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The Savoy Cinema was built for and was operated by Associated British Cinemas(ABC) and they employed their in-house architect William R. Glen to design this super cinema. The wonderful interior decorations were carried out by designers Clark & Fenn.
The Savoy Cinema opened on 4th May 1936 with Jack Benny in "Broadway Melody of 1936" and "Ice Flow". The cinema has a prominent town centre position on Abingdon Square. Seating in the auditorium was provided for 1,258 in the stalls and 696 in the circle. Lighting was all concealed in troughs, and the auditorium was decorated with rich plasterwork and grilles by the proscenium which held the pipes of the Compton 3Manual/7Ranks theatre organ which had a Melotone unit and an illuminated surround. It had been transfered here from the Princess Cinema, Dagenham, Essex and was opened by Wilfred Southworth. The Savoy Cinema had a resident organist through to 1956, the last being Harold Nash.
The Compton organ was removed from the building in 1960, as space was required to house the pop shows that were being staged in cinemas around the country. The organ chambers were converted into extra dressing rooms. It was re-named ABC in 1961. In December 1974 it was tripled with two screen seating 263 and 208 being created under the circle in the rear stalls. The main screen had 1,018 seats located in the former circle and the front stalls.
Suprisingly, another Compton organ was installed in the ABC in 1985-1986. It was similar to the original one that had been removed and this organ came from the ABC Ritz Cleethorpes. It was opened by organists Ronald Curtis and Michael Wooldrige on 4th May 1986.
Later in 1986, the ABC was taken over by the Cannon Group and re-named Cannon. The Cannon was closed on 27th April 1995, a few weeks after a new multiplex cinema opened in the town. The closing films were;“Pulp Fiction”, “Terminal Velocity” and “Just Cause”. The Compton organ was still in the building in 1993, but I don’t know what became of it.
It lay empty for several years and plans were proposed to convert it into a nightclub, but these were turned down, mainly due to the fact that the plans involved the removal of the circle. This was not possible as the building had been designated a Grade II Listed building in October 2004, just six months before closure.
In around 2000, the building was purchased by the Jesus Army for use as a church, but they came up with several difficulties, firstly there was some major structural repairs to be done, and then their proposals for church use were to remove much of the interior of the building and create stairs down from the circle into the stalls. These plans were refused and the case was sent to a Public Enquiry. Support for changes to the proposed plans came from English Heritage and the Cinema Theatre Association. The Public Enquiry lasted several weeks and came to conclusion to allow some amendments, but keeping the interior very much looking like it did originally.
The building is now the Jesus Centre, but it was also known as The Deco from 2005, which allowed it to be hired out for conferences, special events, live performances etc. when not in church use. However, this did not prove successful and it closed in July 2007. The Grade II Listed building remains in church use.
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