The Astoria

The best cinema in Brighton?

By Philip Burnard

 
Photo:Foyer of Astoria cinema

Foyer of Astoria cinema

Royal Pavilion and Museums Brighton and Hove

Art Deco style

The Astoria cinema, in Gloucester Place, was built in the Art Deco style in the 1930s. It was a beautiful place and it was huge. Going to the pictures there was a major event for many of us. Few of us had televisions and various forms of home video equipment had yet to be invented. We could also catch up with the news, via the short, Pathè News features, played in between showings of the films. These were black and white and narrated by a man with curiously up-market diction.  

Film seasons

What was distinctive about the Astoria was that it had films that played for seasons rather that for a few showings. Outside indications of a particular film being shown for many, many weeks, were that huge hoardings covered the whole of the front of the cinema.  The entire frontage was dressed up in this way. From this distance, I can't remember many of the longer running films but a few included: The Robe, Gigi and Ben Hur.

A huge screen

The Astoria had a huge screen. Various types of cinematic technologies were used. One was Cinemascope, which used a huge, curved screen. The only problem with it was that it showed films in 'letterbox' mode; it involved a not particularly high part of the screen but one that was very wide. So wide, in fact, that you had to keep your head moving from one side to the other, in order to take in the whole screen. Close-ups of actors could cause some distortion of their faces. There were also films shown in 'Todd AO' format, although I never got to grasp what this was. 

Did you go to The Astoria? What films did you see? Please share your memories by posting a comment below

Stay as long as you want

You could enter the cinema at any point in the film. You could watch the second half of a film, wait until the advertisements were shown and then watch the first half. It saved you having to wait until a particular time of showing. I think you were able to stay in the cinema as long as you wanted, thus seeing a film a few times. When you paid at the box office, you were given a seat number. If a film was running, you were shown to your seat by a lady holding a dim torch that was only ever focussed on the floor. It was embarrassing if you seat was in the middle of the row as people tended to quietly voice their annoyance as you squeezed past them. In between films, quiet music played in the background and the beautiful, satin, hugely long, Art Deco curtains were lit up by changing, pastel shades.

The national anthem

On either side of the screen there were emergency exits. When the lights went down, the signs for them were illuminated in bright red. You had to train yourself not to glance at these as they detracted from the film you were watching. It is odd to think that, back in the 1960s, people used to smoke in cinemas. As most people smoked, the place was constantly in something of a fog. If you looked up at the light of the film being  projected, you could see a very dusty looking line of that light. At the end of each performance, the national anthem was played and most people stood up for this. Others, knowing that this was going to happen, slipped out of the cinema, quickly, to get a head start on the bulk of the audience. Or perhaps they weren't too thrilled by the national anthem. 

 

This page was added on 25/05/2016.
Comments about this page

THE ASTORIA great times for many Brighton people. I remember the Saturday morning kids show also the Wurlitzer organ that got the sing song going. I think this was one of the last organs to be removed from cinemas. At 10 the manager would make an appearance, by this time the level of noise was big time he would stand down the front ducking and diving those 5 lolly stick boomerangs. He would shout out if you don't pack it up  there wont be any cartoons, Laurel and Hardy, George Formby, Old Mother Riley, Batman, and many more we loved  you all. Many years later my wife and I went to see KRIS KRISTOFFEN and Barbara STREISAND in A Stars Is Born, at the end of the film staff clapped and cheered wife said what's that all about? I said films come here for a season now its time for the new film next day. In the Argus I read Astoria closed its doors to become  a bingo hall, thank you ASTORIA.

By KEN MCNEILL (28/05/2016)

Ah. ABC Minors at the Astoria. Saturday morning in the late 1940s. If you went down the alleyway to the right and pushed the emergency exit door you could get in without being an ABC member. Flash Gordon was a good favourite, plus the cowboy film. Oh happy days.

By David Wickham (29/05/2016)

I remember in the 1950s every year on the nearest Saturday to November the 5th the cinema would hold a "Guy"competition. Also at Christmas there would be a fancy dress competition. My elder brother always made a guy and would spend a great deal of time making it and I think he won it couple of times. The prizes were usually very good and I also think you got free tickets to the Cinema.

By Anthony Wickham (13/06/2016)

Saturday morning pictures 6d. We sang the following song along with the organ which rose from under the stage:
"We are the boys and girls we'll know as Minors of the ABC, and every Saturday all line up, to see the films we love shout aloud with glee.
"We are the boys and girls we'll know as Minors of the ABC we're all friends together, Minors of the ABC."
I received the first edition of the newest comic at that time "The Eagle". I collected every edition up till 1958 when I went to do my bit for the country in the RAF. When I came back my collection was gone, along with my stamp collection, and birds egg collection. Mum was only doing what mum's do - clean out while you are away. Mum, you threw away a fortune, alas you didn't know. In 1959, I flew over the Astoria whilst in the RAF, and from the air I could see the big banner outside advertising the Sound of Music. I remember seeing the first 3d film there "The House of Wax" We all got issued with coloured cardboard spectacles which we had to hand in at the end of the film.
A lovely cinema, a great loss to Brighton as was the Gaiety, now spaghetti junction. Great memories!

By Raymond Stoner (14/06/2016)

I went to The Astoria regularly in the late '50s. I took my girlfriend, (now wife) to see 'South Pacific' in Todd-AO in November 1958. Fond memories. 

By Kenneth Muzzall (06/07/2016)

I remember going to the Saturday morning cinema early 1970's with my best friend Suzanne-Marie Christie. She would take her little brother, Glenn, and I would take my little sister, Kathy. Very happy memories watching children's films, cartoons and mini series.

By Sue Broadley-Darby (21/10/2016)

I was a ABC Monitor with a special badge I had to try and keep some sort of order and for this I did get in free. Fabulous days. Came back to Brighton this week to see my sister and went to have a look at the cinema - not a happy sight.

By Ray Nicholson (26/04/2017)

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