The building of the Regal Cinema and the cinema in the 1930s

Photographs of the old Regal Cinema in the 1930s

By John Layton

The building of the Regal Cinema began in 1929, and it opened on January 1st 1934.  The site was long and narrow, and the stipulation for a seating capacity of 1,500 resulted in a lofty auditorium and a steep balcony.

Here are two photographs of the Cinema in the 1930's.  As you can see, cinema-going was quite the thing at that time, going by the length of the queue in  photograph two.

The cinema stood on the corner of Theatre Plain, opposite what is now the BHS Store

The building that stood there before the 1930s was the Theatre Royal, which was demolished in the 1920s to make way for the Regal.

My father's stepfather actually worked on the construction of the Regal as a carpenter.  He got the job because he was the only person there who could build a 'Jacob's Ladder' - I believe this was a makeshift construction of nailed-together wood.

It was originally a theatre, later being converted into a cinema, with the proviso, so it is said, that at least one live show be put on each year, otherwise it would close.

It was the home for many years of the Gt Yarmouth Operatic and Dramatic Society's productions, mainly their Christmas Pantomimes, but it also held Summer Shows, much like the Britannia Pier and St George's Theatre do today.  I  remember going to see the folk group The Spinners there during their last tour.

In 1963 it changed its name to the ABC and then again in 1987 to the Canon.

It was finally demolished, in 1989 to make way for the Market Gates Shopping Precinct.

Photo:Photograph of the Regal Cinema, 1938

Photograph of the Regal Cinema, 1938

Gt Yarmouth Museums

Photo:Photograph of a typical Cinema Queue, outside the Regal, 1936

Photograph of a typical Cinema Queue, outside the Regal, 1936

Gt Yarmouth Museums

Photo:The Regal and Deneside

The Regal and Deneside

Supplied by Colin Cockle, courtesy of the Keith Hastings collection.

Photo:The start of building the Regal Cinema

The start of building the Regal Cinema

Supplied by Colin Cockle, courtesy of the Keith Hastings collection.

Photo:Building the Regal

Building the Regal

Supplied by Colin Cockle, courtesy of the Keith Hastings collection.

Photo:The building of the Regal Cinema

The building of the Regal Cinema

Supplied by Colin Cockle, courtesy of the Keith Hastings collection.

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'The building of the Regal Cinema and the cinema in the 1930s' page

Supplied by Colin Cockle, courtesy of the Keith Hastings collection.

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'The building of the Regal Cinema and the cinema in the 1930s' page

Supplied by Colin Cockle, courtesy of the Keith Hastings collection

Photo:The Regal

The Regal

Supplied by Colin Cockle, courtesy of the Keith Hastings collection.

This page was added by John Layton on 05/03/2007.
Comments about this page

One of the worst things to have happened to Great Yarmouth, is the loss of the ABC Theatre. As Chairman of the GYODS we lost our home and that was the beginning of the demise of GYODS. Most towns throught the country have a theatre, but nor Great Yarmouth. The size of the theatre would have allowed the town to hold smaller size conferences as well as still being a theatre. With the outer harbour about to be completed and the hope of many more people coming to the town what do we have to offer anyone in respect of entertainment. A big big loss to the town.

By Graham Turner
On 12/05/2009

In response to Graham's comments, the cinema (and old theatre) was a great loss to the town. But what about the new St Georges' project, will that not provide a long awaited new facility for entertainment?

By J Keet
On 16/06/2009

Pizza Hut now stands in the site of it but some of the building of Pizza hut is the Regal Theatre the arch is the same.

By Jamie Skinner
On 10/08/2009

I lived in Gorleston and Yarmouth as a young lad during the war. I went to the Regal many times. I then went abroad for many years.It was not until recently that I discovered that the cinema was built by my Great Grandfather's firm, J.Balls and Sons!! He was my mother's maternal grandfather. I now have a photograph of him and his workers outside the Regal.To think I used to sit in a wonderful cinema built by him, not knowing the fact!
So sad to discover that the Regal is no more. What wonderful places those cinemas were.

By Peter Rowe
On 09/11/2009

We holidayed as a family every year at Great yarmouth and I can remember the shows at the Regal during the summer seasons. On Sundays they would have pop concerts.Whilst my parents enjoyed a drink in "The Divers" pub opposite, I would listen at the rear doors and hear the groups go through their act. Happy days.

