Brightlingsea Town Guide
The Empire Cinema - later the Regal
Brightlingsea cinema opened Boxing Day 1912 as the
Empire Theatre of pictures and Variety. The first General Manager was Harry Carr, A well
known seaside entertainer who was then performing in the town with his Merry Scamps
concert party. Erected by Mr H E Frost and Messrs. Blyth Bros. The Empire was a project of
a local syndicate with Charles Leverett as secretary and later the Manager.
The opening performance did not have a happy
debut, this having to be abandoned halfway through, this being due to the engine
stopping, but all went well the next day when a large house enjoyed a good show of
pictures. Mr Lax of Wivenhoe was the pianist followed later by Mr Reg Cox also Mrs Annie
Annis. Many of the local residents and visitors will recall the thrills provided as
cowboys and Indians galloped into action to their piano accompanist.
During World War I Australian engineers who were training here staged many a variety
concert at the Empire.
The first change of ownership came when the Empire was
purchased by Douglas Bostock, the Ipswich Hippodrome proprieter and like his father
prominent in this part of the world for his involvement with the growth of the cinema.
A further change in 1938 the renaming to The Regal and
during World War II the picture programs were implemented by local entertainment on stage.
1957 saw a further change of ownership. Charles
Sellens became the popular owner. The late Colin Woods son of the late syndicate directors
became his manager. Mr Sellens already owned cinemas in the area and in addition to making
constructional improvements was able to provide programs comparable to many of the larger
cinemas. All appeared to go well during the time when the cinema industry as a whole
enjoyed a boom period. The came the decline in the attendance due to the expansion of
television. Undaunted Mr Sellens fought this new competition with a scheme of complete
reconstruction drawing heavily on his finances to provide a smart up to date building of
which Brightlingsea had every reason to be proud. In a dwindling market it was indeed a
brave venture, and one that earned the commendation of the townsfolk. But audience
attraction was the objective and in this it failed. Like so many of its kind the
Brightlingsea Regal had to give way to the lure of fireside armchair viewing. So in
February 1959 Charles Sellen decided to close. This decision also meant the end of the
Childrens Cinema which since the early 1950s had met every Saturday morning.
Five months later of 6th July in association with Mr & Mrs Cox and their
daughter Peggy, of Ipswich, Mr Sellens attempted a comeback. Mr Cox was also the
proprietor of the Ideal Cinema at Lavenham and had provided film entertainment in the
Suffolk village for many years. The evenings program was preceded by an informal
reopening ceremony performed by Mrs Winifred Craig, the popular and successful teacher of
elocution and drama locally and wife of the New Church Minister. But this brave venture
was short lived and Brightlingsea finally lost its Cinema.
In 1964 the building was taken over by Ormandy and
Stollery as offices and works for the manufacture of thermo-couples. The firm later
removed to the one time Weslian School. August 1990 the building remained unoccupied.
The site is now occupied by the Colne Medical Centre
in a new building.