1-2 High Street,
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Rex Cinema, Berkhamsted (Official)
Architects: David Evelyn Nye
Functions: Movies (First Run)
Styles: Streamline Moderne
Previous Names: Studio Cinema
News About This Theater
- Jun 18, 2014 — Independent cinemas thrive in England
- Mar 12, 2010 — St Albans cinema to re-open
- Oct 24, 2008 — A Grade II Listed derelict Art Deco jewel is saved and restored
- Jan 24, 2007 — New life at the Rex Cinema
Located in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire. A palatial cinema by famed cinema architect David Evelyn Nye for the Shipman and King circuit, the Rex Cinema opened in May 1938 with 1,100 seats in stalls and circle levels. A second Shipman & King property in the town was the Court Cinema, also an attractive cinema, which closed in 1960 and was converted into a Tesco Store which burned down 1969.
The Rex Cinema has a marine motif for the auditorium, the lights are concealed behind scallop shells in a lines of waves. This in a building just about as far inland as you can get in the UK! The proscenium arch is fantastically rich, a deep band of ornate plasterwork.
A tall foyer (now sub-let as a restaurant) contained a double staircase joining near the top to give entry to the rather squat circle lounge, nestled in the balcony void. Tall mirrors adorned the side walls.
Downstairs, passing under the joining of the staircase, there was a spacious café under the balcony, also richly ornamented, but causing a foreshortening of the stalls area with a result that there were more seats in the circle than in the stalls.
The projection booth was cantilevered out, high above the side road off the High Street.
The Rex Cinema, once my local cinema (and always one of my favourites), was renamed the Studio Cinema on 6th January 1973 when it was taken over by the Leeds based Star Cinemas chain and adapted for bingo (played on Thursday to Saturday) with films showing on Sunday to Wednesday. In 1976 Zetters (a bingo operator) took over and the final film to be screened in the original auditorium was James Cahn in “Rollerball” on 7th April 1976. The circle was disastrously partitioned off to form two small uncomfortable cinemas with one highly decorated wall and an off-set screen. They were named Rex 1 & 2 (seating 263 and 163), the front of the circle was extended forward toward the proscenium and the stalls area was painted a uniform cream colour and operated as a Zetters Bingo Club. The Rex Cinemas 1 & 2 opened on 11th April 1976 with Reinhard Glemnitz in “Sex in the Office” in Rex 1 and “The Bruce Lee Story” & “Somebody’s Stolen our Russian Spy” in Rex 2. The lease expired on 28th February 1988 and the cinema closed with Jack Nicholson in “The Witches of Eastwick” & Jason Bateman in “Teen Wolf Too”.
Fierce battles ensued when developers sought to demolish the building and build offices and flats on the site. The Cinema Theatre Association made efforts to save the building, and two days before it closed in was given a Grade II Listed status by English Heritage.
Over the next 16 years the building sank to a parlous state, unused, vandalised and under constant threat. There was a fire in the stage area in 1994. However this is one occasion that has a happy outcome as eventually the former car park and original flats were released for a new housing development, the foyer was partitioned off and let as a restaurant, but crucially the fabulous auditorium was de-tripled, restored and reopened as a cinema by James Hannaway.
It is once again possible to see a film in the original appearance of this wonderful cinema, albeit the front stalls have now been replaced by tables and the circle re-stepped, thus reducing the overall capacity considerably to 350. It reopened on 5th December 2004, and business has been reported as good, in addition it has been used for recording radio shows.
If you are ever in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, just north of London, make a point of watching a movie at the Grade II listed Rex Cinema, you won’t be disappointed!
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