Chester, CH1 1HA
Date Opened: Saturday 30th October 1937.
Seating capacity: on opening 1973 ~ (circle 777 – stalls 1,196). Later total capacity increased to 2,016 during 1964.
Owners: John Maxwell/Associated British Cinemas Ltd.
Architect: Willam R. Glen.
First General Manager: Ronald Barrie. Last General Manager: Julie Caden.
First Chief Projectionist: Hugh Price Jones. Last Chief Projectionist: Joe Strange.
Date Closed: Sunday 16th December 1990. Building survives.
Peter Davies writes~ Of the most splendid ornate super cinemas in the city, the crown would be placed between the Gaumont or the Regal with locals arguing among themselves which was the most luxurious. Remembering them both well and working at the ABC Regal I would say without doubt that the latter was worthy of the crown.The wide auditorium and magnificent proscenium out shone the likes of the Odeon Leicester Square with ease. Everything within this cinema was of the finest quality and in the best of taste. It was one of the few triple A rated ABC cinemas.
The design of the building was exceptional. It had a long entrance hall, with two staircases leading to the circle foyer. For patrons standing for hours in queues, a large entrance hall like this was important as it gave everyone time to get out of the weather, and chat to one another about the film they were about to see. The cash desk was the only disappointment in the entrance hall, as it was little more than a window set into the wall under one of the staircases. The cashiers gained entry to it from the stalls foyer. Things that impressed in the entrance hall were the amount of chandeliers that glistened, and the large towering pillars that were by the staircases. Both staircases led onto “the bridge”, which then had a final staircase that took you into the circle foyer. This foyer was a moderate size, and could cope with the large volumes of people crossing over from one sold out show to another. It had a large cloakroom, the offices, staff room, stock room, fridge room, stalls extract room, toilets were all located off this one foyer which gives you an idea as to it size. In line with the entrance hall, this too had sets of chandeliers and ornate decorations, together with good quality Lloyd Loom furniture sprayed in gold. The walls throughout had gold speckling finish over beige or maroon, which was typical of the ABC circuit finish. The carpets were a lush red/crimson background with large gold medallion pattern, the blend of wool fibre could only be described as extravagant. The walls of this foyer had not only quad poster frames (original & unlit), but frames with large portraits of past & present film stars.
Leading off this foyer also was the exit from the rear circle & way up to the projection room. From the circle foyer you entered into a small crush hall through two sets of double doors then directly onto the vomit stairs to the magnificent circle, very wide & overwhelmingly high. The steep rake of the circle being very evident. Again, rich quality carpet on the cross overs, with deep red upholstered seats, complete with seat lights, attached ash trays, and some with clumsy sockets for the equally clumsy Ardent hearing aids that were provided. The dividing barriers were of polished wood, with an abundance of highly polished brass hand rails. Look even closer by the seat standards and you would see pop up vacuum hose sockets, where the doormen would attach large sections of vacuum pipe for morning cleaning. The dirt was sucked down through these pipes to the vacuum plant room near to the boiler house at the stage end of the building. The ceiling was a master of design plaster work, enormous scrolls spread across this huge expanse decorated in soft colours, but always topped off in gold. Most of these scroll covings concealed hundreds of light bulbs- 25watt soft pink! Additional lighting at the back of the circle was provided by circular drop lanterns, with a fixed glass shelf spanning the circumference of the middle of the lanterns to defuse the lighting as much as possible.
The opening ceremony was performed by Chester’s Mayor~ Robert Matthewson (pictured).
A snippet from the opening programme stated-“Representing the most modern in cinema construction, the Regal is actually the embodiment of the best scientific knowledge and engineering skill. The building is entirely fireproof, and the exits are so situated that a full house can be cleared comfortably within the space of two minutes. The seats, of which there are 777 in the circle and 1,196 in the Stalls, are specially designed to give the maximum of comfort, and the carpets and appointments harmonise in colour and luxury with the interior decoration.Every foot of air brought into the theatre is thoroughly washed and cleansed by means of grilles concealed in the architecture.”
As you looked towards the proscenium, large circular grills inlaid into the ceiling provided the incoming warmed air from the plenum plant. Discrete grill work towards the rear of the circle & stalls took away the stale, smoke laced air.
Left & right of the proscenium were two corrugated design panels, bordered with slim pillars, these pillars supported concealed lighting in three separate circuits for colour change, throwing light onto the corrugated panels. Next to these panels, were distinctive S scrolls panels/grills. The left side was to conceal the organ chamber sound flaps, the right side grill was blanked off.
A ledge ran the bottom section of these grills & panels, with plain walls below and the clocks, while the top went into the sweeps of decorative scrolls. The proscenium had a repeat deep medallion design, each one worked in pastel colours, and detailed in gold.
The front of stalls had a band pit, accessed from the vacuum plant room. Central in this pit was the Compton organ, complete with two art deco side light boxes, again the frame work was gold with opaque glass, concealing numerous 221mm tubular strip lights, which were wired in several circuits to provided fabulous colour changes. The colour changer for this was located again in the vacuum room. A large unit housing radial dimmers that was linked into a motorised gear that selected at random the various circuits, so no repetitive colour change occurred. The corrugated side panels either side of the proscenium changed in time with the colour change on the organ console, this happened with a similar colour changer up in the resistance room in projection. The projection team also added their own showmanship while all these colours were changing automatically, altering colours in the footlights and lighting battens in tempo with the music.
The organ was played with the house curtains (tabs) open, with secondary tabs and drapes adding to the eye dazzling effects. The audience sang along with the organ tunes by following the slides projected on the screen.
The stalls was no less impressive as was the balcony. Sitting at the sides, you became aware of the wide expanse and curve of this auditorium. The floor had a gentle rake, which ensured good sight lines.
Fixed lanterns and generous coves provided the defused house lighting. A series of separate doors across the rear of the stalls led into the stalls foyer. A boast was made that a full auditorium could be cleared in a matter of a few minutes. This was because exits were placed rear, middle, front, on both sides, stalls & circle alike. The projection room, or department as both the manager, and chief projectionist preferred to call it, was reached from the rear of the circle. Alternately there was an exit passage from the circle foyer.
Peter Davies Photographs~ John Fernee- Allan Eyles- Roger Shone
If you enjoyed going to the ABC, or worked there at anytime, then we will be pleased to hear from you to share your thoughts.