I found this lovely little video about the Regal cinema in Bexleyheath.
The Regal was built in 1934, with room for over 2,000 people and a Compton cinema organ. The organ didn’t last too long however, the organ chambers taking a direct hit from a bomb in 1943 and the console itself removed soon after the war. In 1962 the cinema was renamed the ABC, with a bowling alley added to the building. By 1978 work had taken place to convert the cinema into four smaller screens. Sadly, like many cinemas business dropped and by 1987 the cinema was closed and the building was demolished. A rather grotty ASDA supermarket now occupies the same spot.
If I remember rightly my first ever trip to the cinema was to the ABC. I’m pretty sure I didn’t watch anything particularly iconic. It was probably Care Bears: The Movie, again, if my memory serves me right. But I do remember it feeling like an incredibly special and grown-up experience. The scale of the place. The anticipation, waiting for it all to begin.
Obviously there were many reasons for the decline of cinemas, but it still feels like a real shame that we have lost so many, especially when the buildings themselves have been destroyed. Here were examples of modern, sleek architecture in every town and on every high street. Here were places where we could have collective experiences. Here is where we could have affordable entertainment, an accessible escapism.
Bexleyheath and the surrounding area once had many cinemas. There is only one now, a multiplex built in the 1990s that is a little shabby and unloved. The small rooms and screens aren’t the same. The building itself alludes to the more classic look of past cinemas but doesn’t quite pull it off. But I guess one cinema is better than none.