The Astoria in its heyday

Photo:Astoria cinema site, 1932-3

Astoria cinema site, 1932-3

Photo:Astoria cinema c.1935

Astoria cinema c.1935

Photo:Astoria souvenir programme, December 1933

Astoria souvenir programme, December 1933

Photo:The Astoria during its time as a Gala Bingo Hall

The Astoria during its time as a Gala Bingo Hall

Photo:Gala Bingo at the Astoria boarded up after its final closure

Gala Bingo at the Astoria boarded up after its final closure

Photo:The Astoria building as it is today (2009)

The Astoria building as it is today (2009)

Photo by Henry Bruce

Photo:Robin Richmond was an organist at Astoria Purley but is seen here at the Granada (ABC) organ in Hove in 1935

Robin Richmond was an organist at Astoria Purley but is seen here at the Granada (ABC) organ in Hove in 1935

44 years of cinema history

By John Montgomery, former North Laine resident (now deceased)

Even older North Laine residents tend to forget that the area once had three cinemas: the 'Grand' and 'Coronation' in North Road and the large 'Astoria' in Gloucester Place, which later became a bingo hall but has now been boarded up for a number of years awaiting redevelopment.

Turned to bingo in 1977

When the 'Astoria' turned to bingo in May 1977, mainly because of television, Brighton was left with no giant, wide screen for the showing of mammoth movies and 44 years of cinema history ended.

It opened in December 1933

The large handsome brick super-cinema, with 2,000 seats, opened on 21st December 1933 with a gala showing of Korda's "The Private Life of Henry VIII", starring Charles Laughton. It was opened by Sir Cooper Raswon MP and Mayor Margaret Hardy.

The owners were Brighton (Astoria) Ltd, whose Managing Director, E E Lyons, had started the 'Academy' in West Street and then sold it to Gaumont-British. The 'Astoria' rose remarkably quickly, the first steel arriving by lorries on 17th July 1933, only five months before completion.

The Wellsbourne stream underneath

The building had, and still has, a frontage of 150 ft, with a stage 20 ft deep and 4 dressing rooms for variety and band shows. When workmen had demolished the Georgian and Victorian houses on the site, they discovered the course of the Wellsbourne stream that flows through the valley down to the sea from Patcham.

It had a Compton organ

It was a magnificent building, with a restaurant and café reached by a separate entrance, a bar serving alcoholic drinks (rare outside London) and a mighty Compton organ played by T Guy Hindell, who soon became a rival to Terence Casey at the 'Regent'.

Perfect vision everywhere

Admission prices at first ranged from 1s for front stalls to 2s.6d. in the reserved circle. The front stalls were so far from the screen - there being an orchestra pit in between - that vision was perfect everywhere.

At first the cinema operated in association with the 'Astorias' at Purley and Worthing but later E E Lyons sold it to the ABC circuit, who used it for different programmes from those at their 'Savoy' cinema in East Street.

Spectacular epics

During the 1950s, 60s and 70s the wide proscenium and very large screen enabled the cinema to specialise in showing long runs of spectacular epics and colour subjects like 'West Side Story', 'Ben Hur', 'Dr Zhivago', 'Lawrence of Arabia', 'The Sound of Music', and 'Ryan's Daughter'. Such films were constantly returning to the 'Astoria' and it was the first theatre outside London to show 'Gigi', only a year after £20,000 had been spent on installing the Todd-AO system for 'South Pacific'.

Nights out at the 'flicks'

Some older residents may remember the passing of the 'Astoria' and may even recall with nostalgia the magic of 'going to the pictures' or spending an evening 'at the flicks' at the old 'Regent', 'Academy', 'Palladium', 'Cinema-de-Luxe', 'Court', 'Grand', 'Coronation', 'Gaiety', the 'Tierney Royal Picture Theatre' in Edward Street, the 'Embassy' and the 'Classic'. They have all gone.

More information

For more information about the organ at the Astoria cinema click here.

[Previously published in the North Laine Runner, No 41, January/February 1983; then reprinted in No 201, November/December 2009]

This page was added on 30/11/2009.
Comments/reviews:

I'm the Cinema Organ Society Newsletter editor and I've just looked at this page featuring the Astoria cinema. I hope you won't mind a slight correction. The Astoria cinema organist is Robin Richmond. However, the organ is that of the Granada (ABC), Hove, where he was organist in 1935.

By Wayne Ivany
On 04/02/2010

Thanks for this information, Wayne. We've now amended the caption to this photo according to what you've told us above.

By Jackie
On 14/02/2010

I am interested in the Astoria Cinema Purley, as my father used to manage it up until 1949. I seem to recall the projectionist was Eric Pahl (+ Suzie his wife), who moved to Hythe. I believe that Iris Jeeves (from Horley) also worked there for many years. My parents stayed friendly with them many years after the cinema was sold. If anyone has any photographs and/or information etc please let me know.

By Michael Morgenstern
On 06/02/2011

If you're already a registered user of this site, please login using the form on the left-hand side of this page.