Always nice to hear from someone who – although they don’t live in our area – have strong connections with it.
Here’s an email l received from Keith Bissex who lives at Petersfield in Hampshire:
‘As a Bath ‘expat’, I greatly enjoy reading your ‘Bath Newseum’ blog, which keeps me up to speed with developments in the city where I was born and spent my formative years. I still have family in the vicinity and so usually get back a couple of times each year to see them and to soak up the atmosphere. I haven’t visited since last September (for obvious reasons) but hope it won’t be long before I can do so again.
I was recently discussing Bath’s ‘cinema heritage’ with a friend (the picture houses, as opposed to the many films actually shot there) and thought that it might make quite interesting reading for others.
I am not sure if you have ever covered the subject in earlier editions of the ‘Newseum’ but you may care to cast your eyes over the following to see whether it’s worth passing on to your readership. It mainly covers those cinemas with which I was/am familiar.
So keep up the good work and best wishes for the future.’
So here is the list of picture houses Keith has drawn up – with his memories of waiting for the lights to dim and the screen to light up!
‘WE COME ALONG ON SATURDAY MORNING, GREETING EVERYBODY WITH A SMILE’
BATH’S CINEMA HERITAGE
THE OLD ODEON CINEMA formerly sited in Southgate Street
I remember going to Saturday Morning Club at the old Odeon Cinema in Southgate Street (probably with my elder brother in the early days). We used to start off singing ‘We come along on Saturday morning, greeting everybody with a smile’. But there was no theatre organ to accompany us, instead there was a blind lady (with her guide dog) on the accordion. It used to last for about an hour, with (mainly) black and white films such as ‘Champion The Wonder Horse’, ‘The Lone Ranger’, ‘Hopalong Cassidy’, ‘Disney’ etc.. I love the way that the song enjoined us to be ‘ … good citizens when we grow up and champions of the free’. Not a bad lesson to have drummed into you as a child. ABC Cinemas also ran something similar called ‘ABC Minors’ but I don’t recall it in Bath.
The film ‘80,000 Suspects’ (about a smallpox epidemic) was shot in Bath in 1963 and my late mother and father were amongst the ‘extras’ for a ball scene filmed in the Pump Room. It starred the likes of Claire Bloom and Richard Johnson, and I believe the premiere was held in the Odeon. I have it on DVD and there is a scene in which my parents briefly appear on the dance-floor!
The name survives in the new Odeon cinema complex, off Kingsmead Square but I have to admit, I’ve never been there!
THE FORUM Southgate Street
At least this Grade II-listed building survives, even if it no longer serves the purpose for which it was originally intended. It has been restored in recent years and the auditorium is an art-deco masterpiece. Now Bath City Church, it is still used for concerts. I can remember going to the cinema there on a number of occasions in the ‘60s. It had (still has) a beautiful ballroom, where my elder brother’s wedding reception was held in 1954. After it ceased to be a cinema, it became a bingo hall, whilst the Goodyear School of Dancing (ballroom and Latin-American), subsequently renamed as the Bath Dancentre, took over the ballroom for many years from the 1960s. I used to enjoy dancing there, in my youth! One of the films I watched at the Forum was ‘Porgy & Bess’ in the early ‘60s but not sure if it was the 1935 or 1959 version.
THE BEAU NASH CINEMA (Westgate Street)
Another survivor (sort of)! Named after Bath’s famous Master of Ceremonies in the Georgian era, I can also remember going there to see films in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Another Grade II-listed building, with its Classical style facade in local Bath stone, it opened originally as the ‘Bath Electric Theatre’. It was renamed the ‘Beau Nash’ in 1920. When the new multiplex Odeoncinema, in nearby Kingsmead Square, opened in 2005, the Beau Nash (by then under the same ownership) was closed and boarded up. Subsequently, the building was renovated and reopened as the ‘Komedia Comedy Club’ in 2008 and it now hosts film festivals and live music. One of the films I watched there was ‘Saturday Night Fever’ in 1977.
LITTLE THEATRE CINEMA (St Michael’s Place)
What a survivor! Founded in 1935 and still going strong – and the only cinema of those I recall from my youth still providing the service for which it was originally intended. Bath’s smallest, most intimate and only independent cinema, it is tucked away down an alleyway off Westgate Street (although it can be approached from other directions). If you didn’t know it was there, it would be easy to miss this cinematic gem. A real contrast to the modern multiplexes, it was fairly shabby in its early days (which added to the charm). But the same was true of most cinemas at the time, which was probably a contributory factor to the demise of many of them. But the Little Theatre has been well maintained over the years, as a result of which it has not only survived but thrived. Long may it continue to do so! One of the films I watched there was ‘Thunderball’ in 1965.
Note: I have no personal experience of these cinemas but include them for completeness.
New Odeon Cinema (James Street West)
New(ish) 8-screen multiplex cinema, opened in 2004. About the only thing it has in common with the old Odeon, is the name! But it’s nice that lives on.
Tivoli Cinema (Southgate Shopping Centre – Dorchester Street)
Opened in 2018. 4 Studios (auditoria), cafe and bar. Aims to be ‘A showcase for independent and art-house films’.
Egg Theatre (Monmouth Street)
Operated as cinema, under different ownership and names (‘Gemini’ and ‘Robins’), from1976 – 2004. Subsequently became part of the adjacent Theatre Royal as the Egg Theatre (because of its shape) catering mainly for children and young people.
Former Lyric Theatre (Sawclose)
Originally built in 1886 and formerly the Bath Pavilion (not to be confused with the present Bath Pavilion), later the Palace Theatre/Regency Ballroom/Gala Bingo and President Cinema. Whole site now redeveloped as hotel/casino but some of the original (Grade II-listed) structure survives.
If there are any more, I don’t know them. But anyway, they are all currently closed thanks to CV-19!’
Thanks for that Keith. I am sure you have stirred some memories.