LOOKING BACK: Rolling back the years

The Gaiety Cinema in its heyday, and as it is now
The Gaiety Cinema in its heyday, and as it is now

Older Eastbourne residents will not have to ask the question, “Where was the Gaiety Cinema?” writes Harry Pope.

They will know that it was on Seaside, on the left as you go towards the Tesco roundabout, just past what was the Territorial Army Centre and now the home of the Army reservists.

Over the years the cinema had five names, initially opening in 1914 as the Eastbourne Picture Theatre.

A year later it was re-named as The Empire.

Six years later another name, this time The Elysium.

That lasted longer, until in 1936 new owner Randolph E Richards re-branded it The Gaiety, which is the most remembered title.

1940 saw The Gaiety close its doors for two years, due to heavy bombing, and in 1966 it was sold together with the Picturedrome to Classic Cinemas, and they called it the New Classic, a name which remained until it closed its doors for the last time in 1973.

Apparently, in later years, it was adapted to a bingo hall.

It was a smaller cinema, with seating for fewer than 400 patrons.

As customers walked through the doors, they would have gone under an ornate canopy, which is possibly still there, but now covered.

Passing through the narrow foyer, they would have entered the auditorium with the seating banked, and the screen facing them.

There was an ornate back wall, to which the silent screen would have been fixed.

Upstairs, there was a gallery with more seating, a narrow corridor with offices and toilets.

It is quite possible that in later years between the wars, renovations covered the original walls and mouldings.

The telephone number was Eastbourne 43.

Regrettably, the quality of the films deteriorated, the popular ones failed to appear, so a typical programme would include a horror film with Vincent Price, The Horror of Party Beach, or The Curse of the Living Corpse. Not particularly memorable.

Look now at the front of old Gaiety and you might be surprised to know that it is part of the Plumbers Mate in Firle Road.

The front cinema doors are closed, but stand at the Plumbers Mate accessory counter and stare at the back of the vast storage area and you can just see the rear of the old cinema.

The shell of the cinema is undamaged, more than 40 years after closure.

The original high ceiling now has an extra floor, to store all the stock, but the ornate scrollwork is still intact, and mainly uncovered.

The seating may have gone and the equipment might have disappeared many years ago, but the history is still there.

One cinema seat survives, apparently, and that is where the Plumbers Mate manager, the custodian of the old Gaiety, sits in his office.

Harry Pope is Eastbourne’s licensed sight-seeing guide.

The East of the Pier walk is every Wednesday at 10am. Meet at the pier entrance.

There are two walks on Sundays starting outside the Seafront Office by the Bandstand at 11am and 3pm.

Private group walks can be arranged.

Call Eastbourne 734107 or www.harrythewalker.com

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