Duke of York's Cinema (1910 to date)
Preston Circus, Brighton
operated 1910 to date
• The Duke of York's, now Grade II listed, is almost certainly the oldest surviving purpose-built cinema in continuous use as such in Britain—probably in the world. The Phoenix at East Finchley, London, which makes a similar claim, received planning permission four days after the Duke of York's opened and had its first performance on 11 May 1911. [ref 0073]
1910 September 22 Opened by Brighton mayor Charles Thomas-Stanford, on the site of the Amber Ale Brewery; owned by Mrs Violet Melnotte-Wyatt, proprietor of the Duke of York's Theatre in London, and designed by C E Clayton of theatre architects Clayton & Black at a cost of £3,000. The 60-year lease for thesite cost £250 a year. The opening programme includes G A Smith's Byways of Byron. Prices 3d, 6d, 1s and 2s 6d for boxes; 800 tip-up seats in a carpeted auditoriumauditorium; free cup of tea with each ticket. A family season ticket for weekly admission in a reserved box costs a guinea (21s) a year. Airconditioning, electrically-driven projector, gas-fired radiators. Inscribed over the left door: 'The mirror of life, both grave and gay', over the right door: 'The world at work, the world at play'. Until the coronation of George V in 1911 performances commence with community singing of God Bless the Prince of Wales, conducted by the manager from the orchestra pit.
It is given the same name as the Wyatt's Duke of York's Theatre in London's West End and is almost certainly named (at least indirectly) after Frederick, Duke of York and Albany (1763-1827), long-time commander-in-chief of the army—the Grand Old Duke of York of the nursery rhyme—and younger brother of the Prince Regent (George IV) and William IV, coincidentally regular visitors to Brighton.
1911 June 6 A petition for winding up Violet Melnotte Picture Theatres Ltd is presented.
1911 June 20 A winding-up order is made.
1915 Lessee/manager is H Whalley Ashwell.
1918 Mrs Melmotte-Wyatt sells the cinema to Jack Channon of Sussex Picturedromes (115 Western Road, Brighton).
1921 First resident manager (until 1929) is E V Glenister.
1922 The company's managing director (until his death in 1955) is W T Bradshaw.
1929 Sussex Picturedromes buys the freehold of the
Bijou Electric Empire, Shoreham, and renames it the Duke of York's.
1930 May Sound system installed (British Thomson-Houston). [The metal drum-shaped Mazda Fountain in Valley Gardens, close to the Astoria, was donated to the town in 1930 by British Thomson-Houston at the height of the period of conversion to sound.]
1931 Prices 8d-2s 4d.
1934 Prices are 7d-2s.
1936 Fire station is built next door.
1937 21 June Closes for complete refurbishment, reopening on 27 June. The number of seats is reduced to 750 from the 890 previously listed. Neon lighting, which cannot be dimmed, is installed in the auditorium.
1939 H E Jordan is general manager.
1941 V R Chennell is company secretary. Prices increase: 6d stalls to 7d, 9d unchanged, 1s to 1s 2d; all balcony seats, previously 1s 3d, 1s 6d and 2s, are now 1s 6d.
1942 The old sound-on-disc installation is finally removed.
1943 December-1944 June Outbreaks of vandalism leave seats in need of refurbishment.
1946 New Kalee projectors and British Thomson-Houston sound system installed.
1947 P J Drew-Bear is appointed chief projectionist.
1948 Still 750 seats, prices 7d-2s 3d, continuous performances, three programmes weekly.
1949 P J Drew-Bear is appointed manager.
1953 Prices 9d-2s 6d.
1955 December 8 Work begins in the morning and late at night on installing a screen for Cinemascope, measuring 28 ft x 12 ft. The proscenium arch is redesigned by local architect Thomas Garrett & Son.
1956 February 6 First screening of newly installed CinemaScope.
1957 W T Bradshaw dies and Mrs A M Bradshaw takes over the running of Sussex Picturedrome Co (now at 3 St Peter's Place, Brighton). Prices 1s 6d-2s 9d.
1961 Prices 1s 9d-3s; three changes weekly; booked by P J Drew-Bear
1963 Cinema is sold to P J Drew-Bear.
1965 March 12 Bingo played on Tuesdays and Fridays.
1970s Briefly used for bingo and wrestling.
1976 Acquired by Victory Theatres, owner of the Regal, Bognor Regis.
1977 April Plans to introduce bingo on four nights a week are scotched when the nearby Astoria becomes a full-time bingo hall.
1978 June Acquired by Pavilion (Chelmsford) Ltd.
1979 Begins a partial 'art-house' programming policy, following closure of the Brighton Film Theatre.
1981 September 12 Closes.
1981 October 9 Re-opens with a fully art-house policy under new management, Rosier Films (P Foster and others), which acquires the cinema for £50,000.
1983 June 7 Closes.
1983 July 23 The cinema is used for an unauthorised punk rock concert.
1983 August 4 Re-opens following acquisition by the Penultimate Picture Palace Company (run by Oxford art-house exhibitor William Heine) and refurbishment, reducing the seating capacity to 302. The first afternoon show is cancelled because of a complete absence of patrons.
1991 A pair of giant legs, brought from an Oxford cinema that Heine has closed, are mounted on the portico. [They are later moved to the roof, where they are joined by a large satellite dish.]
1994 August Receivers are appointed, although the cinema continues to trade and attracts a number of bids.
1994 October 14 Acquired by City Screen and run as part of the Picturehouse Cinema circuit, showing art-house, classic and some first-run films with some children's programmes. It is also used for local film festivals.
1994 November 24 The building is Grade II listed.
1995 March 3 Re-opens after two weeks of renovations. The 327 re-upholstered seats are bought from a multiplex in High Wycombe.
2002 September 14 In a 90-second film a cinemagoer proposes to his girlfriend, Julie Hatcher, who is with him in the audience. She accepts.
2002 September 23 A collection of five short films is shown, made on digital video under a scheme promoted by the UK Film Council and organised by local media organisation Lighthouse.
2004 Internal renovation costs £50,000; 330 seats.
2005 May 26 Included in the UK Film Council's Digital Screen Network project. As a result it regularly shows digital screenings, including live relays from the Metropolitan Opera, New York and the annual Eurovision Song Contest.
2008 Equipped for 3D digital screenings.
The cinema used to have its own excellent website (www.dukeofyorkscinema.com) with a detailed history and local memories but this has been discontinued.
Brighton cinema directory
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