Built on the site of the Theatre Royal (1813-1937, architect J. Foulston), the Royal Cinema was built for and operated by Associated British Cinemas(ABC) and was designed by their in-house architect William Riddle Glen.
The Royal Cinema was re-named ABC from 28th April 1958 following a renovation. Live stage shows (pop shows) were held here during the 1960’s and the last time the stage was used was for a Morcambe & Wise comedy show.
The ABC closed on 30th October 1976 for conversion into a triple-screen cinema and bingo club. The final films in the original single auditorium were “”The Likely Lads” and “Steptoe and Son”.
The triple-screen ABC opened on 5th May 1977 with seating for 583, 380 and 112. The Compton organ was retained in the bingo club located in the stalls area, but it was hardly ever used. ABC Cinemas passed to the Cannon Group, then to MGM from 22nd May 1992. A management buy-out brought the name ABC back again in the mid-1990’s. A Gala Bingo Club operates in the former stalls area and the Compton organ was removed from this part of the building, to be re-installed in the Blackheath Halls in South-East London.
The cinemas continued and from 1st August 2006 have been operated by the independent Reel Cinemas chain. Apparently this is on a short lease, and it was announced that the cinema would close on 2nd October 2008. However, this was halted and the cinema continues on a reprieve, under independent management. Both the cinema & bingo club were closed on January 1, 2018 due to flooding but was re-opened on 7th January 2018.
Renovation and redecoration work was carried out in May/June 2018 in preparation for its 80th birthday on 15th July 2018.
Sadly, the inevitable arrived on Thursday 28th February 2019, when the Reel Cinema was closed. The final films were “How to Train Your Dragon” “Alita:Battle Angel”, “Instant Family”, “Lego Movie 2” and “The Kid Who Would be King”.
Since publication the owners have been forced to tidy up and turn the pumps back on much to the annoyance of the buildings manager who has told nother memeber of the team “would like to break my legs”. Hopefully this building can be saved.
Check out full sets of pictures here