ABC Regal Cinema, Chester.~ History

ABC Chester rear shot of the auditorium



The 1973 seat ABC Regal opened on Foregate Street on Saturday 30th October 1937.It was designed by William Riddell Glen, who passed away in 1950. The opening feature was ‘Slave Ship’ presented during a Gala Opening Evening on Saturday 30th October 1937.  From the following Monday a second feature, ‘Turn Off the Moon’, was added into the programme.



The ornate cinema had fluted pillars of lime green and gold. The walls had soft shades of gold and brown. It was equipped with a Compton organ, played in the opening week by Wilfrid Southworth. He played a number of selections including a series of parodies. The Compton was capable of producing nine colour changes. Southworth was a composer and lyric writer and orchestrated music for various BBC programmes. Later, he tragically drowned while bathing in the sea. This was the second Compton to be installed in a Chester cinema, the first being the Gaumont. For many years Norman Shann entertained patrons with his keyboard skills.

The first manager was Ronald Barrie who had moved across from Blackpool, bringing his chief projectionist Hugh Price Jones with him. In fact Hugh Jones stayed at the cinema until his retirement in 1967.

Projectors were Ross with a Western Electric Mirrorphonic sound system. Later, magnetic heads were fitted but unlike many cinemas that played four-track sound, the ABC only played mono, the four channels mixed into one. Most of the time it was the optical sound track that was used.

On Monday 10th August 1953, the cinema presented the 3D film House of Wax. This played for two weeks. Two machines running together were used for 3D. There was an interval, allowing reels to be changed. In line with new branding across the UK circuit the name ABC REGAL was changed in 1959 and it became just ABC, known as the first name in entertainment.

Stage shows came along in 1964. The first taking place on Monday 14th September 1964 headed by the Rolling Stones. Recent accounts by Mick Jagger & Keith Richards recalling their escape from the building across roof tops after this gig was a confusion  with their earlier visit that same year at the Royalty Theatre, as there was no escape from the roof of the stand alone building of the ABC, apart from jumping 50′ to ground level!

Many more top artists appeared there such as Cliff Richard, Tine Turner, Diana Ross, Steve Wonder, Chuck Berry, Cilla Black, Roy Orbison, etc.

In 1965 the Gingham Kitchen arrived advertised as ‘cooking by radar’. Many tasty dishes were on offer using a microwave.

Conversion and closure-

In 1969 EMI bought the ABC circuit. The final film was shown at the original 2000 seat cinema on Saturday 26th January 1980 with work commencing on Monday 28th January 1980 to convert the building into twin cinemas with EMI bingo in the stalls area. Later, Coral took over the bingo side.  The alterations were crude and not well thought out with little or no regard shown for the magnificent auditorium. Unlike the Odeon, the ABC was not a listed building.  The circle was partitioned, offset down the centre, with a wall dropped down to the front of the balcony, forming two cinemas that seated 470 and 252 . The stalls and stage area was given over to bingo.

In 1987 Cannon cinemas took the helm, closing it in December 1990 with the film Ghost in screen one and Exorcist 3 in number two. Projection equipment was Philips FP20s with a non-rewind system and Peerless carbon arcs converted to xenon. The building remained closed for nearly five years, looking a sorry state. It was taken over by Brannigans nightclub people and opened on 6th October 1995. Today it is part of the Primark store.

airial shot of abc

This aerial shot, shows both the new ABC Regal & the new Tatler

William Riddle Glen

Architect William Riddell Glen designed the Regal Chester, which opened on 30 October 1937. Riddell was born in1885 in Hutchesontown and was a leading cinema and theatre architect. In his RIBA papers he claims that his birth was in 1884. Glen was the son of James Glen. His middle name comes from his mother’s maiden. Her name was Margaret Riddell. Glen won a studentship at the Glasgow School of Architecture. He studied from 1900 and had an apprenticeship with a firm called Burnet, Boston and Carruthers. In 1904 he went to practice with John Archibald Campbell, while still continuing his studies for a further year. Glen commenced with independent practice in Glasgow until he served in WW 1 with the Glasgow Highlanders, rising to the rank of major and winning an MC. In 1919 he went back to Glasgow and became a partner with Albert Victor Gardner and it became known as Gardner and Glen with offices in Bath Street, Glasgow. They specialised in the design of atmospheric cinemas. Glen decided to move to London in 1929 and the partnership was dissolved. Glen had got himself a position with Associated British Cinemas and went to work for John Maxwell. He was forced into early retirement by illness. He continued to be a consultant for ABC. He passed away on the 19th February 1950.

