The Imperial at the time of its opening in 1940 and the art deco foyer
The renamed Essoldo in 1950
All that remained of the Imperial era in 2001.
Photos: 1950 courtesy of Brighton & Hove Libraries' Brighton History Centre; 2001 Terra Media
Imperial Cinema (1943-1947, 1948-1950)
134 North Street, Brighton 23
• The foundation stones on either side of the entrance are laid by comedy film stars Ralph Lynn and Tom Walls in July 1939 but work on construction is held up by the outbreak of war. The architect is Samuel Beverley FRIBA, of Verity & Beverley. The interiors in early art deco style have been attributed to John Fairweather and John Alexander.
1940 April 9 Imperial Theatre is opened and variety theatre—but equipped as a cinema from the
start—by a company owned by Ralph Lynn and involving Jack Buchanan, star of the opening show, Top Hat and Tails. Proscenium 45 ft wide; 1,877 seats. Westrex sound system. The freehold is held by Brighton Corporation.
1940 July Closes with losses of £1,850.
1941 January 28 Taken over by the official receiver. The owning company, Southern Counties Theatres, has unsecured liabilities of £14,316 and a surplus on assets of more than £6,000, leaving a deficit of £8,000.
1941 December 1 Re-opens as a theatre.
1942 June 8 Closes again.
1942 August 3 Re-opens on Bank Holiday Monday under new management, showing films on Sundays.
1943 Acquired about now by Gaywood Cinemas Ltd. Film performances are increasingly included.
1946 The lease is taken over by P&R Entertainments.
1947 Reverts briefly to variety show use (presented by Jack Hylton, prices 2s 6d-10s 6d) when the American boycott of UK cinema limits the number of new films available. Film prices 1s-2s 9d.
1948 August 29 Back to film shows only, 2,000 seats, continuous performances, booked in London.
1949 Acquired by Sol Sheckman's Newcastle-based Essoldo Circuit (Control) Ltd from Gaywood.
1950 Renamed the Essoldo.
1950 October/November Should Parents Tell? (also known as [The Story of] Bob and Sally) is shown with an adults-only licence issued by Brighton council. The British Board of Film Censors' X certificate is not yet introduced and legally local authorities are responsible for censorship.
1951 February The first X certificate film shown in Brighton is Manon.
1953 Prices 2s 1d-4s 11d; 1,877 seats. Booked at 7 Hay Hill, London.
1953 June 14 First 3D feature film shown in Brighton is Man in the Dark. The Essoldo runs it at separate performances, three shows daily at 13:00, 16:15 and 19:45, prices 2s 6d, 3s 3d, 3s 9d and 4s 1d.
1954 Prices 2s 1d-4s 11d
1954 September House record of 25,000 admissions in a week (in bad weather) is set by Three Coins in the Fountain. Prices are 1s 6d-4s.
1957 Progressively, low-grade films are joined by Thursday night wrestling and one-off pop concerts (Cliff Richard, Billy Fury, Brenda Lee, Gene Vincent, Bobby Vee, Del Shannon, Johnny Tillotson, Adam Faith, etc.)
1957 Booked at 1-5 Jermyn Street, London.
1964 March 27 Last pop concert is by Joe Brown & The Bruvvers.
1964 May 15 Closed. Last films: Never Let Go and Teenage Lovers.
• The building became a Top Rank bingo hall, which was later acquired by Ladbroke, and in 1997 was converted to a youth-oriented entertainment complex called Hot Shots, with a bowling alley. This closed in 1999; an attempt to have the building listed failed and the building was demolished May/June 2001. Three cavernous retail units, with private apartments above and behind, occupy the site.
• The Duncan McNeill Imaging website includes a remarkable set of photographs of the transformation of the site from former cinema to cavernous retail outlets between June 2000 and April 2003.
• The My Brighton and Hove website includes a page of memories about the cinema.
• The Arthur Lloyd website includes a page about the Imperial/Essoldo, illustrated with a theatre programme for a play starring Robert Donat and Roger Livesey.
Brighton cinema directory