Pier Cinema and Pier Electric Theatre
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Previous Names: Pier Picture Hall, Pier Picture Palace, Pier Picture Theatre
In Bognor Regis, West Sussex, the Pier opened on 4th May 1865. The Pier Picture Hall was opened on Whit Saturday, 3rd June 1911, at the shore end of the Pier, by Shanly and Carter’s Bognor Pier Company. It replaced the Pier Pavilion, and was part of a complex of new buildings that included an arcade of shops and the Pier Theatre.
The auditorium was 30ft wide and the seating capacity was 528. Initially, shows were at 3pm and 8pm, with a change of programme twice a week, but, by August, high demand led to a second evening show being introduced.
Becoming the Picture Palace, it was sometimes referred to as the ‘Minor Hall’, to distinguish it from the larger Pier Theatre, which could seat 1,180. Some ‘special’ Sunday film presentations were so popular that they were shown in the larger hall, where they could be accompanied by the full theatre orchestra.
This practice continued until August 1914, when the larger hall became the regular daily venue for films. However, the ‘Minor Hall’ continued to be licenced for film shows and, by 1916, it had become the practice to show films in that hall, now known as the Pier Electric Theatre, in the summer months to allow the Pier Theatre to concentrate on stage shows. Then films would return in the winter months.
After World War I the smaller hall continued to show films, but only occasionally, and it was renamed the Pier Concert Hall or Pier Hall to better reflect its main activities (it later moved over to bingo). The main venue for films was now the larger hall, which, from July 1919, was known as the Pier Picture Theatre.
From 1st July 1936 the Pier Picture Theatre advertised itself as the Pier Cinema. It was compelled to close during most of World War II when the pier was requisitioned and renamed HMS Barbara. Films ended on 1st June 1940, with “Sons of the Sea” starring Leslie Banks, returning on 22nd June 1946 with the provincial premiere of a minor Western, “Renegades” starring Evelyn Keyes and Larry Parks.
In time, films were increasingly dropped in favour of variety, Christmas pantomimes and other live entertainments. After a brief reappearance from March to June 1951 films ceased completely.
As a theatre, the venue only lasted until the late-1950’s. It closed in November 1959 to be converted into an amusement arcade.
In 1989 the pier was awarded Grade II listed status, but by 1994 it was in such decline that an application was made to demolish part of the structure.
Bognor Pier Leisure Ltd. stepped in but, being unable to secure a grant to restore it, nothing more happened. Severe storms in 1999 caused more damage and another part of the pier was lost to the sea. Bad weather in subsequent years weakened it further, and the end of the pier had to be removed for safety reasons, leaving the pier’s length a fraction of what it once was.
However, since September 2013 the pier has been under the control of the Bognor Pier Trust, which aims to prevent any further loss or damage to the pier’s structure and eventually restore it to what it was, an asset and attraction for the town.
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