Glory days of the heyday of cinema

Dorset Echo: A film brochure of Far From The Madding Crowd, starring Julie Christie and Terence Stamp A film brochure of Far From The Madding Crowd, starring Julie Christie and Terence Stamp

FILM buff Michael Lee has been in touch to tell us about the glory days when Weymouth and Portland could boast three cinemas.

He said: “In the late 1950s there were four cinemas locally.

“The Gaumont in St Thomas Street, the Odeon in Gloucester Street – both of which were owned by the Rank organisation – the Regal on Portland and the Plaza in Dorchester, which remains to this day.

“The first to close was the Regal in 1961 due to falling attendance.

“In 1968 the Gaumonts merged with the Odeons due to cost-cutting, so the cinema in St Thomas Street became the Odeon.

The original Odeon in Gloucester Street was sold to the Classic chain.

“The Odeon also became the Top Rank Club when bingo was at the height of its popularity, but then closed in 1968. Rank then leased the cinema to Cc leisure, who called it The New Invicta, but there was a hot summer that year which led to a bad season, after which it closed.

“The Classic was then bought by the Cannon group in the 1980s and was eventually sold to the Picture Drome Group in 1994, finally closing in 1999. Cineworld opened in December of that year.”

Mr Lee added: “I used to go to the cinema two or four times a week because there was always so much on. It was in the days before television was big and it was a great form of entertainment.

“I remember when Reach For The Sky came to town and it was so popular that even after it had been on for ages you were lucky if you could get two seats together if you weren’t at the front of the queue.”

One of his most vivid film memories is of going to see the film PT109 – about President Kennedy’s war exploits – on November 22, 1963, and leaving the cinema to hear the news that JFK had been assassinated.

An interesting fact that Mr Lee unearthed was Weymouth’s unique way of avoiding a ban on screening films on Good Friday.

He explained: “In the late 1950s venues had to shut on Good Friday according to a law that no live or film entertainment should take place on that day.

“The Rev Blackburn, Methodist minister of Gloucester Street church had connections with J Arthur Rank who was also a devout Methodist minister. He suggested that they show religious films on that day for no charge apart from a collection afterwards.

“Trevor Matthews, who also had connections with the local church, and his friend Joe Hardy the senior projectionist, ran these screenings for about five years until the law was relaxed.

“Most screenings were filled to capacity and included films such as The Robe, Whistle Down The Wind and Ben Hur and I suspect they were unique to Weymouth.”

He added: “I have always loved films and still do, and we still try and go every week to this day.

“We have seen a few turkeys in our time, but that’s the way it is – most films are excellent and the bad ones don’t put us off.”

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