ABC Cinema, Preston.

ABC Cinema, Preston.

Preston, PR1 8BH


Original owners:  Associated British Cinemas, Ltd.

Architects:  Cecil Jack Foster (ABC Chief Architect);LRIBA-  assisted by R.J. Westaway.

Seating Capacity:  1160 seats.

Date Opened:  Saturday 14th March 1959.

First feature shown:  ‘The Reluctant Debutante’, starring Rex Harrison and Kay Kendall.

Date Closed:  Saturday 11th September 1982. 

Demolished:  October 1986.



ABC Cinema, Preston under construction construction

The ABC cinema Preston on the corner of Fishergate and Theatre Street was a bit of a late comer where super style cinemas are concerned, most of them built in the 1930s. This one came along in 1959, built on the site of the Theatre Royal, which also belonged to ABC.  The Theatre Royal was opened in 1802 and after a number of changes became part of ABC in 1929.

Architect of the 1,160-seat cinema was Cecil Jack Foster with his deputy R.J. Westaway. The building was built on a narrow site. In the design of the exterior one object was to reduce maintenance to a minimum. Large areas of terrazzo and enamelled panels were incorporated within a frame of facing bricks, illuminated publicity frames.

A special feature in the main entrance vestibule was made of the sales kiosk and pay boxes. They were of contemporary design and fitted snugly into recesses, adjacent to the staircases to the stalls, balcony and administrative offices.

Main Entrance foyer.

Because of the restrictions of the site, the auditorium was narrow and an unusually deep balcony had been included in order to provide adequate accommodation.

There was an attractive façade. A number of vertical features were placed on the front elevation, which conceal continuous runs of red, green and blue fluorescent tubing. All were electronically controlled and were made to rise and fall in the intensity of any colour or allowed to cycle continuously over the range of the spectrum.

Auditorium lighting in the main was of an indirect nature and comprised 550 feet of fluorescent tubes with an electronic control that allowed the intensity to be reduced or increased at any desired speed. The dimming sequence was predetermined so that the lighting dimmed from the back of the auditorium to the stage and vice versa when the lighting was switched on; the speed of transition being set to a value that will cause no ocular discomfort. The same system controlled about eighty-six downlights, spread over and at the side of the ante-proscenium.

Cold cathode in plastic moulds was used for the under-canopy lighting, which terminated against a mirror above a battery of armour-plate glass doors. The ABC symbol was contained within a delicate fin and was finished in bottle green. The seats were upholstered with deep foam rubber upon tension spring foundations, covered in fine English velvet of contemporary design. Plenty of legroom was provided.

Carpeting in the entrance hall had a rich red ground shade and flecks of blue, yellow, white and green.

The circle foyer was carpeted with a fine Wilton carpet made by James Templeton and Co Ltd and was specially created for the theatre. It was reported that much thought had been put in choosing carpet. It had to be contemporary, yet dignified, bright and cheerful, yet practicable.

Click on the above frame to watch a short film made for the opening of the ABC Cinema, Preston.


The opening of the brand new ABC took place on Saturday 14th March 1959. In attendance was film star Richard Todd. He was in a short film that recorded the opening. Not many cinemas had this privilege.

The first film at the new venue was ‘The Reluctant Debutante’, starring Rex Harrison and Kay Kendall.  This was projected using Philips FP20S machines with pulsed discharge lamps. This meant a flicker shutter wasn’t required, the lamp taking its place.  To compare, there was also a Ross machine installed with a Peerless lamphouse. Also in the box was a Stelma spotlight.

ABC Preston. Projection room.

When the pulse lamp was first demonstrated at Photokina in 1958 it illuminated a 45ft Cinemascope picture with a brightness of 20-foot lamberts. So, there was ample power to illuminate the screen.

The operating box was built over the deep balcony, the seating extended underneath the projection structure. This made for a steep rake of twenty-three degrees on a throw of 123ft.

Closure came on 7 April 1973 to allow a pub called The Painted Wagon to be constructed in the rear stalls. On 6th May 1973 the cinema reopened in the circle area only with seating for 637. Films ceased on the Saturday 11th September 1982 with a double X programme.

The demolition hammer came calling in October 1986 and the land became part of the new Fishergate Centre.


David A Ellis©