The Astoria Theatre, 10-17 Gloucester Place, Brighton
Above - The Brighton Astoria, closed and boarded up in July 2008 - Photo M.L.
The Grade II Listed Brighton Astoria was built by Griggs & Son Ltd. for E. E. Lyons and designed by Edward Albert Stone, who also deisigned the Astorias in Brixton, Streatham, Finsbury Park, Charing Cross Road, and the Old Kent Road in London. The Theatre was built as a Super Cinema with an Art Deco auditorium decorated by Henri & Laverdet, capable of seating 1,823 people, a Tea Room and Restaurant, and full stage facilities.
Right - A Variety programme for the Brighton Astoria for July the 22nd, 1957 - Courtesy Allan Jempson, whose father, Edward Harold Jempson, worked at the Theatre in the 1950s. - Details of this and more programmes are shown below.
The Astoria opened on Thursday the 21st of December 1933 with a special programme including the National Anthem, speeches by Sir Cooper Rawson M.P., and the Mayor of Brighton; Margaret Hardy M.B.E., a showing of the Movietone News' 'Current Events', T. Guy Hindell playing an Overture on the Theatre's own Compton 3 manual Organ, a showing of 'Interesting Items' by Pathe Pictorial, Walt Disney's 'Santa's Workshop', and the main feature which was Charles Laughton in 'The Private Life of Henry VIII.'
Left and Below Right - Two Thumbnail images of the Brighton Astoria's original auditorium from the photo sharing site Flikr. Click to see the original enlarged images.
Although built as a Super Cinema with stage facilities the Theatre's stage was in fact rarely used and in 1958 it was closed off completely when renovations to the building included erecting a 70mm screen in front of the proscenium. The Theatre's Compton Organ was also removed at this time, and the auditorium was mostly hidden by curtains. Also the Balcony stepping was altered and a new projection box was installed at the rear of of the balcony.
The Astoria then went on to be a successful Cinema for many years until the 7th of May 1977 when it closed after the last showing of Barbra Streisand's 'A Star is Born.'
Left - A Ticket for a special press & trade preview of 'Ben Hur' at the Astoria Theatre, Brighton on Monday the 20th of March, 1961 - Courtesy Allan Jempson, whose father, Edward Harold Jempson, worked at the Theatre in the 1950s.
After the Astoria closed for Cinema use it was then converted for Bingo. This continued until 1996 when even Bingo ended and the building was closed and boarded up, and so it has remained for many years.
Despite opposition from the Theatres Trust, the Cinema Theatre Association, and Brighton residents the current owner, Mike Holland, has now received planning permission to demolish the Grade II Listed Theatre and build a six-storey, media hub development on the site. More details here.
Ground Plans for the Brighton Astoria in 1962
Above - The Ground Floor Plan of the Astoria Cinema, Brighton in 1962 - Courtesy Allan Jempson, whose father, Edward Harold Jempson, worked at the Theatre in the 1950s.
Above - The South Level Plan of the Astoria Cinema, Brighton in 1962 - Courtesy Allan Jempson, whose father, Edward Harold Jempson, worked at the Theatre in the 1950s.
21st of December 1933
The Directors of the Astoria wish to record their appreciation and thanks to various Civic and Departmental Heads for the unfailing courtesy and valuable co-operation and assistance which have at all times been extended during the construction of this Theatre.
Right - The Souvenir Programme produced for the opening of the Brighton Astoria on Thursday the 21st of December 1933.
In the pages that follow the Directors have the pleasure and honour of placing before you a few interesting remarks concerning the Astoria.
BRIGHTON, famous as the home of Kings and Queens, of world-wide repute as the Queen of Watering Places, and as a Patron of the Arts, has been first and foremost in all those things which have been for the betterment of the lives of the people.
A wise and progressive Council has within recent times widened its thoroughfares, built new main and coast roads, embellished its beautiful sea front, and has housed its people in comfortable homes amidst healthy surroundings.
It is therefore right and proper that with the evolution of the Cinema, new and better theatres should be built to present this ever-changing entertainment the entertainment of the people under the most modern, highly scientific and luxurious conditions.
