Regent Cinema, Brighton.

The Regent Brighton was built by Provincial Cinematograph Theatres (PCT) and opened to the public at 133 Queens Road on the 27 July 1921 with the film ‘A Yankee at the Court of King Arthur’. A report in the Bioscope states that it cost a staggering £400,000. Some sources state £40,000, a big difference. The site had been acquired by PCT in 1914. The architect was Robert Atkinson (1883-1952). Interior design was by Walpole Champneys and the murals by Walter Bayes (1869-1956). The proscenium was designed by Lawrence Preston of Brighton College of Art.

The building was on the site of the Unicorn Inn and took two years to build. It is interesting to note that Chester’s Gaumont Palace architect William T. Benslyn one was part of Atkinson’s practice.

The auditorium was predominately yellow and according to the Bioscope dated 1921, seated 3000. Other sources state 2024. By 1948. The seating was upholstered in grey and blue. There were two rakes in the stalls, which ensured everyone had a decent view. At the time of opening it was stated that the balcony was the largest in the UK. It had a span of 110 feet. The cinema had nineteen exits and it was said that the building could be emptied in three minutes.

The silent house had a first class orchestra under the direction of a Mr Basil Cameron. Music was arranged by the eminent Norwegian composer Gasten Borch. There was also a Norman Hill and Beard three manual organ with thirty-eight stops. There were two well equipped restaurants, one of them called the Ship Cafe.

In 1922 American Walter Wanger was involved with the running of the Regent for PCT. He also advised on the choice of film. Later, he was apparently fired for breach of contract but walked away with an out of court settlement of £8000. A ballroom was added in 1923 and it was said that it had one of the best strung floors in the country. One of the bands that played was Archie Alexander’s. Some reports mistakenly say that the restaurants arrived at the same time as the ballroom.

On the 25 January 1929 a fire broke out shortly before 11pm. It was said that it started in one of the dressing rooms. It damaged the stage and auditorium. The ballroom and restaurants weren’t affected by the blaze but a large crowd in the dance hall encountered large volumes of smoke, which reached suffocating proportions. A report says that members of the orchestra pluckily continued to play for a while and then were forced to make for safety. Some people thought the red glow was due to effects.

After repairs a new organ was installed. This was a Wurlitzer two manual nine rank model. The theatre was reconstructed and new rose plush seats were installed throughout. Concealed lighting was adopted and pillars were removed to give an uninterrupted view. The cinema re-opened on the 1st July 1929 with ‘Talkies’, The first being the screening of ‘The Singing Fool’ and Terence Casey played the organ. He made several recordings from the Regent. Again some sources have got it wrong stating that the building was closed for eighteen months after the fire. As well as the new sensation, the talkie, the theatre screened silent movies for a while on a Sundays, and the Regent orchestra under the conductor Thomas Bennett played to them. In July 1967 the ballroom was converted into a bingo club.

The cinema was closed for the installation of Cinemascope from April 13 – 19 May 1955. In 1962 70mm was installed. Lawrence of Arabia was screened there in the wide format with six magnetic tracks. After a few weeks it went to the Academy, West Street, shown in 35mm four track magnetic.

The only other 70mm house in Brighton was the Astoria. No doubt the 70mm equipment was Cinemecanica Victoria 8,10, or the Philips DP70. If anyone knows, please let us know. The cinema closed on the14th April 1973 with the film ‘Cabaret’. The same year saw the end of the Odeon West Street. The Kingswest Odeon opened and is still there today.

David A Ellis (c) chestercinemas.co.uk