ according to the Council meeting appears to be that by virtue of there being asbestos in the building from the time it was built it had to be assumed that the organ pipes must have become contaminated unless proven otherwise. That's a rather unnerving precedent to set: how often is anything removed and relocated from a building which was known to have had asbestos used in its construction? Is it routine for organbuilders to be required to test every pipe for asbestos if removing an organ from a building known to have been built with asbestos (but with no evidence that the organ was any more contaminated than the people who visited the building)? Is mesothelioma a known occupational risk and frequent cause of death amongst organ builders who must from time to time install, tune? and repair organs in buildings that contain asbestos?

On a happier note, it was good to be reminded of Compton's other ingenious ideas and whilst I have posted pictures before of his theatre lighting control systems (hands up if you knew he built theatre lighting controls) I'll happily link to them again here. Of course when you see them you will appreciate that only an organbuilder could have come up with such an idea.

Screen-Shot-2015-10-05-at-13.44-700x455.

console_new_programmable_pistons.jpg

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Hi

I thought the light console was dreamt up by Fred Bentham of Strand Electrics (at the time probably the major UK manufacturer of stage lighting equipment) and he went to Compton for the technical skills to make it happen.  Certainly that's what it says in his book on stage lighting that I often borrowed from our local library back in the day.  In a modified, less flamboyant layout, the light console continnued in production for a while.

 

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Apparenlty, Fred Bentham got the idea when he saw a cinema organist controlling a vast array of stop-tabs etc. (He would probably have liked to be an organist).

However, there's a bit more to it than this.

The critical invention was the Magnetic Clutch, which enabled the faders to be driven in a controlled way from a remote position, whereas previously, all the light controls were manipulated by hand. (I think the inventor was someone called Moss Mansell).

Apparently, being a light technician was quite a risky job. Total blackouts were achieved by throwing big switches, and there is one story where a technician asked that a particular area in the wings be kept clear ".....because that's where I land when I throw the switches."  Sure enough, he was found in a crumpled heap, exactly where he suggested!

There's another interesting first about the Strand/Compton light-console. The lighting could be programmed with pre-sets (hence the thumb and toes pistons)  They utilised the patent Stop Combination action invented by Jimmy Taylor.

How much work was done by Strand and Compton is a matter for some speculation, but I would hazard the guess that Compton did most of it, because they could. The console, with all the stop-tab mouldings and standard organ bits and pieces would most easily have been built in the Compton factory, then transported complete> I very much doubt that all the parts would shipped to Strand Lighting, and a whole console is a big thing to haul around. I suspect that Strand designed the lighting circuits, and Compton did what was required to the console. Once on site, it would simply be a case of plugging things into the various inputs/outputs.

Speculation apart, there is an interesting fact which is not generally appreciated. Long before the French claimed "So et Lumier" shows as their own invention, Strand lighting and a certain Mr Quentin Maclean , put on a show at one of the big exhibitions (Olympia?), using a Strand Light Console and a Compton Electrone electronic-organ, which was the central feature of the exhibition. It pre-dated the first "Son et Lumiere" show by many years, and even before that, Strand were presenting music and light shows at their own theatre in the West End.

Not that many light consoles were made....possibly around 15 to 20, but incredibly, one is still functioning  at a university theatre in Venezuela. (Let's hope it brings light where there is only darkness)

"Oh Lord! A bulb has gone out!"   Where have we heard that before, as an Orchestral Trumpet parts the organist's hair in the middle of Vierne's 'Berceuse'.


MM

Addendum:  I just recalled something.   Apparently, it was the BBC who condemned the Strand/Compton light console, because they wanted things to be computer controlled.  Computerising the whole system almost bankrupt Strand, and although they achieved their aim, it resulted in a company take-over.

 

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1 hour ago, MusoMusing said:



Not that many light consoles were made....possibly around 15 to 20, but incredibly, one is still functioning  at a university theatre in Venezuela. (Let's hope it brings light where there is only darkness)

 

 

There's a description of the still-functioning console at the Aula Magna ("Grand Hall") of the Central University of Venezuela is located within the University City of Caracas, here:

http://www.magmouse.co.uk/research/light-console/aula-magna-caracas/

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When reading this topic I wish had been so minded to ask all the questions raised with the late Frank Mitchell, John Compton's console designer who I knew when he lived in Worksop.

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I used to do stage lighting in an amateur way in my youth, and used the old Strand manual boards a lot.  The blackout procedure was simple - you just flicked a switch labelled (you've guessed it) 'blackout'.  I can't imagine how or why anyone would have been thrown across the room.  There was merely a dull thud as a contactor within cut everything off, not unlike the sound emanating from a contemporaneous Willis III console when you set a new combination on a general piston.