Twenty-three years ago is a far cry in what is still a new Industry, but about that time upon the site of the old Brighton Turkish Baths in West Street, I gave Brighton the "Academy," one of the first regularly constructed cinemas in England. This house was then in advance of the times, and many there were who doubted its future, but in time it became the centre for the presentation of the world's greatest films. Opposition came, but still it maintained its prestige.
And so to-day, again in advance of times, with my colleagues I present to Brighton the Astoria Cinema, an example of a new decade in this most marvellous of all industries.
The introduction of sound has completely revolutionised the whole aspect and outlook of the Cinema. The problem of acoustics in the newly-constructed theatre can now be dealt with so as to achieve the most perfect reproduction of the voice and music.
The Astoria, with the advantage of the knowledge now available, has been designed and equipped so as to attain this, and to provide for those further advances in the presentation of films which may be looked forward to in the future.
This magnificent and imposing elevation, stretching for 150 feet along the main thoroughfare from London into Brighton, overlooking the Valley Gardens, within the shadow of the Royal Pavilion, in the centre of a dense and fast-increasing population, and within easy reach of the sea, stands as a triumphant witness to the art of that genius of architecture Mr. E. A. Stone, F.S.I., who, with the contractors, Messrs. Griggs & Son, Ltd., and the Consulting Engineer, Major C. H. Bell, O.B.E., has designed, built and equipped this beautiful Theatre, worthy of this most beautiful of towns.
Looking to the future, the Theatre has a fully equipped stage, capable of presenting entertainment in any form.
An exquisite Tea Room and Restaurant has been provided, together with retiring and rest rooms for the convenience of our Lady Patrons.
The latest and most improved type of Western Electric Wide Range Sound Equipment, one of the first of its type in Great Britain and Kalee Projectors of most recent model will make for perfection in the picture and in sound reproduction.
The heating and ventilation of the theatre has been carried out by the Carrier Company upon the most scientific principles.
A theatre with all these amenities still requires the show - which must be in proportion. I therefore take pleasure in presenting as the opening picture, the crowning achievement of British film art Charles Laughton in "The Private Life of Henry VIII," to be succeeded by amongst other films, Ronald Colman in "The Masquerader,' Gordon Harker and Binnie Hale in "This is the Life," Ralph Lynn in "Up to the Neck," Edward G. Robinson and Kay Francis in "I Loved a Woman," Paul Lukas and Gloria Stuart in "The Secret of the Blue Room," May Robson in "Lady for a Day,". Constance Bennett in "A Bed of Roses," Lionel Barrymore in "One Man's Journey" etc., etc.
Walt Disney's famous Mickey Mouse and Silly Symphony cartoons will be presented immediately upon their release the first of the new series "Santa's Workshop in colour," is included in the opening performance.
In conclusion, I take pride in stating that the Theatre has been built entirely of British materials and with British labour a large percentage of which has been drawn from local sources.
Mr. P. H. GALLAGHER, the General Manager of the Astoria, comes to Brighton with a life-long experience of the Entertainment business.
His first Managerial engagement was with the late Sir Walter Gibbons, for whom he opened and Managed the Willesden Hippodrome, one of the first super Variety Theatre of suburbia.
Then in 1912 he took over the control of Northampton's two Theatres, the Opera House, and the New Theatre and Hippodrome, remaining there until 1926, with the exception of the War period, during which he served in the Royal Flying Corps, returning to Northampton in 1919.
Resigning this position in 1926, he launched some Productions of his own, and toured the country with these, but returned to Theatre management in 1929, taking up the General Management of the Capitol, Haymarket, in that year.
In 1931, removed from there to the Luxor, Twickenham, one of London's finest and largest suburban Cinemas, from whence he comes to the Astoria
Our Solo Organist, Mr. T. GUY HINDELL, comes to us from the Central Theatre, Kidderminster, where, for the last two years he has been delighting audiences with his showmanlike presentations.
In common with many other organists who have achieved fame for themselves in the theatre world, his early training was on orthodox lines. He was a chorister in Rochester Cathedral, where he came under the influence of the late C. Hylton Stewart, M.A., B.Mus. Cantab., the Cathedral organist, who was afterwards at Chester Cathedral and eventually at St. George's Chapel, Windsor.
