A comedy landmark goes up in flames | Koko played host to the Goons, Python and more

A comedy landmark goes up in flames

Koko played host to the Goons, Python and more

The London venue Koko, which was badly damaged in an overnight blaze, has rightly been hailed as a major landmark in the capital’s music scene, having played host to the likes of  Madonna, The Rolling Stones, The Clash and Prince.

But the 120-year-old theatre in Camden also has a significant place in comedy history – as the home of the Goon show and more

It opened as the Camden Theatre on Boxing Day 1900 as was one of the largest theatres in London outside the West End, but nine years later was repurposed as a variety venue, renamed the Camden Hippodrome Theatre, playing host to the comedy turns of the day.

As variety faded, the building became a Gaumont cinema until 1940. After the war it  taken over by the BBC and converted into a radio studio, becoming home to  various comedy recordings, most notably The Goon Show, with  Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers and Harry Secombe gathering there to record their raucous show every Sunday night.

In 1972 the trio reunited there for The Last Goon Show Of All, part of the celebrations to mark 50 years of the BBC, which then gave up the venue. The show opened with the reading of a congratulatory telegram that Prince Charles had sent from a Royal Navy ship on which he was stationed. The building carried a blue plaque to mark that event, erected by Comic Heritage.

During the BBC’s tenure, the venue was also used for special one-off BBC recordings, including a celebratory vinyl LP of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. 

Later in the 1970s the building became a music venue and nightclub,  called  Music Machine and latterly The Camden Palace, but it eventually became rundown and fell into disuse. Coincidentally,  stand-up Ian Stone is writing a book about his lifelong obsession with The Jam, sparked when he saw the band there in 1978.

In 2004, the building was bought by media mogul Olly Bengough and restored to its former glory under its current name, Koko.

Six years later, it became the venue for the Channel 4 topical comedy show Stand Up For The Week, initially hosted by Patrick Kielty with regulars Jack Whitehall, Kevin Bridges, Andi Osho and Rich Hall.  The series ran for four years.

Koko was undergoing another refurbishment when last night’s fire broke out.

The blaze destroyed the dome on the roof of the venue, but the efforts of 60 firefighters brought it under control and station commander Jon Lewis told the BBC his team's work meant 'the fire was contained to the roof and saved the rest of the building'.

Bengough added that he was 'deeply saddened' by the blaze, adding: 'We'll be doing our best to get the redevelopment of this iconic building back on track.'

Published: 7 Jan 2020

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With typical hyperbole, the show is described thusly: 'Under-rehearsed, under-prepared and under pressure, Nick and his band somehow managed to pull together the greatest show in the last 27 years of living memory. That show went down as a thing of legend, often spoken about by weary travellers around campfires, but thought to have been lost to the sands of time forever.'

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