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A Cinema at the Corn Exchange (c1913-1934):
There was no real places of entertainment in Hungerford before the start of the First World War. With cinemas providing thrills, laughter and news, James Tufnail, a Newbury based entrepreneur, seized the business opportunity to create a profitable cinema business in Newbury, and Aubrey George Beardsley from Wantage, who had originally been the projectionist at The Picture Palace, followed suit financing new cinemas in Hungerford, Calne, Chipping Norton, Wantage and Faringdon.
So, during the first decades of the 20th century, films were regularly shown in the Corn Exchange (see Photo Gallery). Forthcoming shows would be advertised on a series of placards which stood outside on the pavement outside the Corn Exchange.
The Kinematograph Year Book (KYB) of 1914 (looking retrospectively at the previous year) noted that Hungerford had a Cinema owned by Mr Tufnail (of Newbury) - with 300 seats.
Mr Tufnail was quite an entrepreneur. He was also the lessee of the Skating Rink venture in the Corn Exchange, which had been fitted with a new "First-class Skating Rink" that had opened on Tue 15 Mar 1910. The floor was of Rock Maple, similar to the floor at the "Olympia" Exhibition Hall in London. Mr Tufnail kindly promised to give the whole of the gross takings for the first six days to the Hungerford Fire Brigade. He also set up at least two cinemas in Newbury.
The KYB of 1927 noted the same but owned by John S. Collins – films once nightly prices 5d to 1s 2d.
The KYB of 1929 noted ownership by F.J. Freeman – films three times a week prices 6d to 1s 3d. (KYB information kindly sent Dec 2016 by Eddie Sammons, an Old Newburian living in Spain).
Peter W H Smith kindly emailed (July 2020) a scan of a poster for The Cinema for the programme on Thursday 19th March, showing "All Quiet on the Western Front" and "The Indians are coming". Both films were released in 1930, so this must have been from the 19th March 1931. (The next year 19th March fell on a Thursday was 1936, when it would have said "Regent Cinema"). The manageress was Miss Bell.
The Regent Cinema (1934-1972):
(The Virtual Museum acknowledges with thanks the additional information on this topic provided by Dr Jimmy Whittaker, Sep 2018).
However, in 1934 a new purpose built cinema, "The Regent", was built by J. Wooldridge & Sons (of The Wharf) on land in Church Way, at the top of Atherton Hill (always known as "Picture Hill" or "Picture House Hill"). (Wooldridges also built sister cinemas in Wantage and Faringdon. Amazingly, all three cinemas are similar in appearance: unattractive red brick buildings. The Faringdon Regent was however rendered in a white mortar in the 1960s to improve its external appearance.)
The Regent was therefore part of the Wantage and Faringdon "circuit", and was said to be owned by Miss Moore from Wantage.
It opened on 22nd November 1934. The first performance was at 7.30pm and featured Norma Shearer and her co-stars, Herbert Marshall and Robert Montgomery starring in Riptide.
Other movies screened that year included:
- Queen Christina, starring Greta Garbo
- Those were the Days, starring Will Hay
- Murder at the Vanities, starring Victor McLagen
- Cleopatra, starring Claudette Colbert
Two films were shown each day with changing bills generally on a Monday and a Thursday.
There were five different ticket prices which were 7d, 9d, 1/-, 1/3d, and 1/6d.
Lily Ruddle (later Mrs. Griffith) became cashier in January 1935.
In 1937 the programme included:
- Shirley Temple in "Girl in Pawn"
- Alice Brady in "The Harvester"
- Jessie Matthews in "It's Love Again"
In September 1938 there was a break-in at the cinema, and much damage was done. See "Break-in at Regent Cinema", NWN 22 Sep 1938.
During the war The Regent was always packed with troops of all nationalities, evacuees from the cities, as well as people working in the area, but living away from home. It was one of the few places of entertainment in the area.
In Oct 1942 a mobile cinema toured Hungerford rural district, when shows were given in Hungerford, Lambourn and Kintbury.
The KYB for 1948 and 1949 (again looking retrospectively at the previous years) noted ownership by Mrs S Lord Sherbourne of Osmond Street, Wantage. "Continuous shows from 6pm with one show on Sunday. Prices 10p to 2s 9p.".
The KYB 1950 noted ownership by Regent (Hungerford) Ltd, whose address was in Wantage.
In the 1960s, the cashiers were Mrs Hess and Mrs Hayes. Paul Gibbs was a "male usherette". One of the projectionists was Gordon Wordley.
Eddie Sammons recalled a visit to the Regent Cinema: "When I lived in Newbury (my home town), I visited the Regent only once (probably in 1958 or 1959). It was an unforgettable experience. The main feature was “The Snorkel” with Peter van Eyck (released 5 Jul 1958 - quite a good thriller!). The supporting film was “Future Vedettes” with a young, fully blossomed Brigitte Bardot. She played a trainee singer who, as part of her practice, had to take some very deep breaths. You can envisage the effect upon her anatomy. The effect upon the young lads in the audience was outrageous. I cannot repeat the languages used. I thought they would tear the place apart! I hate to think what might have happened had it been one of her later, more revealing films. Demolition might not have waited until 1974!"
The number of cinema-goers countrywide started to decline in the 1950s and 1960s largely due to the availability of television. Cinemas often became bingo halls, dance halls or bowling alleys. Many were demolished for housing.
Fitting this pattern, the Regent cinema became unprofitable in the 1960s, closed in 1972.
One of the last preogrammes was advertised in the Wiltshire Gazette and Herald, 13 May 1971: Mary peach in "The Protected Man" and "Patton, Lust for Glory"! See the advert here.
The building was demolished in 1974, the houses of Regent Close being built on the site.
- Film poster outside the Corn Exchange
- Poster for The Cinema, 19th March 1931.
- Advert for The Regent, Hungerford's New Luxury Cinema, Dec 1935
- A J Allen (Sup't St John's Ambulance Brigade), Miss Moore (owner of Regent Cinema), R B Jeal (headmaster of Council School) and Mr Thorn (Assistant headmaster). Possibly when the Coronation Celebrations were being shown at the cinema, 1937.
- From The Advertiser, 20.9.1988
- Poster advertising the Regent Cinema, 1948
- Miss Moore and Lily Ruddle, c1953
- Outside The Regent Cinema, Queen's Coronation, 2 Jun 1953. Photo includes Miss May Oakes (teacher), Elizabeth Dopson, Peter Dopson, Anne Dopson, Dorothy Wells, Val Richards, ?Linda Underwood.
- Regent Cinema, c1953
- Regent Cinema, 1953
- Regent Cinema, c1972
- Regent Cinema being demolished, Jun 1974