The illuminated surround is as much a defining characteristic of the British theatre organ scene as warm beer is of a British pub.
Intended as a means of attracting attention and increasing the entertainment value of the organ during film interlude solos, the first illuminated surround was fitted in 1929 to the Jardine organ of the Ambassador, Pendleton. Translucent glass-panelled boxes at each end of the console had lights behind which could be switched to give different colours. This was but a forerunner of the 1932 Compton installation at the Capitol Forest Hill, where the surround could cycle automatically through a range of colours to give a continuously varying display.
The idea soon caught on, with the original boxy designs giving way to curves, multiple forms, etched art moderne patterns and vase-like shapes complete with hanging dew-drops in solid glass. The combination of curved, non-reentrant forms and bright colours gave rise to the nickname “jelly-moulds”. There was little to constrain the designer’s imagination, clearly. Illuminated organ benches became the vogue too; the less well-ventilated varieties being called “hot seats”.
Manufacture and design of such surrounds became entrusted to specialist lighting firms such as F.H. Pride, Beard’s and Holophane.
Whilst Compton led the way in the adoption of the illuminated surround, both Wurlitzers and Christies were similarly adorned.