Continentale Cinema

Sudeley Place,
Kemp Town,
Brighton, BN2 1HF

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Converted from a Congregational chapel in the early 1920’s, it was originally a silent cinema known as the Sudeley Place Picture House. It was later to be known as the Kingscliff. Sound (British Thompson Houston) was installed in 1930 by the owner – Mrs Fellows who was also the proprietor of the Tivoli in Western Road, Hove at this time. There were 380 seats and the proscenium width was 6.40 metres.
On Friday 31st October 1947 the Playhouse theatre opened with a production of “Viceroy Sarah”, the Kingscliff having been reconstructed to house stage productions. The theatre was run by Playhouse Productions Ltd. run by Bray Wyndham. Weekly repertory was presented with performances each evening (except Sunday) at 7.45 pm. and a Saturday matinee at 5.00 pm. It was stated that a co-operative spirit was to be fostered and that new actors and playwrights given a chance. Prices ranged from 2/– to 4/10d.

In 1948 on a Sunday evening in the theatre the Playhouse Theatre Club was formed with over one hundred members with the aim of creating an enthusiastic body of playgoers who could meet the cast an exchange points of view with all those concerned with the play itself. Target membership was three to four thousand. A small annual subscription gave members access to the meetings and a small discount on ticket prices. At the end of May admission charges were reduced to 2/-to 4/6d – about half the cost of going to the Dolphin.

In the Gazette of 5th June 1948 was a front page headline “Playhouse may have to close” followed by a report that if attendances did not double in size in the next couple of weeks the theatre would have to close. The report acknowledged the remarkable amount of work which had been put in to make the venture a success. The Playhouse was a professional company and a commercial concern and received no backing from the Arts Council.

Within a few weeks things had improved, an appeal for 1000 pounds to keep the theatre going raised over 100 pounds in the first week, membership of the Playhouse Theatre Club rose significantly, and box office receipts also improved. The management had stated that if the theatre could fill two thirds of its seats each week then it would make a profit of between 20 and 50 pounds.

In September rumours of closure after the fortieth production (“Almost A Honeymoon”) were denied. The theatre did close for a late summer break on llth September but reopened the winter season on llth October. Two seats for the price of one on Monday nights was introduced in this winter season, as were foreign films on Sundays starting with “Les Disparus de St. Acil” on the 5th December. Twice daily performances of “Treasure Island” was the Christmas attraction taking the theatre into 1949. Then rather quietly the last performance by the Playhouse Repertory Company was given on the 26th March 1949 “The Younger Greysmith”) and from the following Monday the building became known as the Picture Playhouse with purely screen entertainment, later in the year it became the Metro.

Over sixty productions had been staged at the Playhouse in a period of under eighteen months. Most were just for one weeks duration but the longest run was achieved at Christmas 1947 when “Ambrose Applejohns Adventure” lasted from Boxing Day until the 10th January. The standard was not uniformly high, but the Playhouse achieved many excellent reviews in the local press during its period of operation and seems to have deserved better success.

Miles Byrne took over the cinema in 1949 and it became the Continentale. Let to George Fernie and family – George acting as projectionist, proprietor and commissionaire, Mrs Sue Fernie was the cashbox girl, personnel officer and part time usherette whilst Miss Ellen Fernie was in charge of sweets and cigarettes! Always regarded as a cold and draughty cinema, the Continentale tried to alter its image in January 1953 by installing a new infra red heating system. Adverts boasted that it was ‘just like standing in the sun’!

Upon George Fernies death in 1965 Miles Byrne returned as Managing Director and a small refurbishment was carried out. Sex films became the order of the day. In 1986 a major renovation was carried out with new screen, new seating in the circle and new carpeting inside and, at a cost of 5000 pounds complete redecoration outside. A new policy was also announced of serious art-films and general second run features with the erotic art restricted to the afternoons. However just a few months later Miles Byrne died and the cinema was almost immediately closed. The last films – an erotic double bill – were “Sexy Couriers” and “Off Duty Pleasures” which were screened in December 1986.

It had been up for sale for many months with a price tag of around 150,000 pounds- with arguments over its future raging. Locals want it to remain as a cinema / theatre / community centre, the National Youth Theatre expressed an interest in purchasing it as a base for its theatrical ventures, when it was acquired with planning permission for replacement with three town houses by developers.

Subsequently, the building was completely gutted and four houses constructed within the shell of the old building.

Contributed by Ian Grundy

Recent comments (view all 11 comments)

philraven
philraven on November 26, 2003 at 7:09 am

Continentale is in Sudeley Place BN2 1HF

RHScottSpencer
RHScottSpencer on December 30, 2004 at 4:26 pm

I work as freelance projectionist and often worked at this cinema if I had nothing else to do. All the equipment was old but worked. It was heated by a number of wall mounted gas fires. As for the films?
Yes it did show so called sex films, but it also ran its fair share of first and second run films over the years. Mr Miles Byrne and his partner were also distributors of “B” movies for many years. In 1980 I had the chance to buy this chain of cinemas from Mr Miles Byrne’s, having worked in most of the I turn the offer down.

RHScottSpencer
RHScottSpencer on January 16, 2005 at 11:35 am

Out of interest, this was one of a chain owned by the Miles Byrne’s group. When I was offered the chain in 1980, the package was made up of twelve cinemas.

PaulBland
PaulBland on October 8, 2005 at 12:16 pm

Back to 1970s Brighton! The Continentale was just round the corner from my seafront hall of residence. There were advantages to teacher-training in Sussex! I saw “The Killing Of Sister George” here, amongst others. I recollect the gas lighting on the walls. Admission then was 35p, compared to 55p at the Kingswest Odeons. The advertising across the front proclaimed it as “Brighton Film Theatre”, an attempt, no doubt, to borrow some respectability from the real BFT. It was possible to hear the radio playing from within the box and on more than one occasion the projectionist showed the reels in the wrong order!

Ian
Ian on January 10, 2007 at 7:09 am

A photo of the Continentale before closure here:–

http://flickr.com/photos/12494104@N00/352007842/

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on July 25, 2007 at 10:51 pm

Here is a link to a page showing a vintage photograph and a potted history:
View link

Davell
Davell on June 4, 2008 at 5:32 pm

I remember going to the Continentale back in 1963, when on holiday with my late father. We went to see a double horror show. I remember the tabs were very noisy when they opened and closed. Several years later I visited the box. If I remember correctly they had Kalee 12s, but I can’t be sure. Is there anyone who knows for sure?

gpgoogle
gpgoogle on September 4, 2012 at 6:09 am

this cinema features in a scene towards the end of ‘The Yes Girls’ (1971)

[url]http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0068002/[/url]

RHScottSpencer
RHScottSpencer on March 14, 2013 at 6:22 pm

The stage of the theatre/cinema was a tin hut to the rear, it had a dimmer board stage right. A hole was cut into the rear wall of the building to form a proscenium arch. For some years Myles Byrne had a office on the stage and it was just as cold as the theatre/cinema was.

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