How the Regent Cinema’s dome tower was a shrine to the age of motion pictures

By Barry Band
Regent Cinema, Blackpool, 1966Regent Cinema, Blackpool, 1966
Regent Cinema, Blackpool, 1966

Celebrating a cinema centenary at the peak of a pandemic would be problematic.

So Rick Taylor is waiting until later this year before doing the honours at the Regent, Blackpool.

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Memory Lane, however, without risk of anyone catching Covid-19, can quietly mark the occasion of the cinema’s opening in January, 1921.

Richard Taylor, who now owns the cinemaRichard Taylor, who now owns the cinema
Richard Taylor, who now owns the cinema

Here’s the Regent story I did for the paper five years ago...

“Visitors venturing up Church Street in 1921 were attracted to a building that looked like a church.

Closer examination revealed this gleaming white edifice was actually a shrine to the exciting media of motion pictures.

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The Gazette’s preview of the Regent Picture House, the first local cinema to be built after World War One, declared: “Undoubtedly one of the most conspicuous buildings in Blackpool.”

A Gazette ad for South Pacific, which was screened for three summer seasons from 1959A Gazette ad for South Pacific, which was screened for three summer seasons from 1959
A Gazette ad for South Pacific, which was screened for three summer seasons from 1959

The Regent, said the writer, would enhance the reputation of its architects, the Blackpool firm of Lumb and Walton, for what was called their Neo-Grec styling with a three-storey domed tower.

The entire building was faced with Ceramo white-glazed terracotta.

Theoctagonal foyer had a marble floor and a marble staircase rose to the grand circle, while the auditorium was carpeted in gold and black Wilton.

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There was seating for 1,150 and comfort was assured by the latest heating and ventilation systems. There was even a sliding roof.

The promoter and first manager of the Regent was Arthur Sellars, who had made a success of the Imperial, North Shore, before leaving when new owners took over.

But the Regent opened just as a post-war slump hit theatre and cinema attendances. In the spring of 1922 the Regent had combined ads with the Futurist (formerly the Royal Pavilion) and then the Press ads stopped.

Had the Regent closed for a while or was it due to an unpaid adverting account?

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Whatever the reason, Arthur Sellars left Blackpool in 1923 and the Regent had three more managers before the chief projectionist and assistant manager, Francis Fennell, took charge about 1930 and managed the merged Regent and Imperial. Within a few years he was the managing director.

Francis Fennell - who was widely known as Frank - married Doreen Atterbury, the leader of the Regent ladies orchestra in silent film days.

Doreen became one of the resort’s most admired pianists, performing until the 1990s, latterly in the White Tower Restaurant at the Pleasure Beach.

Francis Fennell was the Fylde’s first independent manager to install CinemaScope, first at the Regent and the next week at the Imperial, in July, 1954.

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In 1959 he pioneered the policy of booking musicals for long summer seasons at the Regent, with South Pacific. It was so successful he booked the same film for the next two summers.

After closing the Imperial in 1961, Mr Fennell invested in 70mm projectors at the Regent to screen large format movies, including The Sound of Music for seasons in 1966 and 77.

But cinemagoing was in decline and after the 1971 season summer screening of Cromwell he sold the Regent to Tudor Bingo . It was a Gala hall when it closed in 1995, becoming Riley’s American pool and snooker club until 2010.”

In 2013 the derelict Regent was bought for £100,000 by Fylde businessman Richard Taylor.

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After much remedial work he opened the ground floor as an antique and collector’s market and cafe and in 2016 the old grand circle was restored for weekend cinema patrons.

Modern projectors and a larger screen have since been installed and there she stands, ready for a regal reopening.

A century’s span of the flicks!