Grand crowd gathered to see amazing escape act

There’s no escaping the fact that the theatre and the street in which it was built are long gone.

Escapologist in Waller Street
Escapologist in Waller Street

A large crowd gathered in Waller Street, Luton, in 1935 to see a Houdini-style escapologist go through his routine while suspended from a rope at the top of the Grand Theatre.

The stuntman was publicising a forthcoming performance at the Grand, which opened in 1898 and was Luton’s – and indeed Bedfordshire’s – first purpose-built theatre.

It was still going strong during the mid-1930s, despite cinemas now providing entertainment for Luton audiences, and presented a programme of plays and variety.

The young Hughie Green, who many years later hosted TV shows Double Your Money and Opportunity Knocks, appeared there in June 1935 with his ‘Famous All-Star BBC Gang’.

The Grand, which had about 800 seats, closed and reopened several times before the end finally came.

Each brief closure had been met by a storm of protest, with letters written to the Luton News, and the theatre was tempted to start again.

Battling against financial losses, desperate attempts were made to attract audiences with nude shows and the like, but to no avail.

The final performance was on May 4, 1957.

The building was demolished and replaced with a supermarket and the site is now part of The Mall Luton.

> Information for this article was provided by the book From Grand To Grove: Entertaining South Bedfordshire by Eddie Grabham.