From there he won an open scholarship to King's School. Rochester, where after five years he was successful in obtaining yet another organ scholarship, this time at Jesus College, Oxford. Here, his tutors were Dr. W. H. Harris. now organist at St. George's Chapel, Windsor, and Sir Hugh Allen, Mus. Doc. Oxon et Cantab, Heather Professor of Music at Oxford, and also President of the Royal College of Music. It was while at Oxford that Mr. Hindell first turned his attention to the cinema, his first appointment being Solo Organist at the Oxford Super Cinema, where, after a year, he was appointed Musical Director, and was in sole charge of the large orchestra and responsible for all the musical presentations, which formed one of the features of that theatre.
In 1931, however, the orchestra was disbanded and he opened at the Central Theatre, Kidderminster as Solo Organist, and from here he comes to us at Brighton.
The proprietors of the "Astoria" have made ample provision for the musical entertainment of their patrons by the installation of a mighty Compton Organ, fitted with the latest model illuminated console, or keydesk. The organ has been aptly described as "the perfect theatre organ " in that it provides an unequalled range of tone-colours and a remarkable variety of effects. It gives every kind of music, from the thrilling peal of a cathedral organ to the majestic grandeur of a full symphony orchestra and the rhythmic verve of a modern dance band. It will imitate almost any noise, human or otherwise. It sounds its motor klaxon, its ship's syren. It reproduces the whispering surf of the sea. It gives the sweet songs of the birds of the air. It yields martial strains from its drums and cymbals . . . indeed its range of performance is far too wide to be catalogued here.
The illuminated console is the newest Compton invention. There is nothing else in the organ-building field so colourful, so rich in rainbow effects, so alluring to the eye, so pleasing to the artistic sense. By its amazingly clever system of interior, inter-changing illumination, the console produces a wonderful range of colours and colour-combinations, and with the instrument gives the most dramatic effects, a feast to the eye as well as to the ear.
The only connection between the console and the main portion of the organ is an insulated cable consisting of over 2,000 wires. If placed end-on, these wires would reach from Brighton to London and back again!
And every contact is "soldered" with sterling silver! The organ is indeed a remarkable example of refined electrical engineering, and we are proud of the fact that this extremely clever feature of the "Astoria" is entirely British . . . British in conception, in design, in materials and in craftsmanship.
THE BRIGHTON ASTORIA
THE site on which the BRIGHTON ASTORIA is erected is in Gloucester Place, opposite the Victoria Gardens, and on the main road from Brighton to London.
The ASTORIA, the latest addition to Brighton Entertainment, possesses every amenity that the resources of modern scientific building practice can provide.
Approaching the Theatre from the Grand Parade, the impression of a dignified design is at once conveyed. The front elevation is in Impervious Stone, based on traditional lines, but treated with modern detail, and the result is both pleasing and effective.
Above - The Brighton Astoria in a drawing done for the opening night Souvenir Programme
Modern design, and forethought for the comfort and convenience of patrons has been the keynote in the planning and equipment of the Theatre, which has seating accommodation on two floors, all arranged so that a perfect view of the stage and screen is obtained from every seat, while the acoustic properties, strengthened by the use of non-resonant materials, are such that a stage turn or a talkie is clearly audible from every part of the vast area covered by the Stalls and Balcony.
The Entrance Hall is of simple modern design, with an elaborate terrazzo floor and modern ceiling treatment. This Hall gives direct access to the Stalls Vestibule and staircase leading to the Tea Room and Balcony Foyer.
The Restaurant and Tea Room on the first floor which has a separate entrance from the street, is a feature of the BRIGHTON ASTORIA. It is decorated in warm tones, and is richly carpeted, luxuriously furnished and equipped. Large windows opening on to Gloucester Place afford a splendid view of the gardens and the Restaurant will doubtlessly become a rendezvous which will be much appreciated by patrons.
The Balcony Foyer which gives access to the Royal Circle, has for its main decorative feature, a deeply panelled ceiling, but the decoration throughout is restrained.
Off the Foyer are Cloakrooms, Chocolate Kiosk, Public Telephones, and a Ladies Rest Room.
The Auditorium at once gives the impression of warmth and comfort, and credit must be given to the designer for the originality displayed. The general design is in pleasing tones of rose and gold, enhanced by carefully concealed and reflected lighting, and one is immediately attracted by the delightful proportions of the Proscenium, on which the elaborate detail has been concentrated.
