Image: The Phoenix © Jodi Warren
In the multi-perplexing world of today’s multi-plex, it’s easy to forget that in the early 20th-century going to the cinema was a special event.
As befits special events, the screenings were held in special places – in the newly built picture houses that celebrated the art of the moving picture, an invention that the Lumière brothers had first demonstrated in Paris in 1895.
Ten years after that, in 1905, the first purpose-built cinema appeared in London – though it didn’t stay alone for long; between 1911 and 1931 the number of UK cinemas increased from 94 to 258. Many were built by Oscar Deutsch, a scrap-metal merchant from Birmingham who brought The Odeon cinemas to the nation. They were buildings of such spectacular glamour that people called them dream palaces.
Besides these we are also lucky to have a cluster of other quirky and fascinating cinemas to remind us that going to the pictures can still be an adventure to look forward to.
Image: Philharmonic Liverpool © Keith Ainsworth
The Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, a stunning art deco, 1930s building with semicircular stair turrets and a foyer based on pharaohic decoration, is where you’ll find an electrically driven, rising Walturdaw cinema screen, the only operational one left in the world.
Watching films here is terrific fun – particularly on nights when the film is accompanied by organ music – the Philharmonic has Merseyside’s only resident cinema organist, David Nicholas.
Image: Worthing Dome © Gary Levett
Worthing Dome, Worthing
Welcome to Worthing’s pleasure dome, a spectacular Edwardian leisure centre brought into being by impressario Carl Adolf Seebold, who saw that what this town needed was some fun. Opened in 1910, the Kursaal Pleasure Garden (as the Dome was originally called) provided the community with ‘high class al fresco entertainments’, including roller skating and hockey, and the chance to see ‘moving pictures’ in its Electric Theatre. The Grade II -listed building was re-opened in 2006 following a £2.3m refurbishment.
Image: Duke of York’s Cinema
Duke of York’s, Brighton
Ooh la, la, monsieur – the saucy Duke of York’s celebrates its 111 birthday on 22 September 2021. This magnificent, Grade II-listed picturehouse, the oldest purpose-built cinema in Britain, according to the Cinema Theatre Association, is one of very few UK picturehouses to have been in continuous cinematic use throughout its lifetime. The 6m (20ft) can-can legs appeared in 1991, salvaged from Oxford’s Not the Moulin Rouge when it was closing down, and add an even greater helping of je ne sais quoi.
Image: Tyneside Cinema
The Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle-upon-Tyne
Founded in 1937 by Dixon Scott (the great uncle of Sir Ridley and Tony Scott) the UK’s only surviving newsreel theatre is an absolute gem. It still has its original glass mosaic floor, art deco auditorium, stained glass windows, its delectable1930s Tyneside Coffee Rooms and its original working newsreel screen. As well as films – which you can watch while enjoying a cocktail or two from the extreme comfort of your seat – the Tyneside also runs an excellent programme of special events and workshops, which have been temporarily suspended due to covid.
Image: The Phoenix auditorium © Maurita Van Droogenbroeck
The Phoenix, London
Opened in 1912, Grade II-listed The Phoenix is one of the oldest continuously running cinemas in the UK. While it retains some of its original Edwardian features – most significantly its barrel-vaulted ceiling – its interiors are art deco additions. In the late thirties, renowned cinema interior designers Mollo & Egan were hired to revamp the auditorium, and created the striking panels that echo the sculptures of archers at the neighbouring East Finchley Tube station.
Article written by Xenia Taliotis