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GB had no less than three cinemas in the relatively small town of Darlington, namely the Alhambra, the Court and the Arcade. The latter was the second largest of the CMA/Rank theatres with a capacity of 1300 and, for this reason alone, one would have thought that it eventually would have become the Gaumont. Possibly, however, even back in 1950 there were plans for the Arcade to become part of the circuit of Majestic Ballrooms and this duly came to pass in late 1956. The Alhambra, therefore, became the Gaumont in 1950 as the Court, regarded by locals as the best of the three, had been destroyed by fire in 1947.
I never visited the Gaumont whilst it was open but I once asked my Mother about it and she told me that it was a dingy old place and she had visited it one afternoon when there was a rather long breakdown during which time no one provided the audience with an explanation of what was going on; this is purely anecdotal, of course, but I see no reason why she would have made it up.
A short while before the Gaumont was demolished it was possible to simply go up the steps at the Front of House, enter the small foyer and venture into either the circle or stalls. Naturally, I did precisely this and, upon entering the circle, I could quite imagine that the cinema during its heyday as the Alhambra would have been quite impressive. Sadly, there are no photos of the building whilst open.
How on earth,however, there could ever have been rear projection I am at a total loss to understand for behind the narrow proscenium there would have been about six feet or so depth and no more………
On the Odeon side of CMA/Rank there were two outlets, namely the very nice Odeon (Majestic) and the Empire. The latter was on Quebec Street and closed in about 1960 or 1961. This, like the Gaumont, was shuttered and empty for many years until it too had its appointment with the wrecking ball in the early 1970’s.
Ironically, given that CMA/Rank once had five venues in Darlington, today (and probably not for much longer as the Vue complex is near completion) the only building to bear a name associated with that organisation is the former ABC which has sported the Odeon logo for a number of years now.
A well meaning contributor has uploaded 2 photos of the Odeon (Gaumont) Doncaster. The cladding at the front is similar to that on the Fronts of House of the original Odeon Darlington and the replacement Odeon Stockton.
Photo of the Court Arcade uploaded.
Old timers in Darlington told me that the film showing on the night of the fateful fire was ‘The Brothers’ (Maxwell Reed, Patricia Roc). Apparently , at the time, that particular film had a rather controversial reputation and the locals jested that “there was ‘hot stuff’ on at the Court when it went up in smoke"….
1937 shot of Theatre Royal (prior to reconstruction as ABC Regal) uploaded
2 photos uploaded
3 photos uploaded.
It is 50 years since the building became a Bingo Hall :–
Children in Broughton had a wide choice of entertainment! I refer to the advert for the ‘X’ Certificated ‘The Flesh is Weak’ in the photos section……
When the Kings closed the building remained empty for a few years prior to its acquisition by Broughs the supermarket chain in 1966. After redevelopment only the front section (the catering block, basically) was retained minus the upper half of the top storey. The auditorium was demolished leaving a delivery area behind the supermarket. Essoldo , the owners of the Kings, originally closed the Eden Theatre in 1960, having decided that they no longer needed three sites in a relatively small town. Very soon afterwards they had a change of heart when they reopened the Eden Theatre and closed the Kings.
The rationale behind this, I understand, was that the theatre bar at the Eden was rather more lucrative than the catering outlets at the Kings and it was not desirable to operate the bar at the Eden within a shuttered building. The Eden, of course, whilst even older than the Kings, had a deep fully equipped stage which could occasionally be brought into use.
The alterations referred to at the Kings all took place long after the place had shown its very last film and my quest for information about the place goes back to my childhood days when I used to look up in wonderment at the abandoned building and wished that I could venture inside to see what it was like.
Having tried to find interior shots of the place without success and having not been able to obtain more comprehensive information from people who were around when the Kings was still open I have decided that it is time to ‘give up’…….
I have being trying for years to find out more about the Kings as it was the only Bishop Auckland cinema I never visited (it closed in either 1960 or 1961 when I was 5 or 6 years old).
I decided to post the following on ‘The History of Bishop Auckland’ website :–
“What was the Kings like inside???
It was was the only cinema in the town I never visited although I was taken into the cafe on at least one occasion by my Mum and Dad in the late 1950’s.
As a child I was always impressed by the facade (in fact this was the cafe, restaurant etc with an arcade at street level leading to the actual cinema which was set well back from Newgate Street). When the contractors were there knocking the place apart in 1966 I tried to peer inside but these attempts were always thwarted by Mum who was no doubt impatient to continue shopping!
Just what was the film viewing experience in the Kings like? It goes without saying that, being of 1914 vintage, it would not be in the same league as the 1938 built Majestic/Odeon which was wide and designed to offer the very best in cinema entertainment.
However, was the Kings at least the equal of its sister venues, the Hippodrome (later Essoldo) and the Eden Theatre? Or was it perhaps slightly better than the latter two?"
Unfortunately, the subscribers to the ‘History of Bishop Auckland’ website were unable to assist.
The Kings must have been fairly important in its time as all Warner Bros product played there and in the 1950’s quite a lot of Fox musicals such as ‘The King and I’ and ‘Carousel’ were shown during the CMA/ Fox dispute. It was also the one and only venue in the town equipped to play 3-D films and I understand that the house record there was achieved when ‘House of Wax’ was presented for, I believe, two weeks.
If, by the remotest possibility, any ‘regulars’ on this site know what a visit to the Kings was like together with a description of any architectural delights (or otherwise), whether it had tabs or festoons etc, it would be most appreciated……
I have uploaded an image of the Front of House taken whilst operating as the ‘Cannon’….. I also have a photo of the 373 seat Screen 2 and a few more ‘Roadshow’ shots which I shall add when I locate them (I moved house a while ago).
