Improved Lighting Equipment in the mid 20th Century

1. Patt.23  (1953 - 1983) 

2.   Pattern 123 Fresnel Spot

3.   Hassan

4. Cinemoid


Improved British Lighting Equipment introduced in 1953.

1.   Pattern 23 die cast profile spotlight manufactured by Rank Strand Electric Company.

Date: 1960
Photographer: ©Rank Strand Archive

The Pattern 23 was the first mass-produced theatre spotlight in the World. Die-cast by the 5000 for a market in which a gross (144) was thought to be an outsize batch, it was destined to run for thirty years.  It is believed that more than five million individual units were produced and distributed throughout the world.

In 1961 the lantern selling at £10 per unit was firmly placed as the UK theatre's first die cast spotlight. Launched in 1953 and only superceded in 1983, the Strand Pattern 23 was good enough to be the backbone of small theatre spotlighting and a winning problem solver in large theatres where space was tight.

2.   Pattern 123 die cast fresnel spotlight manufactured by Rank Strand Electric Company.  Introduced in 1957

Date: 1960
Photographer: ©Rank Strand Archive

Built 1957 to 1978, this iconic die cast spot was rushed into My Fair Lady at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. The 123 is still in use in small theatres and schools worldwide.  Prior to the introduction of the 123, a fresnel lens option was available for the pattern 23.

3.  Hassan of Bagdad, by James Elroy Flecker.  Scene from the Moseley Hall Grammar School production in 1952.

Date: 1952
Photographer: Unknown.  From the revieew in the Chedlian Magazine.

4.  Cinemoid: acrylic colour media manufactured for stage use.  Rank Strand Electric Company.  Introduced in 1957

Date: 1960
Photographer: ©Rank Strand Archive, from the 1974 Stage Lighting Catalogue

Pattern 23 and 123 profile lanterns

The Pattern 23 profile lantern and the pattern 123 fresnel spotlight were, for many years, the work horses of the smaller theatre companies and many of the amateur groups.  From the early 1960s, these lanterns became the standard equipment installed in community halls and schools, where they have been, in some cases, superseded by the parblazer range of fixed focus lamps, and in small theatres and school halls where they are now being superseded by led light sources.  The attraction of this piece of equipment was the versatility and consistency of the optical units and the efficiency of the light source.  In stage lighting terms, the appearance of the patt 23 lantern can be equated with the domestic transition from candlepower to incandescent light sources.

The optical principles of an incandescent light form that could offer a controlled beam or spot of light to illuminate selected areas was well known in the early years of the 20th century when individual spotlights were deplyed to provide a concentrated area of light to highlight the 'star' of a perfoprmances, particularly in the variety theatre.  Some 'limes' as they were called, utilised an acetylene source although a carbon arc was to become the more common lightsource in the theatre and in cinematography.

Prior to the introduction of the patt 23 profile spot, stages were illuminated by battens or simple flood lights using a three colour or four colour system that could offer a range of colours and moods, often enhancing the painted design by selective use of colours within the overall wash. One thespian wit referred to this as apricot jam lighting. This system was also present in the footlights and persisted, with improved luminaires, for the lighting of the upstage cyclorama. (In Germany, there were moves towards more easily controlled low voltage spotlights that allowed discrete follow spotting of principal actors pr singers, a feature found in the 1989 Video of Lohengrin, designed by Manfred Voss and directed by Werner Herzog for the Bayreuth Festival).

Setting the stage ~ Colour Media

Some of my earliest theatrical experiences were associated with school performances and these laid a basis for my continuing interest in theatre technology.  In my fourth year (1953) at the Grammar School, the staff decided to present a performance of James Elroy Flecker's play Hassan of Bagdad in the newly built school gymnasium.  (Previously, there had been performances of A Midsummer Night's Dream in the school dining hall.) 

To facilitate the production a small team of staff and pupils created a temporary timber staging in the gymnasium and a 'fit up frame', with drapes and borders, was purchased from Watts and Corry, long established theatrical contractors in Manchester.  Materials were purched by the Parents Association.  In addition to the drapes and scenery, lighting equipment could be purchased or hired to attach to the frame.

(Note: A similar fit-up frame was used in Ayr Town Hall for a number of years and provided stage facilities for Ayr Academy's Gilbert and Sullivan performances.  The frame fell into disuse and was discarded during the renovations of the 1980s.)

When the installation arrived, a number of very simple 'compartment battens' were included for use as main lighting and footlights.  Four focus lanterns manufactured by Furse Electrical were hired, together with six simple slider dimmers.  To our delight, four Strand Electric pattern 23 profile spots became available for the production, offering considerable enhancement to the lighting possibilities.

The compartment battens relied on clear 150 watt bulbs and these were dipped into a coloured lacquer, offering the three primary colours.  Later, as compartment battens became more sophisticated, gelatine media was used to provide the colour, with a much wider variety of basic colours.  However, the gelatine rapidly faded and hotter lamps soon burn a hole through the medium.

The advent of Cinemoid, a more stable acrylic medium solved many of the problems of safely while maintaining a standard colour range over a reasonable period of time.  With the American alternative, Roscoline, Cinemoid became the standard colour medium until the gradual replacement, in selected locations, by more sturdy and durable 'glass' material in the 1980s.

A review of the play Hassan included in the school magazine included the following reference. 'Mr Owen, Mr Clews and the lighting team for the terrific effects of spotlights they threw on the whole play, especially on Yasmin's balcony and the Procession of Protracted Death; Mr Seed and his artists for the sumptuous sceneries (Nine sets, twelve scene shiftings in all.'

[Text on this page based on material published by Rank Strand Electric. The Chedlian Trinity Term 1952 and personal recollections.]

For further information on colour media, please follow this LINK