Clifton Cinema Leamington Spa: 1956 Reopening

Clifton Cinema Leamington Spa Warwickshire local history videos

Clifton Cinema on Spencer Street, Leamington Spa, was reopened in 1956. The British Pathé cameras were there to record the arrival of the town’s dignitaries and a few local people .

The Opening Of Bath Cinema, Leamington Spa

Special – Mayor Opens New Cinema Aka Special (1956)

The unique and striking building still seen at 2 Spencer Street, Leamington Spa today, was first opened on 23rd March 1925 as the Bath Cinema. 

Edith Devis owned the Bath Cinema Company, which built the Bath Cinema and the Regal Cinema. The company also bought the Scala and Regent Cinemas, meaning it owned all four of Leamington Spa’s cinemas. In addition, it owned a cinema in Warwick and one in Stratford.

Birmingham based cinema architect Horace G. Bradley designed the Bath Cinema, as well as the Bath Assembly Hall next door. 

It was a good time to be in cinema design and construction, since almost 1,500 cinemas opened in the UK between 1920 and 1940. 

Some of Bradley’s other cinemas still stand, such as the Grade II listed Royalty Cinema in Birmingham.

The seating in the stalls and circle faced one large screen, while the auditorium’s side walls were decorated with Wedgewood style plaques. A cafe also formed part of the project.

The stone niches next to the central windows never contained statues even back in the early days.

The very first film ever to be shown in the Bath Cinema was Scaramouche (1923) starring Ramon Navarro.

A ballroom and a garage were built to the left side of the cinema in 1926.

Why Was Clifton Cinema Reopened?

In 1937, the Bath Cinema Company sold all four Leamington Spa cinemas to the Stratford Picture House Co, part of the Clifton Cinema Company.

The Bath Cinema was redecorated and officially became the Clifton Cinema in July 1938. 

On 2nd September 1956 Clifton Cinema showed Gift Horse (1952) starring Trevor Howard, and Our Girl Friday (1953) starring Joan Collins. Then it closed for redevelopment.

The next few weeks saw the removal of the Wedgewood style interior. Using plans developed by architect James A. Roberts, the builders also altered the proscenium, allowing screening of the new CinemaScope films.

On 16th December 1956, work on the 940-seat cinema was complete and the Clifton Cinema enjoyed a grand reopening.

The Reopening of the Clifton Cinema

In 1956, cinemas around the UK sold more than 1,100 million tickets. 

Contrast that with 2018, a boom year for modern UK cinemas. The 177 million tickets sold over twelve months was more than any other year for decades. However, it’s a fraction of the activity seen in 1956.

The reopening of the Clifton Cinema was therefore an important social event for Leamington Spa’s local community.

In fact, it was so important that the mayor, cinema management and even Pathé News were there.

The Pathe Newsreel of Clifton Cinema

It was a foggy day on 16th December 1956. Whether that was general weather conditions or because of the domestic and commercial pollutants in the air was unknown, but The Clean Air Act (1956) was starting to make a difference to urban air quality across the country.

The new Norman Wisdom film Up In the World (1956) was about to be shown at the newly reopened Clifton Cinema on Spencer Street.  “Gala Reopening Today” announced the cinema sign.

Because British Pathé were there to capture the event in footage which lasts 1 minute and 43 seconds, we know the attending dignitaries included:

  • Mr Ken Jones, General Manager of the Clifton Cinemas
  • Mr James A. Roberts, architect
  • Alderman E. A. Baxter, Mayor of Leamington 
  • Mayoress
  • Mr Bill Williamson
  • Alderman J. H. Rowe
  • Alderman Roderick Baker
  • Mr Harold Brown
  • Mrs Jones (the General manager’s wife) and her son

It’s an interesting look at 1950s British clothing, which includes dinner jackets with bow ties, suits with jumpers, a fur coat, a schoolboy cap, smart cats and a woman’s headscarf.

The Commissionaire

In the early twentieth century, every respectable cinema, theatre and department store had a commissionaire at the door. These smart men in black uniforms welcomed customers, opened the doors, answered queries – and kept troublesome children in check as required!

The British Pathé newsreel included a nice close up shot of the Clifton Cinema’s commissionaire on the night of the reopening. He salutes the camera, and is then seen welcoming customers and opening the entrance doors for them.

The commissionaire’s name was Hugh Nicholl, and he was 58 years old at the time the film was made.

Hugh was originally from Clones, Co. Monaghan but by 1956 he was living in Leamington Spa. Unknown to his family, he worked as commissionaire at the Clifton Cinema for several weeks. He later moved to Edinburgh.

I’m very grateful to Hugh’s family for this information.

Alderman E. A. Baxter, Mayor of Leamington 

E A Baxter was a Freemason, becoming the Past Masters of Guy’s Lodge 395, for 1949.

Earlier in 1956 the Coventry Evening Telegraph reported on E A Baxter’s tour of Yugoslavia with a delegation of British mayors. The visit included  the Serbian town of Sarajevo, in particular the location of Archduke Ferdinand’s assassination in 1914. 

On his return, Alderman Baxter wrote to the Prime Minister, Sir Anthony Eden, conveying the desire of the Yugoslav leaders for good relations between the two countries. He received a courteous reply.

The Dying Days Of The Clifton Cinema

The 1960’s saw the Clifton Cinema’s ballroom converted into a Granada Bingo Club. Later, it became Dockers bar.

The Clifton Cinema itself survived until 16th January 1982, when the final audience watched James Farentino in US horror film Dead and Buried (1981). 

The last Clifton Cinema General Manager was Gerry Bartlett. He worked at the Warwick Cinema at Coten End until the end of the second world war, when he moved to the Clifton Cinema.

Since the cinema closed in 1982, the premises have been used for other social activities. For instance, at various times nightclubs opened there, including Lester’s, Evolve and Neon. By 1995 a gym club had opened, later becoming the Bizz Fitness Club.

Unlike thousands of old cinemas which once stood in communities across the UK, the Clifton Cinema’s building still remains to this day. Thankfully it helps maintain a sense of Leamington Spa’s past history.

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