Webpage created: July 02, 2017.
Webpage updated: July 02, 2017
THEATRES AND CINEMAS IN OLD PLYMOUTH
The Regent Cinema in Frankfort Street was opened on Saturday November 21st 1931.
The story goes that a year or two earlier Mr G E Prance had been walking to the Western Evening Herald offices to place an advert when he saw a notice to the effect that certain property in the area was for sale. Realizing the value of the site concerned, he immediately contacted Mr W Mumford and they were later joined by Mr W Firth and Mr D Bliss, both of London and directors of the Hippodrome at Devonport. Together they formed the Regent Cinema (Plymouth) Ltd with Mr Firth as chairman and Mr Bliss as managing director. In October 1930 they received Council approval of their plan.
Before work could start on building the cinema there was a small problem to overcome. Drake's Leat ran across the site. This was soon diverted so that Mexboro & Company, the principal of which was another member of the Mumford family, could commence erecting the 757,478 concrete bricks and 40,427 cubic feet of concrete blocks said to have been provided by Messrs F J Moore of Cattedown. The architects were Messrs Chadwick, Watson & Company of Leeds. The decor was aluminium and ivory.
Seating was provided for 3,500 people, of which 1,390 were in the balcony. There was a large waiting area furnished with deep-sprung couches to enable tickets to be sold in advance to 2,000 people who could then be let into the auditorium as quickly as the previous audience was leaving. In front of the curtains were placed three fairy water fountains and a HMV Panatrope system provided the incidental music although there was room for an orchestra. The first manager was Mr E B London.
Admission prices were: up to 4pm: 2,500 seats at 7d and 1,000 seats at 1s. After 4pm: front ground floor 7d; back ground floor 1s; front circle 2s; back circle 1s 6d.
The opening film was Charlie Chaplin in "City Lights" which most people had not realized was a silent film with only sound effects and music. Attendance was much boosted by the publicity surrounding the visit to Plymouth earlier in the week of its star. Although he did make a brief appearance on the stage at the Palace Theatre he left on the night train for London and thus did not get involved with the opening of the Regent.
But there was a predator lurking in Plymouth waiting to pounce on this successful cinema. He was Mr Oscar Deutsch.
Back in the 1920s an ex-metal merchant by the name of Mr Oscar Deutsch had been chairman of W & F Film Service, which became part of Gaumont-British. In 1930 Mr Deutsch started a new venture, Cinema Service, which initially owned six houses. This company was reformed in 1937 as Odeon Theatres Holdings Ltd and in the May of that year acquired the Paramount circuit. He now had control of some 250 cinemas and Odeon was the third largest circuit behind Gaumont-British (GB) and the Associated British Pictures Corporation (ABPC). The new company's classical name was derived from the 'Odeion' on the slopes of the Acropolis.
Unfortunately this expansion brought with it many financial problems, as a result of which J Arthur Rank and United Artists each bought half of the shares in the holding company, Odeon Cinema Holdings Ltd.
Deutsch's intention had been to build up an up-to-date circuit of luxurious theatres. They all looked the same as he quickly realised the benefits of a corporate image but each cinema was a company in its own right so that it could sell its shares to local people and thus be a part of the local business community.
The Odeon group had apparently purchased some land in Union Street, Plymouth, ready for a new cinema. The outbreak of the Second World War put a stop to this plan but evidently not to Mr Oscar Deutsch's intentions. The story goes that Mr Deutsch invited Mr Prance of the Regent Cinema to lunch with him at Exeter, where he announced his plans for a major new cinema in Plymouth that would put the Regent out of business. Unless, that is, the owners sold it to him.
This they did in September 1939 and thus it was that on Monday June 17th 1940 the old Regent Cinema reopened as the Odeon Cinema.