In the Astoria, Brighton is provided with a really luxurious theatre, the colour scheme of the furnishings and carpeting blends beautifully with the whole, the comfortable seats with plenty of leg room, and the skilfully arranged lighting, combine to create an interior which makes one conscious at once that the three essentials of theatre design, namely, expense, comfort, and atmosphere have been achieved.
A vital point in the building of a Cinema is that the safety of the Public shall be ensured, and in consequence, detailed precautions have been taken to obtain perfect safety. Exits are amply provided and the whole Building is rendered fire-resisting in accordance with the Regulations of the Brighton Corporation.
Special attention has been given to the stage and its equipment. It will be quite possible to produce, at the BRIGHTON ASTORIA, any stage play or revue, as a fully-equipped stage has been provided, complete with counterweighted scenery and safety curtain, while well-lighted and equipped dressing rooms have been installed for the use of Artists.
The Sussex Brick Co., Ltd., of Horsham, supplied the Facing Bricks for the Astoria. These are Sussex Stocks similar to those used on many important contracts, including the recently completed H.M.O.W. Research Station at Dollis Hill.
They also supplied the Common Bricks their Warnham Common Pressed. These are exceedingly well-known throughout the South Coast, where they are used to the extent of many millions per annum.
A remarkable feature of the BRIGHTON ASTORIA is the speed with which the Building has been erected. The first delivery of steel was received on the 17th July of this year, and the Building was completed and ready for opening on the 21st December. Credit must be given to the Builders, Messrs. Griggs & Son. Ltd.. 100 Victoria Street, London, S. W.1, for this feat. In carrying out their many Theatre and Cinema contracts, Messrs. Griggs & Son, Ltd., have earned a reputation for rapidity in construction, a most vital factor to-day, and the completion of the BRIGHTON ASTORIA is an outstanding achievement of which they have every reason to be justly proud.
Right - F. L. Griggs, Chairman and Managing Director of Messrs. Griggs & Son Ltd.
In concluding these observations, I would like to pay my tribute to Mr. E. E. Lyons, the Managing Director, of this Theatre, to whose inspiration and conception this project is so largely due. During his many years of active work in the Cinema industry he has been responsible for many Cinemas of repute, but I feel sure he must feel proud that it has been left to him to give Brighton a house of entertainment so splendidly situated and provided with all those amenities now associated with the Modern Cinema.
ENGINEERING IN THE THEATRE
Only a very small percentage of the patrons who visit a Cinema Theatre have any idea of the efforts behind the scenes in the production of first-class cinema theatre entertainment, and of the machinery required to provide the comfort necessary for their complete enjoyment of the performance.
The design of the Chair comes first, inasmuch as it is important that the patron should be seated comfortably. During the past four or five years great progress has been made, and considerable scientific research carried out, in connection with various medical authorities, to provide a chair which will not only produce comfort to a person immediately on taking his seat, but the design must be such that sitting in approximately one position for three hours does not cause fatigue or produce bad circulation through undue pressure on various parts of the body.
HEATING AND VENTILATION
Next we come to the necessity of maintaining at all times a clean and healthy atmosphere in the theatre. At the Astoria Cinema, Brighton, in order to maintain the correct temperature and humidity, it is necessary to bring into the Auditorium approximately one million cubic feet of air per hour, and this must be brought in in such a manner as to avoid draughts, but at the same time maintain the air fresh and at a temperature which will ensure comfort.
Combined with the heating system is the Carrier Ventilation and Air Conditioning plant, which thoroughly cleanses, conditions, and suitably heats the air, and delivers it evenly without draughts over the entire hall.
The many and several uses to which electricity is put in these days of electrical development apply particularly to the modern cinema. In order to deal with the requirements of the Astoria, it has been necessary for the Brighton Corporation to instal in the basement of the theatre what is known as a High Tension Sub-Station. The current is brought into the building at 6,600 Volts, and by means of Transformers this voltage is reduced to meet the requirements of the theatre for both Power and Lighting.
