ABC Dunstable

51 High Street North,
Dunstable, LU6 1JF

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Union Cinema

The Union Cinema was built by Union Cinemas Ltd. chain, and was located next to the older (and smaller) Palace Cinema which they also operated.

It opened as the Ritz Cinema on 27th September 1937 with John Lodge in "Bulldog Drummond at Bay" and Charlie Ruggles in "Mind Your Own Business". The facade has five windows which allowed light into the cafe which was located in the circle foyer. There is a panel on the facade depicting a female figure in stone relief offering film spools aloft to a draped proscenium. Inside the auditorium there are decorative niches which run the full height of the walls over the front stalls exits next to the proscenium. Soon after opening it was re-named Union Cinema.

Associated British Cinemas(ABC) took over the Union Cinemas circuit in October 1937 and they retained the Union Cinema name until 1961 when it was re-named ABC. In 1969 it was taken over by the Star Cinemas Circuit of Leeds and re-named Studio Cinema.

Very soon afterward, the Studio went over to part time bingo and films ceased on 14th February 1973. It became a full time bingo club named the Union Bingo Club. By 2001 the bingo club had closed and it was converted into a nightclub named ‘Cubes’ which opened on 13th June 2002. The nightclub apparently closed by early-2009. In 2010, it was restored and re-opened in February 2011 as the Dunstable Conference Centre.

The former Union Cinema was granted Grade II Listed building status by English Heritage in March 1999.

Contributed by Ken Roe

Recent comments (view all 15 comments)

Ian
Ian on March 16, 2009 at 6:37 am

The screen is / was at the rear so yes the front stalls must have been excavated to some degree. Given its listed status, I am assuming that much of the original design remains in the nightclub, albeit possibly hidden from view. The photo above from 1937 shows a very stylish interior.

Ian
Ian on February 12, 2011 at 3:18 am

Now restored and re-opened as the Dunstable Conference Centre – flat stalls floor raked balcony, 1,000 seats.

Ian
Ian on September 1, 2012 at 3:46 am

Not really registered before, but I have just noticed how the upright Union name hides the deco bas-relief panel above the central window. I assume that the two uploaded photos are fairly close to opening, judging from the traffic, so it is strange that a key part of the fa├žade should be hidden, either from the start or very soon after.

Mike_Blakemore
Mike_Blakemore on September 1, 2012 at 4:06 am

Union Cinemas did go over the top on promoting the Brand “Union Cinemas” They did it every where, even take over shows.. When I worked for ABC I had a discussion with Mr.D Combes. (forgot is Christan Name at the mo.) who was at Head Office. He came with the Union Take over by ABC.. Union Cinema Sign usualy overshadowed the name of the Theatre, which was normaly “RITZ” (He was kind to me.. and gave me a load of pictures)

westfield
westfield on October 10, 2012 at 11:20 am

Is the stone relief on the front exclusive to this cinema and does anyone have any information about it or a clear picture……?

Buffer
Buffer on January 25, 2014 at 12:39 pm

Interior photo of bingo hall taken in Sept 1999

Ian1943
Ian1943 on November 9, 2020 at 11:39 am

Note to Mike Blakemore - the man you refer to was Gordon Coombes. In my time 1960’s his role was Assistant to the Circuit Supervisors L.E. (Bill) Carpenter and Fred Cockerill.

Mike_Blakemore
Mike_Blakemore on November 9, 2020 at 12:03 pm

Thanks Ian. Gordon Coombes. I had met Bill Carpenter at the same meeting. Over Coffee I had a private discussion with him in regards to the ABC (Palace)Erdington and the ABC Stourbridge (I later became the General manager of the company that owned Stourbridge before ABC) I had asked to lease these off ABC. I explained Why I wanted them. They then decided to keep Stourbridge and revamp it. The Shock of having it revamped gave the Manager a Heart attack and died.

terry
terry on November 9, 2020 at 4:03 pm

Gordon Coombes was finally George Lennox’s Assistant and part of his remit was dealing with the written complaints of cinema patrons. The latter increased proportionately with the decrease of staff complements. They really should have got the pruning shears out at Golden Square as no customer ever paid money to see that lot; strange that they always seemed to find room for more people there….

I could go on about that subject at great length but , returning to Mr. Coombes, it is worth mentioning that he also booked the stage shows at the remaining active live venues, the last two being Blackpool and Great Yarmouth. Of course, before the mass subdivisions and closures, there was a whole department devoted to this activity headed by Joseph Seal.

terry
terry on November 9, 2020 at 4:47 pm

Ian; I have only just, after eight years, seen your request (on ABC Eccles page) for John McIntosh’s e-mail address which I would gladly have given you!

I am sure that you are now well aware of his passing 3 years ago. He was a good friend over the years and we used to stay at each other’s homes. John was, like many of the ‘old timers’, one of the great characters in the business and his experience both with film and stage shows was vast, having served with Donalds (Aberdeen - his mother’s cousins), CMA (Rank) and ABC.

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