London, SW1E 5LB
Date opened: Friday the 27th December 1929.
Date Closed: Saturday 11th June 1977.
Architect: George Coles FRIBA (1884–1963).
Seating Capacity: 2400.
The Metropole cinema Victoria, London, which was originally going to be called the Broadway, was opened on Friday the 27th December 1929. It was designed by George Coles, and was built for brothers Sydney, and Philip Hyams. It is said that it was part of the Hyams and Gale circuit, but Gale has no mention in the list of directors. The ERA dated the 1st January 1930 says: The directors of the Metropole are Mr Philip Hyams ( Chairman and joint Managing Director) Mr Sid Hyams ( Joint Managing Director) Mr L Benveniti, Mr H W S Howard and Mr B O Savage, ACA. Mr R S Sowden, whose long experience at the Rivoli and more recently at the Regal, Marble Arch, equips him well for the post as General Manager, and Mr Mick Hyams, House Manager. Mr Archie Parkhouse is to preside over the magnificent organ. Before teaming up with Gale the Hyams’ were responsible for several cinemas, which they sold to Gaumont.
Situated opposite Victoria Station, the Metropole was built on what was the bed of a river and the foundations had to be sunk to a depth of thirty five feet. The theatre was designed with a View to combining modern simplicity with the warmth and colour of the Spanish Renaissance period. The prevailing colour scheme throughout was amber, gold and blue. There was a marble floor in the foyer area with pillars of onyx and marble. The auditorium had walnut panelling and there was amber lighting that was concealed. There was a magnificent chandelier which hung from the central dome. Auditorium carpet was in blue, and the proscenium curtain was woven in gold. The proscenium itself measured thirty- seven feet. The theatre boasted six dressing rooms. Features in the foyer, included curved skylight Windows, which had a rich yellow stain with geometric decorations in orange and blue. They were in the high curved ceiling and were nine feet by eight feet.
The first film to hit the screen was The Co-optimists. It was stated in the press that the film was the most wonderful for voice production we have heard. In fact by merely closing the eyes you could think the cast were there in the flesh.
At the opening a Mr Archie Parkhouse presented a musical novelty, on what was described as the magnificent Standaart organ, after which, one of the directors of the theatre apologised for the unfinished state of the building. He told the audience that the elements had been against them and how sorry he was that those present walked in as the carpet people walked out.
In July 1935 the organ was replaced by a Wurlitzer model. In 1961 it was removed. Musical entertainment was provided by Jack Hylton and his boys. They created a furore when the curtain rose and they started to play Singing in the Rain, followed by Aint Misbehaving, Stepping Out and others.
The ERA said: Although it has been stated that a full orchestra had been engaged for the New Metropole Cinema opposite Victoria Underground Station, there was not done at the opening on Friday, and I understand that the directors are pursuing a “waiting” policy. That is to say, if the patrons of this magnificent new house desire a real orchestra, the directors are prepared to engage one. In the meantime, music lovers are to have bands and turns on the stage to satisfy their desires as far as possible. Jack Hylton and his boys were the opening attraction, and are remaining on. Teddy Brown will be seen there in the near future.
On the 1st of June 1932, shortly after Baird’s television demonstration at Selfridges, plans were made to televise the Epsom Derby. It was transmitted by land line to the Metropole. The Odeon circuit took control in 1943 and played first run Odeon circuit product. The cinema’s claim to fame was in 1945 when the interior of the theatre and the organ, were featured in the classic movie Brief Encounter.
Road show presentations began in 1959 with the musical Oklahoma, opening on the 26th December. Because it was now equipped for 70mm screenings, a new wide screen was placed in front of the proscenium, and the seating capacity was reduced from the original 1,967 to 1,394. The new projectors were the the Philips DP 70s. The DP70 was the only projector to win an Oscar. If anyone knows what projection equipment was in before 70mm, please let us know.
The cinema’s longest run was Lawrence of Arabia (1962) screened in 70mm with fantastic six track magnetic sound. It had previously had an eight week run at the Odeon L/Square. This ran at the Metropole for a staggering ninety- eight weeks. Another long run was the epic El Cid. On the 5th April 1967 the cinema hosted a Royal Premiere, screening Steve McQueen in The Sand Pebbles. Eventually 70mm roadshow product started to dry up, no doubt due to expense, and the cinema went back to first run 35mm shows.
Sadly, film ceased On the 11th June 1977 with the film Burnt Offerings. It became the Metropole Laser Theatre, staging a show called Lovelight, commencing 21st June 1977 until 26th September1977. After this, the shutters came down, and it didn’t open for business until Virgin records took control opening it as a concert hall named The Venue. This operated from 1st November 1978 until August 1984. The demolition hammer moved in after this, destroying the beautiful auditorium. The nearby Cameo/ Classic’s auditorium was also victim to the wrecking ball. Fortunately, the foyer of the Metropole and Classic were retained, with the old Metropole Opening as a restaurant. After several occupiers it was opened as Pizza establishment called Ask.
In September 2010 it was announced that the block, which included both the Classic and Metropole were to be demolished to make way for an extension to the Victoria Underground station, providing a new entrance and exit on the north side of Victoria Street. Another fine cinema had joined so many others, as just a memory.
David A Ellis ©chestercinemas.co.uk