A PUB is marking the 80th anniversary of when it first opened as a theatre.

Among regulars at the Playhouse, in Osborne Street, Colchester, are pensioners who recall going there in search of vaudeville and variety instead of pints and pies.

Joining in celebrations of its landmark anniversary yesterday was Ted Kettle, 84, who saw shows at the venue as a child and was the first customer to walk in when it opened as a JD Wetherspoons pub in the 1990s.

He said he remembered sneaking in to the theatre with pals aged only six or seven, ducking out from behind a curtain when the usherettes were looking the other way.

“In those days the queue before the shows used to stretch right round the corner into Chapel Street,” he said.

“It was quite a grand place and there’d be a doorman outside and two more inside to show you in.”

After opening on March 18, 1929, with a performance of So This Is Love, on tour from London’s Winter Garden Theatre, the Playhouse staged a different live show every week for the next 18 months.

In September 1930 it became a cinema but there was a revival of stage shows alongside films in the forties and fifties, when stars including Bruce Forsyth, Benny Hill and Tommy Cooper appeared there.

Although there were five cinemas in the town at one stage, there were queues outside each of them.

Margaret Hills, 73, first visited The Playhouse as a girl of eight.

“I remember there was a man called Freddie Chapman who used to sell shrimps from a barrow outside,” she said.

Publicans Paul and Jackie Dungey took over the venue 15 years ago, six months after it became a pub.

They said they still enjoyed chatting with older customers about its theatrical past – and Paul has recently taken inspiration from the venue’s history by starting up in business as a part-time children’s entertainer, leaving his wife in principal charge.

For years the pub has embraced its heritage by placing dummy figures in the surviving upper circle of seats, peering down at the drinkers sitting on the stage.

To mark its anniversary, volunteers have created a party of stellar figures to occupy the private boxes, including the Queen, Prince Charles, Margaret Thatcher, Clark Gable and Mickey Mouse.

“It’s great to have the history,” Mr Dungey said. “We’re not a theme pub, we’re just The Playhouse and always have been!”