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Pitsea Broadway: Century Cinema

The Broadway Cinema - Pitsea    
Location: The Broadway, Pitsea
Photographer: Unknown
Year of photo: 1940s
Copyright: N/A
Comments: The cinema during its time as the Broadway.

A short history

The Century cinema in Pitsea Broadway first opened its doors on Friday 28th March, 1930. The chairman of Pitsea Parish Council, Mr. William Pedlar performed the opening duties.

Its original name was Broadway and was one of a number of buildings funded by local businessman Harold George Howard. It had seating for 700 and would also provide a whole host of entertainment including variety shows and professional wrestling, as well as a children's Saturday morning matinee programme. The theatre also featured a below floor level orchestra pit and upstairs living accommodation.

When first built it had no mains electricity along with the flats and shops on both sides of the Broadway. Diesel powered generators, housed in a purpose built building that stood behind the flats along side the cinema, provided the electricity for the cinema and also to the shops, Tudor Chambers, the Railway Hotel, Anne Boleyn Mansions, adjacent street lights and the war memorial that until 1969 stood at the junction with Station Lane. The cinema was still receiving its power from these generators in 1956 with the responsibility of their running assigned to the staff.

The following is an extract taken from the opening programme:

       One's first impression of the "Broadway" Cinema is of a classic structure in distinct contrast to the Tudor surroundings. The Theatre is situated in a central position in the main London Road, and adjoins a very fine corner block of Shops and Flats of Tudor style of Architecture, the whole of the work being carried out by the Architects, A. J. Varndell and L. A. Green. The elevation of the Theatre is designed to give full play to the flood lighting effects.

       The site has an area of about 15,000 sq. feet with a frontage to the London Road of 55ft., and is readily accessible to the whole of the surrounding districts.

       The Theatre is planned on the most up to date lines, with spacious Vestibule, foyer cafe and tea room. The stage is 34ft. wide and 14ft. deep and is fully equipped with ample dressing room accommodation, and every device has been adopted to make the stage working modern and efficient. ALL parts of the house are connected by telephone, and the operators' room with rewinding room, and workshop is placed at the rear of the Auditorium, and is fire resisting in every respect, the walls being in steel and brickwork, with hardwood doors, and floor and ceiling in reinforced concrete. Each projection aperture is fitted with a regulation steel shutter, controlled automatically by either the operator or the attendant in the Auditorium, should fire occur.

       Further regarding fire risks it is interesting to note that the provisions for escape are more than adequate to deal with an Auditorium of much greater size, there being 7 exits, each 5ft. wide, five of them giving access to exit passages 10ft. on to a 20ft. road, and two through the Vestibule on to the London Road. There are two fire hydrants, one at each end of the Auditorium, and extinguishers in accordance with the Essex County Council regulations. The stage has three exits and the operators room three.

Later ownership and name change to Century

During the 1940s it became part of the local Radion (Rayleigh) Ltd., group of cinemas and was managed by Mr. James L. Webster, a director of the company. In 1954 the cinema was acquired by millionaire businessman Sidney Bernstein's Granada Theatres Ltd. and became part of the Granada Cinema Circuit chain who then closed the theatre in January 1955 to carry out renovation work estimated at £30,000. These improvements included a new Cinemascope screen and sound as well as a name change to Century when it re-opened on Tuesday 15th February, 1955.

At the time of the re-opening the cinemas' manager was Mr. George Mallett and as well as the main auditorium there was a restaurant, snack bar and sweet shop.

In 1962 in a bid to boost takings professional wrestling bouts became an additional feature as well as local talent competitions but despite these attractions the cinema must have been experiencing a downturn in profits as around mid 1968 owners Granada submitted a planning application to the local council to convert the building for use as a supermarket. The application was subsequently rejected in July on the grounds that Pitsea town centre would be receiving its own regeneration in the coming years courtesy of the Basildon Development Corporation's 'Master Plan', but it was clear the writing was on the wall. As a last push to improve things bingo nights were introduced and these would prove more popular than the cinema programme which soon come to a permanent end in 1970.

The final days film programme was on Saturday 31st October featuring the 1963 Greek mythology fantasy 'Jason and the Argonauts', starring Todd Armstrong, followed by the husband and wife team of Bill Travers and Virginia Mckenna in the 1966 adventure 'Born Free'. The Century was then converted for permanent use as a bingo hall and renamed Granada Social Club.

The club was renamed Gala in 1991 when Granada Social Clubs (Granada Theatres Ltd.) merged with Coral Social Clubs who were owned by brewery company Bass. In 1997 Bass sold their bingo chain in a management buy-in and the club continued as Gala until owner Gala Coral Group Ltd announced their intention to close down the venue following a reorganisation of the company that also saw other bingo clubs closed throughout the United Kingdom. The final bingo session was held on Monday 27th July, 2009.

Notable past events include the crowning of the carnival queen, held at the venue in July 1952, and a 1955 celebrity attended evening with film stars Jill Adams and Derek Bond to promote the change of name to Century.

Outwardly the buildings appearance remains little altered from when it was first built.

Other Century managers include Mr. Fred Dawson and his successor, Mr. G.S. Bird who worked there in the 1950s and in the 1960s Mr. Deryck Haynes and Mr. Frank Ashworth. Mr. George Wilson was co-manager from around 1967 to closure and remained employed at the venue until 27th February 1971 when he retired.

To read more about the cinema and its power house electrical supply building follow these links:

Broadway/Century History      Pitsea Power House

Notes of interest:

1) Special thanks to Jack Fisher, the last chief projectionist at the Century cinema for supplying additional information.

2) Albert James Varndell, estate agent and chartered surveyor. He was known to live local to the area and had estate agents offices in partnership with L.A. Green (A.J. Varndell & Co.) at 1 Broadway, Pitsea and Station Approach, Laindon.

3) Granada's use of the name century was not exclusive to Pitsea. The leisure chain once operated 4 other examples at Leyton, Leytonstone, Loughton and Stratford.

Page added: 2002

Text researched and written by William Cox, 2006 with revisions 2010.
Copyright © 2006, 2010, B. Cox - Basildon History Online. All rights reserved.

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