The electrical development of the Astoria in Gloucester Place not only means electrical development for the Cinema itself, but by arrangement with the Brighton Corporation has provided for that area a means of distributing Alternating Current at pressures in accordance with the electrical development scheme which is taking place all over Great Britain, and offers the residents in the vicinity facilities for obtaining Alternating Current, which might otherwise not have been available to them for several years to come. The Astoria Cinema, therefore, is not only in itself up-to-date as to the form of electrical current which it uses, but has been the means of providing additional facilities to the immediate neighbourhood.
The Lighting scheme in any theatre must blend with the decoration, and only the close co-operation between Architect and Engineer can produce that tonal effect necessary to give a satisfactory illumination result. In order to obtain this it has been necessary to incorporate throughout the building no less than 5,000 lamps. Only a few of these lamps will actually be seen by the public, but it is the effect they produce in which the public is interested.
The safety of the public is also an important matter, and arrangements have been made so that it is impossible at any time for the theatre to be in darkness, due to any mechanical breakdown which may occur in the supply. Batteries have been installed which are maintained automatically in a condition so that, in the event of failure of the main supply, a secondary system is brought into effect which allows the theatre to be adequately illuminated so that the public may leave in safety.
A large amount of electrical current is consumed in connection with Cooking Apparatus in the Tea Room, and by Motors for Ventilation Equipment, and the whole of the Cleaning of the theatre is done electrically.
Modern projection is essential for a theatre wishing to give only the very finest screen results, pleasing its patrons by showing a clear and brightly defined picture without any eyestrain. For this purpose, the Kalee Projector was selected regardless of all cost, and fulfills all these essentials. We are proud to say that this Kalee projection equipment is entirely British, manufactured in Leeds where many hundreds of people are employed in making this highly precisional machinery for the present day modern kinema.
In selecting the 'Kalee' we have, therefore, not only secured the finest Projector in the World, but have again contributed our fair share to a British firm, namely the Kershaw Projector Co., renowned for their quality of precisional engineering, makers of the World's finest Projector.
Wide Range - Western Electric's latest and greatest step to perfection will be installed at this Theatre, this being one of the first installations of its type in Great Britain.
It is a remarkable development in the quality of sound reproduction through extension of the frequency range which can be reproduced without distortion.
Western Electric claim that Wide Range not only creates a greater intimacy between the audience and the screen artistes, but that all sound tones of speech and music are faithfully and naturally reproduced. Orchestral music when reproduced on this system shows a remarkable improvement, the individual instruments are heard in their true perspective and with all their original brilliance. It is, therefore, with great pride and pleasure that the Management of the Astoria has the honour to present talkies under conditions which will equal the best in Europe and America.
No money has been spared in the equipment of the Stage, from an electrical point of view, to produce the finest lighting effects possible; and in connection with this equipment I specially mention the introduction of the ROTALUX Revolving Batten. This unit provides a means of producing more elaborate colour effects on the Stage than have hitherto been possible, and is the second installation of its kind to be made in Great Britain.
For Thine Especial Safety - are the words of Shakespeare, and we apply these words to the introduction of a Fire Curtain weighing over 7 tons, which has been installed at the Astoria Cinema, and which is automatically lowered in the event of any fire occuring on the Stage, or anything occuring which might be of an unusual nature. This Curtain has been built in accordance with the very latest requirements of the London County Council and the Brighton Authorities, and is just one more step forward in maintaining the safety of the public in places of entertainment such as this.
The Souvenir Brochure displayed on this page was originally produced for the Opening Night of the Brighton Astoria on Thursday the 21st of December 1933. The text is transcribed from relevant passages in full and all parts of the pages are shown, albeit in a different order to the actual programme. The Programme is part of the Arthur Lloyd Archive.
Above - A Variety programme for the Brighton Astoria for July the 22nd, 1957 - Courtesy Allan Jempson, whose father, Edward Harold Jempson, worked at the Theatre in the 1950s. On the Bill were Francois & Zandra, Donals B. Stuart, Rene Strange, Tony Fayne & David Evans, Diana Decker, Frank Cook, Georgette, and Arthur Askey.
Above - A Variety programme for the Brighton Astoria for July the 29th, 1957 - Courtesy Allan Jempson, whose father, Edward Harold Jempson, worked at the Theatre in the 1950s.. On the Bill were Flack and Mills, Clifford Davis, Jack Beckitt, Bonar Colleano, Garry Miller, Les Brazilianos, and Alma Cogan.
