IT’S the ‘dead duck’ which turned out to have rather more life left in it than councillors believed.

This year, Wimborne Tivoli Theatre reaches a milestone.

Built in 1936, the Tivoli was a jewel of the town for decades.

However, by the early 1990s it had fallen into disrepair after lying empty for 14 years, and Dorset councillors had earmarked it for demolition as part of a roads improvement scheme.

But Wimborne residents weren’t yet ready to give up on their theatre – and they turned to their new mayor for help.

Well-known businessman Malcolm Angel had just been given the chains of office at a ceremony at the Allendale Centre when he turned to residents to ask what they wanted of him.

Almost immediately the answer came back – to bring the Tivoli back to life.

Mr Angel told the Daily Echo: “Inauguration ceremonies were a pretty big deal at that time, and the main hall at the Allendale Centre was packed.

“I introduced myself and asked the audience for any questions, and it came straight from the floor: What were the council going to do about the Tivoli Theatre?”

Mr Angel had moved with his young family from Poole to Wimborne in part because of the theatre.

He immediately vowed to do all he could to save it for residents.

“That mayoral chain was very heavy all of a sudden,” he said.

He quickly brought together a group of volunteers who became known as the Friends of the Tivoli and went to East Dorset District Council for help.

However, officials informed him the theatre was nothing more than a “dead duck”.

A “damning” report commissioned by the council questioned any merit in the Tivoli.

But rather than deterring Mr Angel, he said it simply spurred him on, and by November 1993 the theatre was open to the public once again. This year will mark the 25th anniversary of the reopening.

One of the first big performers to take to the stage was Pam Ayres, who has returned on many occasions since.

“It was a very difficult thing initially to find a way to get stars to perform in Wimborne – I had to make friends with agents in West End,” said Mr Angel.

“However, we found that stars tended to come back because they so enjoyed performing in the town.”

The reopened theatre quickly became particularly well-known for its comedy offering.

“Performers know it as the place where people laugh,” Mr Angel said.

“The Tivoli is a south coast touring theatre, which meets a very specific criteria – for example, it needs to have been 500 and 600 seats.

“I knew I wanted it to become one of those theatres very quickly, and that was a big achievement for us.”

After years of work – in which he took on every role from making tea for performers to managing the theatre – Mr Angel stepped aside in 2002.

The Tivoli has continued to attract star names from across the world, and welcomed back some Dorset legends such as Al Stewart and the late Greg Lake. Its busy programme mixes live shows and films soon after their release.

“It really is the most wonderful, special venue,” Mr Angel said.

“It’s my baby in lots of ways.”