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Hackney Empire collection

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 2381 HE
Held at: University of East London
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Full title: Hackney Empire collection
Date(s): 1962-2009
Level of description: Fonds (collection)
Extent: c35 shelves and c400 posters
Name of creator(s): Cartoon Archetypical Slogan Theatre x CAST
CAST New Variety Ltd
New Variety Performers Agency
Hackney Empire Theatre
Hackney New Variety Ltd
Hackney Empire Preservation Trust
Friends of Hackney Empire


Administrative/Biographical history:

CAST began in 1965, after founder members Roland Muldoon, Claire Burnley [later Muldoon], Raymond Levene and David Hatton were ejected from the left wing Unity Theatre as a result of a failed attempt to make its productions more politically radical. Although all four members had trained and been employed behind the scenes as technical staff, the newly formed group saw them becoming the performers.

With the addition to the group of David 'Red' Saunders who had attended Roland Muldoon's and Levene's drama classes at the Working Men's College, [1965-1966], CAST produced its first original play 'John D Muggins is Dead'(1966), a 20 minute piece inspired by the movement against US involvement in Vietnam. Their next plays, performed by a series of ever changing line ups which would become the norm, were 'Mr Oligarchy's Circus' (1967) and 'The Trials of Horatio Muggins' (1967), both of which reflected the revolutionary struggles between young idealistic socialists and the English middle class. CAST usually played in non theatrical venues, such as technical colleges, universities and political meetings, where it gained a reputation for short, fast, political comedies (usually involving a protagonist with the surname of Muggins) which always played to the audience. As well as touring Britain, the group also travelled to Holland, France and Germany.

The group split in 1972 in the middle of making the short film 'Planet of the Mugs' (after previously turning down a movie offer from Andrew Oldham, the ex manager of the Rolling Stones). Red Saunders and other members of CAST went on to found 'Rock Against Racism' and 'Kartoon Klowns'. The Muldoons, however, reformed CAST but initially found it difficult to both teach newly recruited members of the troupe CAST's particular style and to attract audiences. In 1974 CAST were awarded their first funding from the Arts Council which enabled the Muldoons to begin to perform full time and eventually tour around Britain extensively. In 1980, CAST won an OBIE award in New York for outstanding script and performance for the production 'Full Confessions of a Socialist'.

The core CAST company continued to perform political pieces but in 1982 they began to organise New Variety nights, a mixture of alternative comedy and cabaret acts. The first shows took place at the Old White Horse, Brixton Road but later, with the help of grants from the GLC, the nights expanded to at least 6 venues throughout London.

The Hackney Empire was built as a music hall in 1901, designed by the architect Frank Matcham. In 1956 the theatre was sold to ATV and it became the first commercial television studios in Britain. In 1963 MECCA purchased the theatre and converted it into a bingo hall. MECCA had made some modifications to the interior decor of the Theatre but in 1979 removed the famous turreted domes and pediment from the roof of the building. However, in 1984 the Theatre gained a Grade II* listing and MECCA were ordered to restore building's exterior to its original state. As the interior was also listed, MECCA were unable to alter the original, formal theatre seating arrangement which had become increasingly unsuitable for its bingo playing audience. MECCA then offered the theatre to CAST New Variety as a permanent London base. Assisted by the London Borough of Hackney, Hackney Empire Preservation Trust (founded by the Muldoons and others in October 1986) eventually acquired the freehold from MECCA Ltd for the price of £150,000 on the understanding that they returned the building to its former use.

The Hackney Empire opened once more as a 1000 seat theatre on 9 December 1986 as the home venue for CAST New Variety (under the name Hackney New Variety). CAST New Variety still continued to run the events in smaller locations where they encouraged new acts to perform beside more established artists. By 1986 CAST New Variety were running 250 Sunday shows a year in London.

Hackney Empire went on to establish itself as one of the leading stand-up comedy venues in Britain. In 2001, the Empire began a renovation and restoration project which was completed in January 2004.

From the mid 1990s, Roland Muldoon began to become less involved with the day to day running of Hackney Empire mostly due to the financial problems which has continually affected the Theatre. He finally retired at the end of 2005 and has since begun to organize New Variety shows outside of Hackney Empire.


Scope and content/abstract:

Papers of the Hackney Empire collection, 1962-2009, comprising:

Material relating to the CAST theatre troupe, 1962-1985, including: papers concerning Roland Muldoon's theatre training, membership of the Unity Theatre, drama classes at the Working Men's College, London, and the foundation of CAST, 1962-1969; correspondence, financial records, publicity material, scripts, press cuttings, tour schedules, photographs and audio recordings regarding CAST productions, 1966-1985, film reels of CAST film 'Planet of the Mugs', [1972];

Material relating to CAST Presentations Ltd, CAST New Variety Ltd and New Variety Performers Agency, 1982-[mid 1990s], including: minutes of management meetings, 1982-1990; correspondence and other administrative material relating to the running of CAST New Variety, [1983]-1986; proposals seeking home venues for the CAST New Variety, 1980-1985; minutes, correspondence, reports and other material relating to Diorama Arts Ltd, 1984-1989; publicity material for comedians, musicians and other cabaret acts either for spots in CAST New Variety shows or representation by New Variety Performers Agency, 1983-[mid 1990s]; posters and flyers advertising CAST New Variety shows, [1983]-1986; financial records, 1980-1991;

Material relating to Hackney Empire Theatre and Hackney New Variety Ltd, 1986-2009, including: minutes of management meetings, 1988-2005 (very incomplete); correspondence, 1988-2004 (very incomplete); press cuttings, 1986-2007; posters and programmes for Hackney Empire productions, 1986-2009; photographs, video recordings and other material relating to New Act of the Year, 1991-[2000] (very incomplete).

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

The collection had no clear arrangement. In order to make it more accessible, it has been sorted into categories mostly following the chronology of the organizations founded or run by the Roland and Claire Muldoon. However many of these ran concurrently with each other there is an overlap which makes them very difficult to separate, ie CAST New Variety and New Variety Presentations Ltd.

Conditions governing access:

The collection is currently closed whilst it undergoes cataloguing and arrangement. Limited access may be possible, please contact the Archivist for further information.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Requests to reproduce material should be submitted to the Archivist.

Finding aids:

The collection is currently undergoing cataloguing, a partial detailed listing is available on Archives Hub. Box lists of the remaining material are available on request.

Archival Information

Archival history:

Records relating to CAST and CAST New Variety were, until deposited with the University of East London, stored in Roland Muldoon's house. Some of the material is therefore in quite poor condition. Most of the administrative material relating to Hackney Empire came from the Muldoon collection. However as Muldoon's involvement with the running of the Theatre decreased, the records become more and more patchy.

Immediate source of acquisition:

Majority of collection deposited by Roland Muldoon, 2007. Second accession mostly consisting of posters, programmes and press cuttings received from Hackney Empire, April 2010.

Allied Materials

Related material:

Modern dyeline print reproductions of architectural plans by Frank Matcham who designed the Empire Palace, later Hackney Empire, [1900-1901] held by the University of East London (ref: ELTA/JE/1).

Deeds and papers relating to the construction of the Hackney Empire, 1878-1902 (ref: D/B/EMP 1), programmes and posters of Hackney Empire Theatre, 1986-1992 (ref: D/B/EMP 2), held by Hackney Archives Department.

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Original AIM25 entry compiled by Sarah Drewery; updated by Caroline Lam.

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
April 2008; June 2012.

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