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Tuesday, December 1, 1998 Published at 16:52 GMT


Would-be mayors fight for Empire

Ken Livingstone and Lord Archer with Dick Whittington's cat

London mayoral hopefuls Lord Archer and Ken Livingstone have buried their differences to launch an appeal to save one of the city's most famous theatres.

The pair - who are both hoping to stand for the new position - posed with pantomime favourite Dick Whittington outside the Hackney Empire to kick off a 15m appeal to protect the East End venue.

Conservative peer Lord Archer has donated an Andy Warhol print of Marilyn Monroe which is expected to raise 1,000 at auction.

Labour MP Mr Livingstone hinted he might put in a bid.

"I'd have to go and ask my partner about it first, though," he added.

[ image: Laurel and Hardy: Stan Laurel was an Empire performer]
Laurel and Hardy: Stan Laurel was an Empire performer
The appeal was launched after the Hackney Empire's bid for National Lottery funds was turned down earlier this year.

The theatre needs the money to restore its 1901 grade II listed premises, as well as to provide extra facilities for administration and access.

Both politicians backed the appeal to raise funds to save and revamp the theatre - which is staging Dick Whittington And His Cat as its Christmas pantomime.

Lord Archer said: "It is vital in a city like London that we have theatres everywhere. We are the greatest capital city in the world."

Mr Livingstone added: "Art should be a central part of our lives. We've never spent enough on it in this country."

The Empire's management insists that the 1.5m spent on a feasibilty study for the Lottery bid and buying up extra property had not been wasted.

The work that had already been carried out would continue if the money was raised, it said.

[ image: Julian Clary: Made his name at the Empire]
Julian Clary: Made his name at the Empire
The theatre played host to many of the big names of the music hall era, inlcuding Charlie Chaplin, Stan Laurel and Marie Lloyd.

After World War II, Liberace, Tony Hancock and Charlie Chester played there.

With the start of ITV in the 1950s, the building became a television theatre, and shows like the Oh Boy! pop programme and Take Your Pick were made there.

During the 1970s it fell into decline and was used as a bingo hall, but was reopened as a theatre in 1986.

Since then, acts including Jo Brand, Harry Enfield, Paul Merton and Julian Clary have made their debuts on the Empire's stage.

Lord Archer's Warhol painting is being auctioned on Thursday evening at the Lux Centre, Shoreditch, along with works by David Hockney, Henry Moore, and Turner Prize nominee Sam Taylor-Wood.

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