Christchurch, Dorset. BH23 1AS
Date opened: 26th December 1931.
Original owner: F.J. Rowley.
First film shown: “The Taming of the Shrew” starring Mary Pickford & Douglas Fairbanks.
Seating Capacity: 700.
Date closed as the Regent: July 1973.
Final film: .
Date re-opened as the Regent Centre: 11th June 1983.
The Regent Cinema opened on 26th December 1931 with Mary Pickford in “The Taming of the Shrew”. It was built for and initially operated by local exhibitor F.J. Rowley. It was operated by Portsmouth Town Cinemas from the mid-1930’s.
In 1969 it was taken over by Shipman & King cinema circuit via their involvement with the Grade brothers. It was closed in July 1973 and became a Mecca Bingo Club.
Taken over by the local council in June 1983, it was re-furbished and re-opened with Peter O’Toole in “Lawrence of Arabia”. Now known as the Regent Centre, it screens films and stages live performances. It was refurbished in 2020, reopening in October 2020.
The Regent opened on Boxing Day 1931 as the town’s cinema, showing The Taming of the Shrew with Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. The Regent retained this important role in the life of the Community for over forty years until July 1973, when it was closed as a cinema and then re-opened as the Mecca Social and Bingo Club. The final cry of ‘house’ was sounded in February 1982.
The need for an arts centre in Christchurch had already been well established in the town and in November 1982, Christchurch Borough Council purchased the Regent. A unique relationship was formed between the local authority and a group of over 100 enthusiastic volunteers. Together, they lovingly restored the Regent to all its early Art Deco glory. The Regent Centre in its present form was finally opened on June 11th 1983 by the actress Dora Bryan.
Today, the Regent Centre is one of the finest examples of an early 1930s cinema to survive in Britain. Its 480 seats are regularly filled for events as diverse as the latest film releases to professional touring theatre, jazz, big band, ballet, opera and celebrity star shows. The Regent is also the home venue for many local amateur companies, who regularly stage productions at the Centre.
The Regent maintains a rolling programme of development and improvements and on 28th March 2000, a new Studio Theatre was opened, at the rear of the building, jointly funded by the Regent Centre Association and the Council as the Borough’s main Millennium project.
During the latter part of 2006, funding was provided by Christchurch Borough Council for a major refurbishment of the Centre. This included the introduction of new seats, air conditioning, disabled lifts and loos and the Modernist re-design of the Foyer.
In February 2007 the final stage of the major refurbishment began with the re-introduction of a canopy over the front doors for the first time since 1967. Two new convex poster boards on the two supporting pillars at either side of the canopy combined with 1930s neon style signage, have tastefully re-created the early Art Deco heritage of the Regent.
Since 2008 the Regent has been able to use new technology to bring in satellite broadcasts of major artistic events from around the world to the Centre’s big screen. The Metropolitan Opera has been broadcast live from New York to sell out houses at the Regent. Then in 2009 the National Theatre began broadcasts from its stage live from London’s South Bank to enthusiastic audiences at the Regent. In 2010 the Regent was able to beam in live satellite broadcasts from the Bolshoi and Opera de Paris, bringing the very best in international ballet to Christchurch.
In April 2012, Digital Cinema was introduced to the Regent Centre to replace the existing 35mm film projector. This has brought this 80 year old cinema right up to date with the cutting edge of technological advances in the film industry in the 21st Century. Digital Cinema has also meant that the Regent has been able to add to its existing programme of satellite broadcasts to the big screen, with The Royal Opera House and the Royal Ballet now making their debut at the Centre from August 2012.