David A Elliscopyright


Working in the Projection Department.

ABC  Chester

I left the Classic cinema and started work at the ABC as 4th projectionist, the ABC was a far more professional outfit and presentation was far more polished than the Classic, but nowhere near as nice to work at.  It had a very strict regime and it wasn’t much fun if you did something wrong.  It was not unusual to see a punch up between the chief and second operator. In fairness this usually took place in the rewind room away from the projection room, they didn’t last long and we knew that they were coming. We knew the warning signs, and we also knew that it would happen during the shift change over that afternoon at about five o’clock.

The rest of us would stand very awkwardly, usually shuffling our feet looking at the floor, or anywhere while the small war was going on in the rewind room. If you were lucky you would be on the running machine and would not have to witness this, the rest of us would not be treated in the same way, our punishment would be more subtle, it was by humiliation and ridicule, but I believe it did get worse after I left.


The ABC Minors

Saturday Mornings minors was fun , well for the kids it was. That was the only time that we would see the Compton organ being used, I think the organist or ”Target” as the kids would think of him must have been on some quite strong tablets. The manager, Mr Baker, would have any child who had a birthday up on stage to receive a present , and some of those kids had a LOT of birthdays in a year!

To be fair they were only interested in the serials, Flash Gordon , The lone Ranger , etc.  The feature film was of no interest to them and was just a brief interruption in there riot time, the John Compton organ is now in the Majestic Theatre Pomona Queensland.


The First ABC Stage Show

Before the stage shows started the screen had to disappear, and that could only happen by flying it, Parkers the builders from Shipgate Street did that work. First they drilled holes in the flat roof over the stage, then they put together large loops of steel rope, they would go through the hole in the roof and a scaffolding pole would slot through the wire, and with the steel rope hanging over the stage they then built a swinging scaffold complete with walkways of planks. I did go up on the scaffold on one occasion and decided there and then not to do it again, it was terrifying, everything swung from side to side.

They would work all night after the last showing, but on one occasion all the lights in the cinema went out so Parkers workers had to find there way down in pitch black, it could best be  described as a buttock tightening experience, after that one of us would be there all night just in case it happened again, but it only took a few more night to finish the job thankfully.

The first stage show was the Rolling Stones in 1964. I was on the so called Lead Spot light, my colleague, Peter Davies, was on the second spotlight. We were all called into one of the dressing rooms behind the stage by the Tour Manager and were given our instructions about the upcoming show. He would say things like “during this number I want this colour spot on this person, that coloured spot on that person”, and he went through the whole show like that and I kept thinking I’m never going to remember all that. The others felt the same, and it would be fair to say it didn’t run smoothly.

The Rolling Stones performing their latest hit “It’s All Over Now” on the stage of the ABC Chester. The massive screen frame can be clearly seen above Mick Jagger’s head.


The noise from the Stones was obviously loud, 2000 screaming fans a level of noise we had never heard before. The motors feeding the carbon spotlights were also loud, also the intercom from the stage kept ringing, probably the Tour Manager telling us we were not doing it right, but it was too noisy for us to hear him.

I don’t think anyone in the audience would have noticed anything wrong, all they went there for was to have a good scream, but I think all of us in the projection room were relieved when it was over!

Mick Jagger pictured on the staircase of the ABC Chester’s main entrance hall.

I have seen recently a colourful account by Keith Richards of how the Rolling Stones left the building on the 4th September 1964, he said that on that occasion the cinema was surrounded by screaming kids and they couldn’t get out, and that thankfully the Chief Constable of Cheshire in full regalia complete with swagger stick said that he knew the way out across the rooftops, and that they went over the rooftops through a skylight and out through a laundry chute,……….this did not happen……..the only way in those day that you could get onto the roof was through the projection room, and once on the roof the only way to get of it is back into the projection room, and we didn’t have a laundry chute, it wasn’t a hotel!

