Tatler (Classic) Cinema, Chester. ~ History

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Chester’s only news theatre, the Tatler was built on the site of 56, Foregate Street. A J. W. Barrow, for Warrington architects William and Segar Owen, designed the building. One of the local associated building contractors was Arthur Moorcroft. The cinema building cost was approximately £20,000. The Tatler opened for business on Wednesday 2nd December 1936, just one month after its near neighbour, the ABC Regal opened. The cinema, which stood on the south side of Foregate Street, was run by Mr Corry Fennel for Chester (Times) Theatres Ltd. The company also had cinemas in Manchester and Leeds. The cinema ran a show of cartoons, news and documentary, appealing to people who had a long wait for a bus or train. Many of the news theatres were built near or within railway stations, for example the news theatre that was at Victoria station in London.

Stalls view of the TATLER-AUDITORIUM

The foyer was long and when it became a feature film house there were frames on the walls containing stills from films to attract potential patrons.
The balcony lounge was small. This housed couches where you could sit and wait if you were a bit early, and didn’t want to go in as the film was coming to an end.
The auditorium was long, but not wide, and to some it had a claustrophobic feel. The auditorium lighting was in coves and the curved ceiling had a sky blue lighting effect. Originally the tabs had a Pegasus horse design. There was one on each tab and when closed they would meet, face to face.

The Tatler showed its first feature film in 1937. It was called ‘It Happened One Night’. The cinema presented its own newsreel called ‘Chester Today’ on 16mm. The people of Chester could see themselves on the screen. A way to get some people in, even if they weren’t interested in the feature screened. There was a lab on site to develop the footage. Unfortunately, the 16mm machine was stolen and replaced with a spotlight that illuminated the ice cream person.

The way that the cinema was constructed, it was a listed as a bomb shelter during the 2nd World War.  Many people from the streets bordering Foregate Street, such as Queen Street, took shelter in the long exit area of the cinema when an air raid siren sounded.

The original TATLER stage & proscenium

The new proscenium in the Classic, installed to accommodate Cinemascope

As most cinemas only showed films for six or seven days, and a repeat showing was slim in the big circuit houses, the Classic gave people a chance to see some of the films they had missed. Many of the films screened were ten years old or more. Occasionally films from the early thirties were shown. The Tatler’s slogan was ‘All Chester is now going to the Tatler Theatre’.

In March 1957 Capital & Provincial News Theatres Ltd, London. took over. On Monday 5th January 1958, the cinema was renamed Classic, thus bringing the Chester business completely into the company’s branding. The policy remained and old movies continued to be screened.
Screening of these sometimes-dire copies, was done by two American Simplex projectors and an RCA sound system. Easi-fit changeover shutters were first employed, later replaced with electronic ones operated by a foot pedal. The projection light source was the Peerless carbon arc, replaced in the last year or two by the BTH xenon arc.
The Classic had a small stage and would occasionally have live entertainment, such as talent shows. In the early 1960s the Pegasus tabs were hidden from view and new plain tabs and screen were used with lighting effects beamed from the front of the balcony, replacing footlights. The 530-seat cinema had its seating capacity reduced to fewer than 500 because of the new screen being further forward.

Projecting the final film to be shown at the Classic cinema on Sunday 20th December 1970. “Accident” starring Dirk Bogart was the late night film.

Sadly, the little Classic closed its doors on Saturday 19th December 1970. The last cinematic offerings were ‘M.A.S.H’ and two late night features ‘Accident’ plus ‘Blue Jeans’. The cinema was demolished along with other buildings. A Primark store now stands on the site.

Emptied and waiting for the bulldozers
January 1971

DAVID A ELLIScopyright whitechestercinemas.co.uk


Working at the Classic Cinema Chester by~

Working at the Classic

I was about seventeen and looking for a new job.  I saw in the local paper that the Classic Cinema needed a person to train as a projectionist, so I applied and, to my surprise, I got the job.

The chief projectionist was a very nice person called Tony Jones.  Second was Clive Holdstock, and there was  another young trainee by the name of Graham Jones.  The Classic had a very relaxed atmosphere and in the projection room, a very happy workforce.  In fairness, it wasn’t the most glamorous Cinema in town and was in need of money being spent on it, but it did provide some quite funny moments.


Rectifying the Rectifier

One morning the chief, Tony Jones, who I from now onwards refer to as TJ, decided that we should paint the rectifier cabinet, to any one who has not seen a mercury rectifier working it can be quite an awesome sight. It looks like an upside down large glass octopus, with its blue glowing electrodes and a bright light bouncing around in a litre and half of mercury.

So armed with a tin of grey paint and two paint brushes we started, but to do the job properly, TJ decided that we needed to take apart the mechanism that secures the door when shut. It’s had a handle on the outside that when turned,  a metal bar goes up at the top and down at the bottom, quite a simple way of securing the door.

So TJ loosened the metal bar on the handle and removed the guide that keeps it in place at the top, The idea was to make it easier to paint behind it. However, TJ completely forgot about gravity and as the bar was not secure at the top it fell to earth cutting straight through the very large mercury filled glass valve.

