Burger King, North Street

If you are unfortunate enough to be inside North Street’s Burger King it is almost impossible to miss the various film references, such as the large screen at the rear of the restaurant and the models of Marilyn Monroe and Charlie Chaplin. The theme is deliberate, for this building was home to a popular cinema for almost seventy years.

Almost all of Brighton and Hove’s old cinemas have closed and unsurprisingly many have been converted or demolished. Currently rotting away in dereliction are the Granada on Portland Road (most recently a Bingo Hall) and the Astoria on Gloucester Place. The demise of Brighton’s cinemas is sad for sure but the story generally is a happy one and it is easy to see why cinema was once so popular. Once inside those four walls, the big screen provided viewers with an exciting, albeit temporary, escape from reality. The only cinema that I remember closing is the ABC (formerly the Savoy) on East Street/Grand Junction Road.

The cinema in the building that now houses Burger King was called the Bijou Electric Empire when it opened in 1911. It was a medium sized cinema of around 450 seats and was formerly the printing works of the Southern Publishing Company. There were to be many subsequent name changes. In 1915, it became Prince’s Electric Theatre, in 1918 the Select Palace, in 1919 Prince’s, in 1949 Prince’s News Theatre, in 1967 the Jacey Film Theatre and in 1969 the Brighton Film Theatre. By 1930 it had fallen behind the times by having not introduced ‘talkies’ – films with sound! It became the Cinescene in 1979 until its closure in June 1983. The final showing was ‘The Ploughman’s Lunch’. The building is today owned by Mrs Silvia Davis, one of Brighton’s biggest landlords, who also owns many of the surrounding buildings, along with lots of Duke Street behind.

Comparing the beauty of our older cinemas, such as the art deco ABC (now the Groscvemor Casino and several late bars), with our new big cinemas, such as the Odeon on the corner of West Street or the Marina’s Cineworld, is a depressing experience. Just one of the older cinemas today survives as a cinema – the Duke of York near Preston Circus. The grand old Duke thrives on local support so check out its programme, especially for quirky and controversial films that the large chains won’t dare show.