Cooler, comfier Albert Hall strikes a new chord

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The Royal Albert Hall is such an established feature of British life that it was immortalised in song when the Beatles wondered how many holes would fill it.

Now the institution in central London is embarking on a new chapter in its history with completion of an eight-year, £70m refurbishment to drag its ageing facilities into the 21st century.

In the 133 years - and a day - since Queen Victoria opened the hall commissioned by Prince Albert, her late husband, everyone from Frank Sinatra to Jimi Hendrix has performed in the distinctive round building in Kensington.

Einstein lectured there and David Lloyd George was attacked by suffragettes. The most famous concert in the world is the annual festival of flag-waving at the Last Night of the Proms.

David Elliott, the chief executive, said yesterday that while the performers and audiences were charitable towards the much-loved venue, conditions had become "pretty grim" before the redevelopment. "There was a time bomb. The services infrastructure, the wiring and so on, were nearing the end of their useful life," he said.

The redevelopment had introduced silent air-cooling, new foyers and extra bars, improved acoustics with adjustments to the mushrooms in the ceiling, 180 extra seats and, most significantly, a four-storey basement housing all services. For the first time, equipment can be moved in and out of the hall below ground level and without disturbing the neighbours.

The improvements also mean that after years of lurching from financial crisis to crisis, the hall is on an even footing and has been able to increase the number of events from 260 nights a year a decade ago to more than 340 nights booked this year.

Mr Elliott said he was now preparing for a more serious duty on top of providing good nights out - the educational mission envisaged when Prince Albert commissioned the building. An education officer is to be appointed and there will be a programme to introduce more children to music.

Yesterday, the Queen inspected the hall which was established under Royal Charter.