Faulty safety curtain did its job and saved theatre

The blaze at the Theatre Royal
The blaze at the Theatre Royal
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It was 1972 when children got into the New Theatre Royal and lit fireworks setting the Victorian building alight. Only now, 41 years later, is the devastating damage about to be put right.

Photographs from the theatre’s archives catch the drama of that dark day in Portsmouth’s theatrical history.

But, as we report today, work is finally about to start to regenerate the theatre.

On the day of the fire a member of the public alerted a patrolling policeman to the smoke. But by the time the fire brigade arrived the rear of the theatre was ablaze.

Early in the fire the ropes of the safety curtain burned through, causing it to fall into place saving the auditorium.

Ironically, the curtain had been faulty and temperamental for many years and regularly refused to operate.

The stage, fly tower and the entire building behind the proscenium arch was destroyed.

The building had already been earmarked for demolition, provoking outrage and a huge campaign to save it. After the fire the bulldozers were threatened again but the Theatre Royal Society was there to oppose the plan and began a long campaign to restore it.

Why don’t you share your memories with us? If you have your own story or pictures from days gone by that you would like featured on this page

please e-mail Chris Owen at chris.owen@thenews.co.uk or write to him at The News, The News Centre, Hilsea, Portsmouth,PO2 9SX