The way the Stones left the cinema was a lot more simpler. The cinema was surrounded that is true, but the cinema did have a very long entrance hall, several doors in Foregate Street and a lot more in Love street, so they switched all the lights out in the entrance hall and a crowd of us ran down to the Foregate Street end and all the kids at the Love Street end followed us, the doors were opened at the Love Street end and the Stones left the building. I was a Rolling Stone for about five seconds!

After the Rolling Stones show we all realized that things would have to change, and the change had to be in the communication, or lack of it from the stage. The second operator came up with the answer. There was a deaf aid system in the cinema where a person with hearing problems would be directed by the usherette to one of a number of seats were that person could plug in there personal hearing aid, and one of us would go down to the stage and switch on the amplifier that powered it. Two wires were run from the amplifier to the projection room, and a microphone was connected to the amp on the stage, but prior to that four of us went to Telfords Warehouse on Canal Street, this was when Telfords was a warehouse and not a bar that sold a very nice selection of beers. At that time in the early sixties it was full of ex Army and Air force stock, we managed to buy for a pound each, four sets of head phones, I’m not sure if they were ex RAF or Army, but they worked. In front of us in the projection room was a two pin plug, and when the stage show was about to start, it was strike up the spotlight, ear phones on, plug in, and let the show start, all the way through the show a person at the side of the stage would be telling us exactly what to do, and every show after that was perfect.

I was very proud to have worked at the ABC it was an amazing cinema and despite the way we were sometimes treated and I must say, it wasn’t always like, that I  did enjoy working there, but having just got married I found the pay to be a bit low. My wage was eleven pound ten shilling a week, so I left to work for Royal Mail for a massive fourteen pounds ten shilling a week. It was only going to be a temporary job, but I left Royal Mail 34 years later!

Some of the acts that appeared on stage when I worked there that I can remember were~

Rolling Stones  Tom Jones   Dionne Warwick  Ike and Tina Turner  Sony and Cher             Freddy and the Dreamers  The Shadows Cliff Richard  The Hollies  The Kinks       Dave Clark Five Gladys Night and the Pips Gerry and the Pacemakers  Cila Black       Gene Pitney     The Small Faces The Searchers Moody Blues Isley Brothers Diana Ross  and the  Supremes  Billy Fury  Chuck Berry



Ron Evanscopyright




Some ABC Chester Cinema Facts researched by David A Ellis

Building of the Chester ABC Regal was proposed in April 1936.

Cinema seat tokens were available at all ABC cinemas from 30th November 1953.

Click on the above frame to watch the opening day

The Gingham kitchen at the ABC Chester opened on Thursday the 16th September 1965.


Click on the above frame to view video

Shown on the BIG screen at the ABC Regal.  “Idiot’s Delight” starring Clarke Gable and Norma Shearer. Release during 1939, the same year as “Gone With The Wind”


Another 3D film shown in Chester at the ABC REGAL

The ABC Regal, Chester screened “The Charge at Feather River” in 3D from 8th March 1954.


Two mechanically link projectors produced the first 3D film shown in Chester

click on the above frame to watch scenes from “HOUSE OF WAX “

3D was first screened at the Regal in 1953 when “House of Wax” was shown for two weeks.


Shown in the new wide screen ratio

On the 31st May 1954 the Regal screened their first wide screen film “Easy to Love”.


click on the above frame to watch the original trailer of “LUCKY ME”

This new screen replaced the old 4×3 ratio and was also used to screen Cinemascope, the first film at the Regal in this ratio “Lucky Me” was shown from Monday 1st November 1954.


Musical in 3D

“Kiss Me Kate” was shown in 3D from Monday 7th June 1954.

On 21st June 1954 “Hondo” was screened in 3D. 


Horror in 3D continues…

click on the above frame to watch the trailer

On 11th October 1954 “The Phantom of the Rue Morgue” was shown in 3D at the Chester Regal.