The Odeon Bristol, on the corner of Union Street and Broadmead, was designed by Thomas Cecil Howitt from Nottingham, and built on a part of the site of the old Fry ‘s chocolate factory, opening its doors on the 16th July 1938. (Some sources say June 1939). The plans had been approved in 1936. It was opened by Lord Apsley, who was the MP for Bristol Central at the time. The balcony was filled by guests of the management. There was nearly a thousand guests, all dressed in evening dress. Also in attendance at the Grand occasion was H.M. Royal Artillery (mounted) band. The first attraction at the 1990 seat cinema was Deanna Durbin and Herbert Marshall in Mad About Music with a Mickey Mouse cartoon called Donald’s Better Self and an interest film on the North sea. After the the film guests enjoyed a champagne supper in the auditorium and dancing on the stage. First to dance was Mr and Mrs Deutsch The film ran to packed houses for two weeks. The theatre, which also housed a restaurant was claimed to be one of the largest and most imposing Odeons’ in the west.
A feature of the building was the great circular entrance tower, which was impressive at night when it was flood lit. Canopies were a feature of the exterior and the surrounds of the entrance corner were in a special black plate glass as a contrast to the biscuit tone of the facing Material. The front entrance disclosed a circular vestibule walled in glass. There were two staircases, which lead to the upper foyer, which had a circular lounge. The auditorium was coloured in gold and blue.
Decorations included grilles incorporating symbols of Bristol Industries. There were giant stars across the roof and flood lit coves and pillars. As usual Mrs Oscar Deutsch (Lilly) was responsible for the interior decoration. It is said that no two schemes were alike. Oscar Deutsch was in attendance and declared the cinema his finest Described as a wonder cinema, it was built by John Knox (Bristol) Ltd.
The first manager was a Mr Beadle, who had previously managed their Canterbury theatre and was originally from Canada. Projection equipment would be the usual British Thomson Houston (BTH) set up and before digital, Cinemecanca equipment. Seating and carpeting at the time of opening was green.
In May 1946, a real life drama unfolded when the cinema manager a Mr Robert Parrington Jackson, aged 33 was shot during the screening of The Light that Failed. Sadly, he later died in hospital. In 1989 a petty crook confessed to the crime on his death bed.
In February 1947, actress Margaret Lockwood made a personal appearance at the cinema. The cinema equipped stereo sound in the 1950s and many big movies were screened, including South Pacific. A Royal Premier was screened in 1953. The film was Rob Roy. In May 1974 the building ‘re-opened with three screens, two of them in the stalls area. The theatre closed for redevelopment of the interior on the 15th October 1983. The stalls area was converted into a Mothercare store. The cinema re-opened in June 1985 with three screens in the balcony area with the Bond film View to a Kill in all three. It remains as a three screen cinema.
David A Ellis ©chestercinemas.co.uk