I have re- read the overview of the Essoldo/ABC originally published here a few years ago and I have to point out an inaccuracy re Screen 2. This occupied the Rear Circle area, the Front Circle having been lost in the conversion process.
The old circle was configured as follows:–
Royal:10 rows (capacity 393) Centre:8 rows (capacity 304) Rear: 7 rows (capacity 268) Total: 25 rows (capacity 965).
Only the Centre and Rear sections were retained for the smaller Screen 2 and this area was drastically narrowed thus reducing the circle capacity from 965 to a mere 373.
Also lost in the conversion process was one of the circle staircases, a very large part of the once huge main Circle Foyer and a small Rear Circle Foyer.
During the cinema’s final modernisation prior to ‘twinning’ a huge concave screen and tabs was installed in front of the original proscenium. After conversion the screen was moved back into the old prosc (seen above masked by drapery) and whilst 70mm was retained the'sheet size' was by no means as large as that of the single auditorium. It was still impressive, however and the 6 track magnetic sound could not be heard to better effect elsewhere.
When the Hippodrome does reopen I have little doubt that it will then be the town’s only remaining theatre building as CJ Phipps' Theatre Royal which survives , albeit largely rebuilt but with much of the superstructure remaining, as the Odeon (former ABC Regal) will, in all likelihood, have fallen victim to the new Vue complex.
This theatre closes at the end of May 2016 for a period of eighteen months for a £12 million refurbishment. When it reopens it will be with a ‘new’ name:–
Certainly, to revert to the original name is not before time as I always maintained that ‘Civic Theatre’ conjures up an image of a 1960’s concrete edifice as opposed to a very atmospheric Edwardian theatre.
I once mentioned this to members of the Town Council whilst I was a Manager in the town (at the ABC) and they said that the name ‘Hippodrome’ was rather ludicrous sounding. I remember ‘sticking my neck out’ and retorting that the name was certainly good enough for the major cities of Birmingham and Bristol – which did not go down awfully well…………
Common sense has finally prevailed!
Well, I did not know that CJ Foster came from PCT but this has made me wonder about a story my old friend and sparring partner, George Skelton (now in that Licensed Variety Theatre in the Sky) told me years ago.
Georges’s second theatre as a young Manager was Doncaster Picture House (this was after Hippodrome Nuneaton and prior to Regal Rochdale) and, aware of the building’s limitations by this time (early CinemaScope days), ABC were approached by the owners of the town’s largest cinema, the Ritz who were proposing to sell.
ABC sent CJ Foster to survey the place and he said that there was a huge crack down a side elevation and therefore did not recommend purchase. George said that his instinct would have been to “cement the bloody crack up” but the decision was made and, of course, who ended up with the Ritz?…..Rank and it became the Odeon whilst ABC soldiered on with the PictureHouse for years afterwards before finally opening the new ABC in 1967.
See auditorium photo of Gaumont/Havelock Sunderland and note the similarities. Percy Lindsey B
rowne & Glover I assume were the forerunners of Percy L Browne & Son who were assigned by ABC to design most of their theatres in the Tyne Tees Region (WR Glen was obviously too busy).
What a beautiful building this was! Moore Bird Ltd didn’t just get their hands on ABC sites, sadly….
Why on Earth the independent operator who took over from Brent Walker renamed this place the Regal is beyond me as the Odeon King Street had been Blacks' Regal. It would have been more sensible to give it its pre Gaumont name, Scala. However, very little ever made sense in the cinema world…….
The original side elevation of the theatre is still standing with the offices behind. This would have been a very early example of ‘facading’.
The theatre was actually closed by Brett Childes (then based at the Odeon) in 1963 as Harry Minican, Resident Manager, had already transferred to the Odeon Rochester, Kent. He ended his days at the Odeon Torquay.
Auditorium photo uploaded.
First impressions of photos of the auditorium as a bingo venue are of the stage having been levelled. However,upon closer examination, it can be seen that there are three steps leading up to this area at both sides.
Given that the stalls rake will have been levelled it is probable that there are another couple of steps concealed by the new flat floor and it is therefore likely that that bingo players are on the original stage.
It is Grade 2 listed, I understand so does this mean that the owners only have to restore the exterior to its pre-fire appearance?
Manager, Brett Childes invited me to the last night of the Odeon in 1982; the theatre, until latterly, had had two Assistant Managers but at the very end there was only Brett and a Local Assistant, Pam Freer who was always off at the weekends.
The large Screen 1 , with the umpteenth rerun of ‘One Flew over the Cuckoos Nest’, was sparsely attended and I remember seeing a group of people in the circle taking ‘last night’ photos of the still impressive auditorium. Screen 2 , with the ‘Star Wars’ double bill, was full to capacity (good to see) and,if my memory serves me correctly, even the rather raunchy fare in Screen 3 was quite well attended.
I was a Manager with rival ABC and I was either on holiday or had the weekend off (we had one in four weekends at that time). Brett asked me to help him with the final returns in the General Office which, being not unlike ABC’s, was not a problem. So, for the record, the very last Business Report of the Odeon was completed by an ABC employee!
I am sure that the late Brett Childes would not mind my adding this piece of irony, given that it is now almost 34 years ago……
Re the 50th Anniversary show with Phil Kelsall, I have done a rethink (and some checking with the Sunderland Theatre Organ Preservation Society who now own the Compton) and I was actually present at both that and the previous year’s with Douglas Reeve.
Phil Kelsall played a medley from “ a forthcoming Summer release here at the Odeon Film Centre, ‘ANNIE’”. Sadly, the Odeon had closed before that film’s release and thus ‘Annie’ played at the ABC………