History: Looking back at Brentwood’s 100-year history of cinema

PUBLISHED: 12:30 11 April 2019

The Odeon cinema in Brentwood which opened in 1938. Picture: Sylvia Kent

The Odeon cinema in Brentwood which opened in 1938. Picture: Sylvia Kent

Sylvia Kent

There may no longer be any cinemas in the borough but historian Sylvia Kent takes a look at how this has been a very different different story over the past century.

Posters for filims at the Parade and Palace Cinemas. Picture: Sylvia KentPosters for filims at the Parade and Palace Cinemas. Picture: Sylvia Kent

Years ago, Brentwood was the place to visit to see a good film, in fact, a trip “to the flicks” once a week, was a great treat for most people over the last century.

You usually looked forward to an A and a B film, with comical adverts in between and often a cartoon popped up – quite a programme.

Brentwood’s first cinema was the Electric Light Picture Palace which opened in the High Street in 1914.

All films then were silent.

A pianist accompanied the film track, playing loudly and vigorously when the action required.

But 1934 brought us a completely new building on the site and the rather glamorous Palace Cinema took over and reigned for 30 years. During its latter years, the well known manager Stan Sedgewick fronted this popular cinema which could seat more than one thousand cinema-goers.

Older residents will remember a time when there were three cinemas flourishing in Brentwood with another popular picture house in Billericay, The Ritz, dearly loved, but eventually demolished.

There was also a lovely little cinema which opened in 1921 close to Brentwood Station, called The Parade, which was a favourite of the soldiers who were stationed at Warley Barracks, just up Warley Hill.

It closed in 1940 when a bomb hit the railway ticket office and was used for years later by several local firms until demolished for the great Kingsgate office development.

The Odeon was a firm favourite with local residents, opening on 18 May, 1938.

Designed by George Coles, and capable of seating 1,350, in stalls and circle, it was usually packed, especially on a Saturday evening. Film-goers recall queuing for the 1/9s (8p) when programmes changed twice weekly.

The Odeon was taken into the Rank circuit in 1948 but closed in the early 1970s to make way for the Chapel High Shopping Centre.

W H Smith now stands on the site.

In researching press cuttings circa 1997, we find that Brentwood’s last ABC cinema manager was busily installing an expensive sound system that was hoped to attract new customers.

Coincidentally, that year the earlier version of Star Wars (1977) was playing to an improved, updated soundtrack.

Sadly the ABC cinema closed thereafter.

Social life has inevitably changed during the last century since television invaded our homes and many of our much-loved cinemas were remodelled and transformed into bingo halls before demolition.

But all things change with time and now larger towns’ cinemas can often show half a dozen different programmes at the local multiplex cinema, viewing what’s new from Hollywood, but then, you can always view the latest films on your phone, or in your own front room!

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