1-2 High Street,
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Located in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire. A palatial cinema by famed cinema architect David Evelyn Nye for the Shipman and King circuit, the Rex Cinema opened in May 1938 with 1,100 seats in stalls and circle levels. A second Shipman & King property in the town was the Court Cinema, also an attractive cinema, which closed in 1960 and was converted into a Tesco Store which burned down 1969.
The Rex Cinema has a marine motif for the auditorium, the lights are concealed behind scallop shells in a lines of waves. This in a building just about as far inland as you can get in the UK! The proscenium arch is fantastically rich, a deep band of ornate plasterwork.
A tall foyer (now sub-let as a restaurant) contained a double staircase joining near the top to give entry to the rather squat circle lounge, nestled in the balcony void. Tall mirrors adorned the side walls.
Downstairs, passing under the joining of the staircase, there was a spacious cafe under the balcony, also richly ornamented, but causing a foreshortening of the stalls area with a result that there were more seats in the circle than in the stalls.
The projection booth was cantilevered out, high above the side road off the High Street.
The Rex Cinema, once my local cinema (and always one of my favourites), was renamed the Studio Cinema in 1973 when it was adapted for bingo (played on Thursday to Saturday) with films showing on Sunday to Wednesday. In 1976 the circle was disasterously partitioned off to form two small uncomfortable cinemas with one highly decorated wall and an off-set screen. They were named Rex 1 & 2 (seating 263 and 163), the front of the circle was extended forward toward the proscenium and the stalls area was painted a uniform cream colour and operated as a bingo hall. The Rex Cinema closed in 1988 and fierce battles ensued when developers sought to demolish the building.
Over the next 16 years the building sank to a parlous state, unused, vandalised and under constant threat. However this is one occasion that has a happy outcome as eventually the former car park and original flats were released for a new housing development, the foyer was partitioned off and let as a restaurant, but crucially the fabulous auditorium was detripled, restored and reopened as a cinema by James Hannaway.
It is once again possible to see a film in the original appearance of this wonderful cinema, albeit the front stalls have now been replaced by tables and the circle re-stepped, thus reducing the overall capacity considerably to 350. It reopened 5 December 2004, and business has been reported as good, in addition it has been used for recording radio shows.
If you are ever in Hertfordshire, just north of London, make a point of watching a movie at the Rex Cinema, you won’t be disappointed!
The Rex Cinema is a Grade II Listed building.
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