ABC Tunbridge Wells
Mount Pleasant Road,
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Architects: Robert Cromie
Styles: Art Deco
Previous Names: Ritz Cinema, Essoldo, Classic, Cannon, MGM, Virgin
The Ritz Cinema opened on 3rd December 1934 with Gracie Fields in “Sing As We Go” and Matheson Lang in “The Great Defender”, with film actress Margaret Bannerman, a star of the “The Great Defender” appearing in person. It was the first cinema to be specifically built from the ground up for the Union Cinemas circuit, here in Tunbridge Wells in association with Tunbridge Wells Entertainments Ltd.
A 50 feet tall glass tower originally stood over the entrance but this was removed in the 1950’s. The layout of the cinema was rather extraordinary in that the foyer was offset at a 45 degree angle to the main auditorium block and almost separate to it. A parade of shops were attached to the foyer block but again these were not attached to the main building. A small café and a ballroom were also included in the design.
The Ritz Cinema was equipped with a 3Manual/6Rank Compton organ, with an illuminated console on a lift, which was opened by Alex Taylor. Sunday concerts were held on the stage in the early years, with Elsie & Doris Waters ‘Gert & Daisy’ topping the bill on 23rd December 1934. When the Union Cinemas chain went into receivership and were taken over by the Associated British Cinemas (ABC) chain in 1937, the head of Union Cinemas Fred Bernhard, retained their four cinemas in Tunbridge Wells until he died in February 1949. The four cinemas including the Ritz Cinema then passed to H.H. Wingate.
Taken over by the Essoldo chain in February 1954, on 18th July 1970 it reopened after they had twinned the cinema, using the stalls as the main number one cinema seating 450 with the original screen, and the circle blocked off to make screen 2 which seated 366. The Compton organ was removed at this time.
Classic Cinemas Ltd. acquired the cinema on 2nd April 1972 and they added a 125 seat third screen in the former café area, using periscope projection. The Cannon Group took over the Classic Cinemas chain in 1982 and it was re-named Cannon in 1985. Then it was known as the MGM from 1993, briefly became the Virgin, then in 1996 with the management buyout of non multiplex cinemas - the ABC.
By 2000, even though the ABC was still commercially viable, as the Odeon & ABC chains had merged, the ABC became obsolete as Odeon had by this time opened an out of town multiplex and the final films were shown on Sunday 29th October 2000.
Even with its many name changes, a faded ‘Ritz’ sign could be seen on the rear of the building. In 2008, the vacant building was sitting empty and unused, awaiting its fate. In October 2009, the building was being prepared for demolition, but it was delayed and finally demolished in late-summer 2014. In May 2019,it remains a vacant site awaiting redevelopment.
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