DAVID A ELLIS writes~ Chester’s only news theatre, the Tatler was built on the site of 56, Foregate Street. A J. W. Barrow, for Warrington architects William Segar Owen, designed the building. The cinema cost around £20,000 to build and opened for business on Wednesday 2nd December 1936. 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.
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. I understand 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.
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 and Provincial Theatres took over and shortly after, the cinema became the Classic. 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.
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.
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 !