Above - A Variety programme for the Brighton Astoria for August the 12th, 1957 - Courtesy Allan Jempson, whose father, Edward Harold Jempson, worked at the Theatre in the 1950s. On the Bill were Sylva & Audrey, Fred Lovelle, Allen Bros & June, George Martin, Shani Wallace, Walthon & Dorraine, and Dickie Valentine.
Above - A 1950s programme for 'Chu Chin Chow' at the Brighton Astoria - Courtesy Allan Jempson, whose father, Edward Harold Jempson, worked at the Theatre in the 1950s.
Above - A 1950s programme for 'Lilac Domino' at the Brighton Astoria - Courtesy Allan Jempson, whose father, Edward Harold Jempson, worked at the Theatre in the 1950s.
Edward Harold Jempson started work at the Astoria as a re-wind boy. I know that he got his love of films from his mother who used to play the piano for the silent movies down here in Brighton, he used to go with her and just sit there looking at the films, and so when he left school he tried very hard to get into the film industry.
His list of cinema's include The Savoy, The Astoria, The Classic, The Curzon in Eastborne, and the Granada in Hove, this one was very handy because when I was at school it was just over the road from my infant school and after school I used to get in to see the films and go up into the box, of course this made all the other kid's very jealous of me and my brother.
Right - Edward Harold Jempson, working in the rewind room of the Astoria Theatre, Brighton in the 1950s - Courtesy Allan Jempson.
Dad met mum at the Savoy in Brighton, her name was Dorothy Evelyn Jempson, dad did get the offer of a job in London at one the top shows but mum did not want to move so we stayed here. Dad used to work long hours, he just loved films, even on his days off he went, yes you guessed it, to the pictures, other shows of course he would sit there and make sure that everybody was doing their jobs right! Due to bad health he finally had to give it up but this did not stop him from going to the 'flicks' when we went on holidays, he would seek out the nearest show and try to get into the boxes and talk to the people there and compare notes, me and my brother and poor old mum just used to leave him too it. One story comes to mind, in Wales he got into a show, I think it was in Breacon, and he was there for 7 hours talking to people, mum was not happy!
He loved all kinds of films but I think his most favourite film of all time was South Pacific, he was the first to show this film down here in 70mm 6 track, he said that the first few opening bars were fantastic! Sadly both mum and dad are no longer here, just a sad note, he used to like Si Fi films and we both loved 2001 A Space Odyssey and so on new year's eve, 2000 into 2001, we had this film on and just after 1 o'clock in the morning dad died and I'm sorry to say that I have never been able to see this film since that night.
Above - A brass plate once mounted in the Astoria Theatre, Brighton, which states that the sound projector apparatus used in the Theatre were leased from the Western Electric Company Ltd. - Courtesy Allan Jempson.
So that's about it, I just know that if he was still here now he would be a very strong supporter of the fight to save the Astoria, and with all that's on the Net he would not have been off it.
The above text was kindly sent in for inclusion on the site by Allan Jempson in 2011.
Edward Harold Jempson's 21 years with ABC
ASSOCIATED BRITISH CINEMAS LIMITED
Dear Mr. Jempson,
As you must know, we keep a lot of records and statistics for one purpose or another and sometimes what they tell us is not pleasant reading. However, we have got a record of our employees and from time to time I get the happy news that somebody has been with us for twenty-one years. This cannot pass without comment, so I am writing to congratulate you on reaching your Twenty-First Birthday with the Company, and to express the hope that you will be given good health to carry on with us for many years to come.
I know that I got a great thrill when somebody remembered that I had been with the Company for twenty-one years some time ago, and I hope you share my own feeling of pride in having been with A.B.C. for such a long time.
As a gesture of the Directors' appreciation of your Service, and to mark the occasion, I would ask you to accept the enclosed cheque for £5. O. Od.
Yours sincerely, D. J. Goodlatte.
Above - The Astoria Theatre staff celebrating Christmas at a staff party in 1952 - Courtesy Allan Jempson, whose father, Edward Harold Jempson, can be seen at the back wearing glasses.