Copyright: Friends of Beer Wurlitzer 2017
Resident Organists at Walsall’s Picture House
The opening of the Wurlitzer at the Picture House in Walsall took place on 26th January 1925 and was performed by organist Jack Courtnay, with Stanley Kilburn as orchestral organist. Jack Courtnay officially opened the Wurlitzer and demonstrated it, and Stanley Kilburn did much of the work accompanying the silent films that were showing.

Born in 1895, organist Jack Courtnay stood alone at the beginning of the unit orchestra era in the British Isles. He was there right at the start, and learned the job the hard way. He had a varied career and was a pioneer in developing theatre organ presentation in this country. After a brief spell in America following the First World War, Jack returned to England in time for the first Wurlitzer to arrive. With a wide experience of unit organs, who better to open the Picture House Wurlitzer than Jack Courtnay. Jack was billed at the Picture House until the beginning of April 1925 when he moved on to open England's second Wurlitzer installation, at the Palace Cinema in Tottenham, North London. Jack went on to open several of the early Wurlitzer installations across the United Kingdom.

The organist Charles Willis took over in the middle of May 1925 and played regularly in Walsall until the end of August of that year. Charles Willis went on to become resident organist at The Palace Cinema in Tottenham, The New Gallery in London’s Regent Street, as well as the Picture Houses in Glasgow and Leicester. In 1926 he opened the Wurlitzer organ at the West End Cinema in Birmingham, and in 1930 he opened the Christie organ at the Granada Cinema in Walthamstow.

From October 1925, Edward O'Henry took over at Walsall for a two year period before moving on to the Maida Vale Picture House, London, in September 1927. The Picture House at Maida Vale also had a 6-rank Style-D Wurlitzer installed. Edward later became resident organist at the Madame Tussaud's Cinema in London for which he is probably best known.

A while after Edward left, Edwin Bosworth became resident organist. Edwin spent about ten years working for Gaumont British as a solo organist. Other cinemas he played at included The Regent in Bristol, The Coliseum in Burslem, Super Cinema in Stratford, Savoy Cinema in Leyton, and The Lonsdale in Carlisle.

From about 1931 Wilfred Gregory took over at the Wurlitzer. Out of all the organists at The Picture House, Wilfred had the longest residency.  At the age of 17 he became the youngest church organist in Wolverhampton. It was whilst at Wolverhampton that Wilfred began playing for films at the Gaumont Cinema there from 1922 to 1929. Whilst working at the Picture House in Walsall, Wilfred met his wife-to-be who was also working there, as an usherette. In about 1946 Wilfred transferred to the ABC chain and took a post at the Central Cinema in Kidderminster. However it wasn't long before he was on the move again, this time to the Tower Cinema in West Bromwich where he spent the next few years.

After Wilfred left Walsall in 1939, it is likely that PCT's touring organists each did a stint at the organ before moving on to their next assigned location. The first of these organists was Clifford Baggott. However from August 1940 to February 1941, Wilfred was billed at the Picture House on a weekly basis for community singing.
Edwin Bosworth
Wilfred Gregory
Charles Willis - Organist
Edward O'Henry - Organist
Jack Courtnay
Charles Willis
Edward O’Henry
Clifford Baggott - organist
Jack Courtnay - Organist
Clifford Baggott
Edwin Bosworth - Organist
Wilfred Gregory - Organist