The Cinema

The "picture theatre" arrived in Paignton on 15th April 1911 when the Electric Palace opened in Totnes Road. There was a ban on smoking at the first performance but at a later one at 9 pm. it was permitted.

Paignton Picture House opened its doors on 15th March 1914. The building dates from 1907 but for some years it was licensed only for "bioscope exhibitions". Seats in the auditorium cost only 3d [less than 2p] and 6d (reserved seats were 6d and 8d); seats in the balcony or lounge were 1s 0d. By about 1914 it was "the most comfortable and luxurious theatre in the West" and there were continuous performances nightly from 7 to 10.30 pm. in an atmosphere of "perfect ventilation". Today, it is believed to be oldest purpose-built "working picture theatre" in Western Europe. When it first opened it had a 21-piece orchestra (the players received a guinea a week each) There were two grand pianos; one of which was bought from Paris Singer of Oldway Mansion. The "royal boxes" are still at the back of the circle. The Art-Deco lights probably date from the 1920s and the circular doors are similar to those at neighbouring Deller's Cafe (demolished many years ago). Agatha Christie was a regular patron; once she booked seats under the pseudonym "Mary Westmacott". It appears as the "Gaiety" in one of her novels and made a short "appearance" in Ordeal by Innocence. "Torbay Cinema" became a Listed Building in March 1991.

The two, between them, coped with the demand for "the pictures" until the end of the 1920s. In the early Thirties cinema-going was becoming very popular and two purpose-built cinemas, now both demolished, started operating within weeks of each other. The Regent Cinema was officially opened in August 1932. It continued to show pictures until March 1983 when it finally closed down. Changes in lifestyle had made the place uneconomic. It was put up for sale in January 1987 with a "price-tag" of £350,000. Later, the old building was demolished and flats and shops built in its place. In December 1932, just a few months after the "Regent" opened its doors, a second cinema was completed at the entrance to Oldway, offering The Midshipmaid starring Jessie Matthews. This was called the Palladium for many years but later became the Odeon. During its last years it was used only for "bingo". This too was demolished in 1988 and subsequently replaced with flats; first on the car-park and later, in place of the old cinema itself.

© copyright John Pike

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