Memories of the silver screen in Bexhill as The Picture Playhouse marks its centenary

Thursday, July 8, marked the 100th anniversary of the cinema in Western Road, Bexhill, in what is now the The Picture Playhouse pub.

Friday, 9th July 2021, 9:27 am
Updated Friday, 9th July 2021, 9:28 am
The opening night of the Picture Playhouse
The opening night of the Picture Playhouse

It was on Friday of July 8, 1921, that the Picture Playhouse’s screen came to life at a gala opening when Her Grace, the Duchess of Norfolk performed the opening ceremony. The entire day’s takings were donated to the Bexhill Centre of the British Red Cross. Prices ranged from 1/- to 3/- and all films back in that era were accompanied by the full time Picture Playhouse Orchestra. Its telephone number - Bexhill 78 - would survive right up until 1995 as 210078. The number had been used by the Cinema De Luxe next door since 1913.

The Playhouse was operated by the Ranolph Richards Kinema Playhouse circuit, who also owned the Gaiety in London Road, which was bombed in 1940. In 1966 the entire circuit sold out to Classic Cinemas and the cinema took this name. Bingo was immediately introduced two nights a week. An interesting policy was introduced by the circuit in which the Classic Cinemas of Bexhill and Hastings would take pre-release date films to see how they performed and it was as early as 1969 that the Bexhill cinema almost became the first cinema in the entire Classic Circuit to be twinned but it was not to be.

In 1974 Eric Rhodes and his son Gerald retired as Directors of the Classic chain and a handful of Classic cinemas were handed to them as a gold watch payment. The cinema was renamed the Curzon and the premises were split with the stalls becoming a bingo club and the stalls and a cinema in the circle. This is how it continued until 1988 when the cinema was taken over by Manor Estates, which retained the cinema upstairs but turned the downstairs into a shop and flea market. The Curzon closed due to dwindling audiences on January 31 1991 after a screening of Home Alone, citing the newly opened six screen multiplex at The Crumbles as the reason.

Nick Prince leased the cinema from May 1991 believing it could be made to pay by a change of programming and marketing. Late shows, art house and special one day presentations were introduced. Some were highly successful and December 1993 saw the reintroduction of the Curzon Minors on Saturday mornings which regularly saw 200 viewers. 1993 was a struggle and changes of policy over the last few months saw greatly increased audiences but sadly it was too late and the cinema closed in May 1994.

It was reopened by Ray Sutton on February 10 1995 with Killing Zoe and he continued until the lease ran out on October 28 2004. For much of this period the cinemas showed art house films.

The final change of ownership came in 2006 when it reopened as the Redstack Playhouse - occasional films were shown alongside stage presentations and concerts. The cinema finally closed in 2008 and it has remained derelict until 2016 when it was converted into a J D Wetherspoon pub.

Nick Prince wrote the article on which this is based in 2011 and he ends his piece by writing: “We will all have our own memories of the cinema. Was it the rhythmic clicking of the usherettes’ knitting needles accompanying the film sound track in a day gone by? Or was it a first date? Or was it something else? And maybe, just maybe, when all attempts to demolish the cinema have been exhausted, it will be here to celebrate its centenary with a spectacular film show.”

The cinema as the Curzon Leisure Centre

Perhaps he could toast its history with a glass of beer instead.

Newspaper notice for the opening night