I have to say that it was quiet mesmerising watching a litre and a half of mercury disappear in front of us. We stood their for quite some time trying to take in the mini  disaster that had just happened, After all you can’t just go out and buy a rectifier valve. I do remember TJ saying, “God look what we’ve done”,  to which my reply was, ….”we”,…  In fairness in the early 1960s the words HEALTH & SAFETY were not normally used in the same sentence, and we were totally ignorant of any dangers from mercury.

We had about two hours before we were due to open up, and only one working projector, but I new something that the chief didn’t know and that was that behind the screen there was a large wooden crate and inside it was a mercury rectifier valve; He appeared to be quite happy when I told him, (understandably considering our position), so we went and got it and carried up to the projection room. When we opened it up the valve looked to be in good condition, appearance wise any way.

We  removed the shattered remains of the old valve and wired  up the one from behind the screen the same way as the other valve, (there are two valves, one for each projector) we were extremely confident that it would work, …… so confident in fact  that we stood outside the rectifier room and switched it on with a very long brush handle, worked straight away, no problem, knew it would .


The Canopy

On a Saturday night or any film changeover, we had to change the canopy, as that displayed the name of the film that was showing, or would be showing the following week. The large red metal letters slotted into a metal track around the canopy that went out into Foregate Street and was quite large. Unfortunately it was not perfect, and  it was not unusual for letters on the canopy to fall out or look as if they would fall out, especially on a windy day.

It was also not unusual for members of the public to, on occasions, tell us that we had spelled something wrong, but on one occasion the title of the film caused more problems than any others, the feature film was called   ‘I MARRIED A MONSTER FROM OUTER SPACE’  the second feature was  THE BLOB, Steve McQueen’s first staring roll. The problem was there were only so many letters that could be fitted on that canopy, and the feature film had too many, it simply wouldn’t fit, It actually came out as ‘IMARRIEDAMONSTERFROMOUTERSPACE’. On reflection I’m sure we could have done it better.


Curtains Or Tabs

As there were only two on per shift you had to be able to run everything by yourself and this included an interval. The first time I had to do this it didn’t go to plan! You had to stand in the non-sync room with the needle on the record and hand on the turntable, and at the right time release the turntable, close the tabs (curtains), dash over to the house lights, bring them up, dash over to the running projector close the dowser and change over the sound from sync to non-sync. The first time I did this I left the non-sync skidded on the floor ending up flat on my back with a white screen, no sound and no houselights, and feeling very embarrassed, and probably  suffering from concussion as it was a very hard concrete floor, but worse was to come.

Once during the last showing of the feature film TJ was on his break, and I was by myself. The second projector was carboned and laced up, and ready for the changeover. I was sitting at the side of the projector reading a book, everything was fine, what could go wrong ? The phone rang and when I answered it one of the usherettes said do you know the curtains are closed?  This was obviously not good news, bearing in mind we were half way through the last showing of the feature film. I dashed over, opened the curtains and they closed again. I did it again and they closed again. This went on for some time.  TJ came into the projection room, looked through one of the ports and did nothing. I said for “Gods sake do something”. I think he was in shock, he eventually went down the side of the building to get to the stage by the side door, in the mean time the doorman on duty who was an ex-projectionist ran down through the auditorium jumped up on the stage, and I was told fell flat on his backside on the stage in front of everyone. He staggered to his feet and eventually switched off the curtain motor, when they were fully open, as a result we didn’t have curtains for several weeks. I believe we got a round of applause at the end of the night but it could have been the audience just being sarcastic.

I decided to apply for the position as 4th projectionist, and later 3rd projectionist at Chester’s largest cinema, the ABC cinema, which was a few doors away on Foregate Street.

Ron Evanscopyright whitechestercinemas.co.uk


Richard Lysons


I have only one clear memory of going to the Classic as a child. This was sometime between 1966 and 1968 .

I was a pupil at the Kings School (Junior Department) and it was term time, but my two elder sisters (who were both at the Queens School) were on holiday. We may have had different half terms, not a usual thing.

I met my two sisters after school and we all went along to the Classic to see a revival of Genevieve starring John Gregson, Kay Kendall, Kenneth More and Dinah Sheridan. We did not go to the cinema by ourselves  normally; we were usually with our parents. This was clearly a “treat”.

Another boy in my class was also in the audience. This revival of Genevieve was obviously an event in Chester.  The cinema was pretty full.

One of the most memorable bits of the film was when Dinah Sheridan’s character dropped her eggs ,coming back from shopping. The vintage cars travelling from London to Brighton were the stars of the show. I have seen the film since then on television so I may not be able to separate this first viewing from subsequent ones.

Genevieve had been released in 1953 so this revival was about 15 years later. One day I will visit Cheshire Archives and find the actual date of the screening. I have been there several times before when I started to research the history of Quaintways Wall City Jazz Club gigs , as well as pop concerts at Chester ABC ( see elsewhere on the website) . Can anyone help with the date of the Genevieve screening?

I went to see revivals at the ABC and Odeon as a child; I saw David Copperfield (1935 version), The Wizard Of Oz, as well as several Disney features – Dumbo, Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs and Pinocchio. I wish that I had kept a film diary as a child. Over half a century on, it gets harder to remember !