The process for lighting a scene was something like:

Look at the script carefully and annotate it appropriately.

Decide on your melange.

Write down how and at what point in the action to achieve it - this could involve operating several switches and dimmer wheels simultaneously.  Feet as well as hands often needed to be used on the dimmer wheels.  These turned a shaft onto which the selected dimmers were locked by turning their handles.  Woe betide you if you didn't get the locking correct as then lights would remain on or go off unexpectedly, or if you turned the wheel in the wrong direction.

Then set up the board for the next melange, which could be tricky if the action was fast-moving.

Does this sound familiar?  It's not much different to registering and playing an organ!  Therefore the application of organ-type combination controls was an obvious step.  I would have given anything for the equivalent of general pistons!

Hence the Compton light console.

CEP

PS My efforts got an honourable mention in at least two competitive drama competitions, but of course the adjudicators did not even know my name.  I was just the rather nerdy-looking and dirty 'sparks' labouring (literally) behind the scenes.  One of the plays in question was Shaw's 'Major Barbara' I recall.

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I have vague memories of seeing, when very young (8 or 9?), a "light-organ" show at the long-gone Bingley Hall in Birmingham during a visit with my parents. I recall that dancing columns of water illuminated by coloured lights were accompanied and controlled by an organ although whether pipe or electronic I don't know.  The performance was during some sort of home economics event where housewives were able to buy various new new kitchen implements. I can still in my mind's eye the yellow plastic butter dish my mother bought which had a hollow lid into which warm water could be poured to soften the butter on cold days! I remember that better than the light-organ show...

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2 hours ago, Barry Oakley said:

When reading this topic I wish had been so minded to ask all the questions raised with the late Frank Mitchell, John Compton's console designer who I knew when he lived in Worksop.

Indeed Barry, because the huge problem with the Compton topic has been a lack of primary sources and living accounts. Add to that the loss of company records,  and it has all been a difficult but rewarding quest to tease out the facts and details. There are little things I would like to know, but I fear will remain buried for all time.One thing I do find interesting, is that the taped interview with the late Roy Skinner (one of Compton's best electricians) does not include any reference to the light consoles. However, if anyone speaks Venezuelan (Spanish?), there may be a clue over there, because it was a tradition at the Compton firm that those who wired things, signed their names on the work they did.

The fantastic thing is, that the hard work has paid off, and with two or three reliable sources to back up every piece of relevant inforrmation, it all carries enough weight to be taken as factual.

MM

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11 hours ago, Contrabombarde said:

There's a description of the still-functioning console at the Aula Magna ("Grand Hall") of the Central University of Venezuela is located within the University City of Caracas, here:

http://www.magmouse.co.uk/research/light-console/aula-magna-caracas/

Well, well, well....what a wonderful surprise!

Just going back to the logistics of making the light consoles,  anyone who has worked on a Compton stop-tab console, will know that there is an abundance of bakelite. The stop rails (in which the stop-tabs are mounted, complete with combination action magnets) were all made in-house at the Compton factory. I very much doubt that Strand would therefore make any of that, simply because they wouldn't have needed to do.. I've also seen reference to the Strand consoles using standard Compton relays as well as the stop combination system. The woodwork is unmistakably Compton and to what looks like a very high standard.

So the weight of evidence and the simple logistics, point towards most of the work being done by Compton but there is also the possibility that some Strand people worked at the Compton premises on an ad hoc basis.

MM

,

 

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3 hours ago, handsoff said:

I have vague memories of seeing, when very young (8 or 9?), a "light-organ" show at the long-gone Bingley Hall in Birmingham during a visit with my parents. I recall that dancing columns of water illuminated by coloured lights were accompanied and controlled by an organ although whether pipe or electronic I don't know.  The performance was during some sort of home economics event where housewives were able to buy various new new kitchen implements. I can still in my mind's eye the yellow plastic butter dish my mother bought which had a hollow lid into which warm water could be poured to soften the butter on cold days! I remember that better than the light-organ show...

The following links show the centrepiece attraction at the Ideal Homes Exhibition held at Earl's Court, and a fascinating review of Strand's first 100 years, which refers to that exhibition.

Mouse over the RIBA photograph and move towards bottom left, where can seen a Compton organ-console in situ.  No trace of a light console, but there must have been one somewhere.
 

https://www.architecture.com/image-library/RIBApix/image-information/poster/kaleidakon-ideal-home-exhibition-earls-court-london/posterid/RIBA23772.html

 

http://www.strandlighting.co.uk/

 

MM

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