Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex. TN40 1DY
Owners: Playhouses (Bexhill) Ltd.
Architect: Peter Dulvey Stonham.
Seating capacity: 800.
First General Manager: Ray Allen.
Date opened: Friday the 8th July 1921.
Opened by: Her Grace the Duchess of Norfork.
Films shown on the opening week: ‘Aylwin’ and ‘Mrs Erricker’s Reputation’.
Acquired by Classic Cinema & re-branded: 1966.
Re-branded the Curzon Cinema: 1974.
Date finally closed as a full time cinema: Thursday 28th October 2004.
Building extant: Wetherspoon pub.
Picturesque Bexhill -on -sea was home to several cinemas, including the St George’s cinema, opposite Bexhill Town Hall. This finally became the Savoy cinema, closing in 1954. Items were auctioned, including the Kalee 12 projectors.
On Friday the 8th July 1921 at 3pm, the 800 seat Picture Playhouse on Western Road opened its doors. It was opened by Her Grace the Duchess of Norfork. She cut the cord of the flag which veiled the screen. A picture of the King was thrown upon it and the audience joined in singing the national anthem.
The vestibule and passages were decorated with an art paper and the interior was carried out in a panelled scheme of dove grey and white.
Proceeds from the opening performance went to the Bexhill Centre of the British Red Cross Society.
Next door to the Playhouse stood the Cinema de luxe, which opened on 19th March 1913, closing in November 1921. That went on to become a garage.
The architect of the Playhouse was Peter Dulvey Stonham and the proprietors were Playhouses (Bexhill) Ltd, registered October 13th 1919. They had acquired Bexhill Cinema Company Ltd, which had been formed in November 1912. Directors included Mark Martin and R. W. Robbins.
At this time Randolph E. Richards wasn’t mentioned, so he seems to have come later, forming Randolph E. Richards Kinema Playhouses Ltd, consisting of several Sussex cinemas.
The first to manage the hall was Ray Allen. Films were usually shown for three days. In its first full week starting 11th July ‘Aylwin’ was screened for three days. From the Thursday ‘Mrs Erricker’s Reputation’ was shown.
Two Staircases took patrons to a large balcony. There was also a waiting area by the balcony.
The projection room was equipped with Butchers projectors. When sound arrived, Western Electric was installed. Secondary lighting was by gas.
In 1966 the small circuit was taken over by Classic cinemas and the name was changed to Classic. Classic introduced bingo, which took place two nights a week. In 1969 an idea was put forward to twin the cinema, but this didn’t come to fruition.
In 1974 directors of Classic Eric Rhodes and his son Gerald retired from the chain and were given a handful of cinemas as a gold watch payment. They ran the old Playhouse as the Curzon cinema.
The stalls area became bingo and the circle cinema. This operation continued until 1988. Manor Estates then took control retaining the circle cinema and turned the stalls area into a shop and flea market.
Due to poor attendance the Curzon closed its doors on 31st January 1991. The last film being ‘Home Alone’. Another reason for dwindling audiences was a new multiplex.
In May 1991 Nick Prince leased the building for cinema shows, believing he could turn business round with a change of programming and marketing. He introduced late screenings, art house material and special one day only presentations. There was also shows on Saturday mornings for the Curzon Minors, which had previously been screened under previous management. By 1993 business was once again on the decline and the cinema closed in May 1994.
In February 1995 it was reopened by Ray Sutton with the film ‘Killing Zoe’. He ran it until the lease expired on Thursday 28th October 2004.
Ray went on to become editor of the Projected Picture Trust (PPT). He talked to me about his time there. He said: “When I took over it was in a dire state. My brother-in-law helped with a complete internal decoration. A false ceiling was placed in the ceiling dome while retaining the plaster coving around the dome.”
Regarding projection equipment Ray said: “When I took over there was a Westar projector on a Ross base, so It may be that Ross machines had been in at some point.”
Ray goes on to say that the stage end was below ground and a pump had to be used to keep water out.
“One aspect of the cinema that always surprised me,” said Ray, “was the arrangement of the exits. The circle had two exits at the rear that had stairs down to the foyer. The stalls had exits at the rear to the foyer and an exit at the stage end that had a corridor to the front of the building. So, all exits were at the front.”
In 2006 the building reopened as the Redstack Playhouse and occasional films were shown, using video equipment alongside stage presentations and concerts. Films and live entertainment ceased completely in 2008 and the building remained empty until 2016 when it was converted into a Wetherspoon pub, opening in July 2017.
Wetherspoons merged the Playhouse with the old Cinema de luxe by knocking down dividing walls.
They have carefully restored interiors of many old cinemas that may have faced the demolition hammer. Many original features are retained in these conversions.
David A Ellis /Ray Sutton©chestercinemas.co.uk