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The Ritz Cinema was built for the Union Cinemas chain and was designed by the architectural firm Verity & Beverley who were assisted by Union’s ‘in-house’ architect Ernest F. Tulley.
Union opened the Ritz Cinema on the 22nd March 1937 (the same day as their Ritz Cinema, Chatham, Kent). The opening film was William Powell in “My Man Godfrey”. The facade was of white stone and had a stepped outline. At night it was quite spectacular as it was covered with many bands of neon tube lighting as well as having the RITZ name located on a double-sided vertical sign and the name UNION Cinemas mounted in large illuminated letters on top.
It was spacious and lavishly designed cinema which was well equipped with a large stage and many dressing rooms. It held the distinction of being the 2,000th cinema in the U.K. to be equipped with Western Electric sound system and a plaque was mounted on the foyer wall to commemorate this.
The Wurlitzer 3Manual/7Rank theatre organ was not ready for the opening and had its own special opening on 26th April 1937 when H. Robinson Cleaver played on the console which was on a lift, was illuminated and had a grand piano attached. The longest serving resident organist at the Ritz was Trevor Willetts who play from 1943 until 1962. The organ was removed in 1969 when it was sold to a private buyer.
In October 1937 Union Cinemas were taken over by Associated British Cinemas (ABC) and the Ritz was later (in 1961) re-named ABC. It closed on 16th March 1974 with Reg Varney in “Holiday on the Buses”. It was subsequently demolished.
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