Reel Cinema

Union Place, Derry's Cross,
Plymouth, PL1 2SW

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ABC Cinema Plymouth

Built on the site of the Theatre Royal (1813-1937, architect J. Foulston), the Royal Cinema was built for and operated by Associated British Cinemas(ABC) and was designed by their in-house architect William Riddle Glen.

The Royal Cinema opened on 15th July 1938 with Katherine Hepburn in "Stage Door" and Cesar Romero in "Dangerously Yours". It is a handsome building externally and is faced in white Portland stone. Originally it had a seating capacity of 2,404 (1,564 in the stalls and 840 in the circle). It had a well detailed Art Deco style scheme, typical of Glen’s style of design. The Royal Cinema was equipped with a Compton 3Manual/8Rank organ with a Melotone unit and an illuminated console, that was opened by Wilfred Southworth, and was considered to be the finest organ to be installed in an ABC cinema. There was a fully equipped stage and dressing rooms.

The Royal Cinema was re-named ABC from 28th April 1958 following a renovation. Live stage shows (pop shows) were held here during the 1960’s and the last time the stage was used was for a Morcambe & Wise comedy show. The ABC closed on 30th October 1976 for conversion into a triple-screen cinema and bingo club. The final films in the original single auditorium were ""The Likely Lads" and "Steptoe and Son".

The triple-screen ABC opened on 5th May 1977 with seating for 583, 380 and 112. The Compton organ was retained in the bingo club located in the stalls area, but it was hardly ever used. ABC Cinemas passed to the Cannon Group, then to MGM from 22nd May 1992. A management buy-out brought the name ABC back again in the mid-1990’s. A Gala Bingo Club operates in the former stalls area and the Compton organ was removed from this part of the building, to be re-installed in the Blackheath Halls in South-East London. The cinemas continued and from 1st August 2006 have been operated by the independent Reel Cinemas chain. Apparently this is on a short lease, and it was announced that the cinema would close on 2nd October 2008. However, this was halted and the cinema continues on a reprieve, under independent management. Both the cinema & bingo club were closed on January 1, 2018 due to flooding but was re-opened on 7th January 2018. Renovation and redecoration work was carried out in May/June 2018 in preparation for its 80th birthday on 15th July 2018.

Sadly, the inevitable arrived on Thursday 28th February 2019, when the Reel Cinema was closed.

Back in April 2018, campaigners, led by Karl Parsons, had launched an attempt to try and transform the cinema into a thriving cultural hub, which would have seen the historic building handed back to the community, with a 1,000-seat concert hall, cinema, rehearsal space, bar & restaurant.

In July 2018 Reel Cinemas Property Director Chris Morgan-Giles said: “Reel Cinemas has taken the decision to close its Plymouth operation. We have been reviewing its performance and operation as a cinema for some time and have concluded that it is no longer financially viable to continue to operate as a result of harsh trading conditions, which have been exacerbated by a competitor Vue, and its ticket-price slashing”.

Despite the campaign, a public consultation was held last year unveiling plans by Scottish developer Structured House Group(SHG) to tear the cinema down – including its Art Deco style front – and replace it with fully-furnished flats. However, the idea of creating a 16-storey student block and hotel has since been replaced by plans to build a ‘vertical village’ block of flats aimed at ‘people of all ages’.

For the record, the final films were “How to Train Your Dragon” “Alita:Battle Angel”, “Instant Family”, “Lego Movie 2” and “The Kid Who Would be King”.

Contributed by Ken Roe

Recent comments (view all 16 comments)

Aaron77 on September 18, 2008 at 11:04 am


Ken Roe
Ken Roe on December 26, 2009 at 7:30 am

The Reel Cinema and Gala Bingo Club, photographed in June 2009:

Ian on March 25, 2010 at 2:10 am

Interior shot of one of the screens in 1991:–

raoulgough on June 16, 2010 at 2:19 pm

There’s a series of articles about this cinema at the link below, with a new page for each of the names by which it was known (Royal Cinema, Theatre Royal, ABC Plymouth, etc.) One of the pages mentions that the Beatles played here in 1963.

View link

I saw Peter Jackson’s King Kong at this cinema at the end of 2005 on the big screen. The place was definitely a little run-down, and only about ten people there (with room for 500!), but a great place to see such a film. Way bigger and better than any multiplex I’ve been to.

Ian on August 6, 2012 at 12:57 am

Exterior shot of the Reel (under the Cannon banner) in 1991:–


CSWalczak on September 16, 2012 at 10:56 pm

This theater is open.

Billy on December 14, 2014 at 5:18 pm

Still as of 2014 displaying obsolete ABC logos around the entrance, many years after said cinema chain went defunct!

Buffer on January 6, 2018 at 11:19 am

Both Bingo hall and cinema closed “until further notice” after New years flooding in 2018.

d8rren on March 26, 2018 at 10:06 am

Reopened after flooding on 07/01/18

allegroman on July 13, 2018 at 9:08 am

The Royal Cinema is 80 years old this weekend, the only WR Glen cinema to have continuously operated as a cinema from construction to the present day. Under threat, we have formed a Trust to try and save this delightful building, and are supporting the efforts by the current local management to promote the cinema and keep it open. If you’re in Plymouth on July 15th, please come along and support the Royal/ABC/Reel!

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