Bridgwater, TA6 3PH
Owners: Odeon Theatres (Bridgwater) Ltd~ Oscar Deutsch.
Architect: Thomas Cecil Howitt.
Seating Capacity: 1525.
Date opened: Monday 13th July 1936.
First film shown: “The Amateur Gentleman” starring Douglas Fairbanks Jr and Elissa Landi.
Also operated as a cinema by: Rank Theatres, Classic Cinemas, Scott Cinemas.
Date closed: Thursday 29thSeptember 2022.
Present Condition: Empty/Extant.
Odeon Theatres (Bridgwater) Ltd had a secured a site on Penel Orlieu, Bridgwater. The chairman, Oscar Deutsch, was now at his busiest opening Odeon cinemas at an incredible rate. He had a stable of preferred architects; such as Thomas Cecil Howitt who he had previously been engaged to design Odeon cinemas at Weston-super-Mare and Clacton. Oscar Deutsch instructed him to draw up plans for this modestly sized building. A similar template for the exterior was used at his previous Odeon cinemas featuring a square tower, topped with a projecting flat slab roof supported by twelve squat tubular pillars. The corners of the tower at Bridgwater were chamfered. This cinema was the fourth of Howitt’s designs to use the slab tower feature.
The front elevation façade on Penel Orlieu featured a prominent row of five shops with living accommodation above that were positioned to the left of the tower. A parapet that was relieved with narrow horizontal bands of scarlet-red faience ascended in steps towards the tower. A shallow canopy extended the width of the façade over the bays of shops, extending and blending into a convex canopy that gave cover to the stepped entrance that led into the main entrance lobby. The main entrance was placed at the base of the tower on the far right of the front elevation, which, together with the complete tower, was faced with cream faience tiles at the upper levels. There was a sharp contrast of ‘Vitolite’ high gloss black panels cladding on the walls at street level. At night neon lighting placed in line with the red faience bands and around the ‘Odeon’ sign helped to lift this rather bland frontage. A free car park for patrons use was located on the Mount Street side of the building.
Customers entered into the long and narrow single storey entrance hall that had textured walls and a ceiling that was bordered with a deep cove and illuminated by concealed lighting that was placed within a slim decorative pelmet that was placed at the base of the coving.
A set of steps led to the main foyer that was decorated in a similar theme with an attractive Art Deco stained glass window. Originally tall pedestals topped with an Art Nouveau dishes were placed centrally in both foyers.
The auditorium was modernistic and typical of the unfussy house style that Oscar Deutsch favoured. The finish on the ceiling and walls was similar to that of the foyers. Dominating the ceiling was a large shallow recessed octagonal ceiling feature that was illuminated with concealed trough lighting around the edges, with a square block placed in the centre, a grill work border framed this feature. The walls were clad in bays of pronounced panels, each with thin vertical strips that mirrored those on the ceiling. The only interest added to relieve the blandness of these panels were chunky and clumsy looking square grills placed at intervals on either sides of the auditorium.
The design was that of a stadium style, with no overhanging circle. Instead, in the front section there was seating for 931 patrons, set at a slight incline away from the screen. At the rear, a raised area provided seating for a further 594, giving a total capacity of 1525 seats.
The proscenium had three stepped borders that were lit by concealed lighting along the edge of each border.
The Gala Opening Evening took place on Monday 13th July 1936. The first film shown to a capacity audience was “The Amateur Gentleman” starring Douglas Fairbanks Jr, Elissa Landi and Gordon Harker.
The Odeon enjoyed buoyant business throughout the 1930s and 40s. However, like most UK cinemas in small towns it began to struggle with non-film competition during the 1950s. The wide proscenium was a bonus when Cinemascope was introduced, showing off this new format to its full advantage.
The Rank Organisation sold the cinema to the Classic circuit during 1967. Rebranding as a Classic Cinema took place quickly.
A major change took place in 1973 when the building was altered dramatically. The front stalls area was to operate as a bingo club. A new cinema arrangement, consisting of two boutique screens holding 250 seats each was formed in the rear of the auditorium with a new and separate entrance built on Mount Street. Classic closed the cinema operation in March 1983. The lease was then taken by an independent operator who re-opened the cinema in December of the same year, renaming it as the Film Centre.
The building looked tired and in later years became an eyesore prompting the local council to place an order on the owner to carry out immediate remedial repairs and to smarten the building up. The bingo club had by now moved out.
The independent operator, Scott Cinemas, closed the cinemas on Thursday 29thSeptember 2022.
Check out another T. Cecil Howitt Odeon by clicking on the frame below~