By Andrew pealling
On 11/01/2010

I have a keen interest in Great Yarmouth really nice to see the info on The Regal, In the early 70s my younger sister went to see the Bay City Rollers there, Rollermania came to the town. I remember going with my parents to pick her up absolute chaos,screaming tartan clad young girls left right and centre -very interesting for me a boy of 13 or 14! Reference St Georges, the capacity will only be a maximum of 250 or so although a lovely big building the interior pillars etc and current escape/safety regs restrict the use of space considerably. Any details out there on the former Plaza cinema in the market place ?

By malcolm james
On 12/03/2010

Hi I think it was at the Regal that I saw Englebert Humperdinck many moons ago. They used to have some really good shows there during the summer season.

By Liz Middleton
On 12/03/2010

The old A.B.C conjures up many happy hours of films ,shows and the G.Y.O.D . My brother Kenny worked at the A.B.C from leaving school in 1966 to its demise . He started off as a runner and learnt the art of a projectionist ,and ended up operating the sound consul at the rear of the theatre. Through his involvement I met many of the stars that appeared there ,most memorable were Freddie Star, Les Dennis ,Paul Melba and the late great Dustin Gee. Another area of enjoyment was the Theatre Tavern ,often used by the stars in their breaks , the landlord's name I believe was Orry . My brother has many tales of the productions held there. I do believe his favourite was Danny La Rue, who I understand offered him a job at his club in Essex. It was the best Theatre this town ever had and was a sad day when the council at that time allowed it to be demolished. Although I am led to believe that there was a charter issued many years ago that the site of tha A.B.C was a designated site of entertainment. It was still criminal to lose such a fine theatre/cinema.

By keith banner
On 03/09/2010

I love to read about Great Yarmouth's history. Could anybody tell me about any history and/or pictues of Trafalgar Road, Great Yarmouth. I know the houses were bulit during the 1850's and I have a bit of historical paperwork for my property but I want more.

By Gary Smith
On 29/09/2010

 This should not have been pulled down as well as the open air cinema.

By lee
On 14/01/2011

In 1962 I recall Lonnie Donegan, Des O'Connor , Jackie Trent , Miki and Griff and The Clark Brothers did a summer season at the ABC Regal. At that time during the Styles' School holiday break I was working in the Fine Fare supermarket opposite the theatre. One afternoon the supermarket manager asked me to deliver a box of groceries to The Clark Brothers. When I nervously knocked on the stage door I was introduced to them; they greeted me with big smiles, took the box of groceries from me and gave me a four shillings tip! That was the equivalent of two hours wages! Lonnie Donegan owned a white Alvis TD21 Sports Saloon which was often parked in the alley adjacent to the theatre - next to "Twin Carbs" Jack's Norton Dominator motor cycle. I believe Jack was the Assistant Manager of the theatre and he was a regular snooker player at the Dene Snooker Hall which was opposite the theatre above Fine Fare. The following year when I was still working part time at Fine Fare I recall seeing The Beatles standing outside the theatre on a Saturday prior to their concert appearance there. This link purportedly shows The Beatles playing at the ABC Regal These two links show The Clark Brothers but not at the ABC - they were still tap dancing in the late 90s and early 2000s During the late 60s The Rolling Stones did a Sunday concert at the ABC Regal and I recall hundreds of screaming young ladies waiting outside at the back of the theatre after the show - most of them hysterical with excitement and screaming/chanting the Stones' names. Mick Jagger eventually appeared - his head protruding out of a tiny window at the top of the building. The girls became even more hysterical when they saw him and they shouted, "Mick!! Mick!! Mick!!" even louder. Mick Jagger then threw his maracas into the crowd below. A mad screaming scrum ensued as the girls fought to retrieve the trophies. I wonder if the girls who managed to get them were local and if they still have them? The Theatre Tavern pub which was opposite the ABC Regal on Theatre Plain was a favourite refreshment venue for a certain rotund blue bus driver employed by Gt Yarmouth Corporation Transport . He might still be alive so I had better not mention his full name - but Keith Banner, also a blue bus driver ( see his post above) might have recollections of him . Keith, do you remember Billy XXXXX? In 1965 I worked on occasions as Billy's bus conductor. On hot summer days at the end of each round bus trip he would dash across the road into the pub and drink a pint of shandy. He must have had hollow legs and could probably consume as much as seven or eight pints of shandy during a shift ... and it was the real alcoholic stuff mixed on the premises! The ABC Regal reverted to being a cinema during the out of season months; one memorable film I saw there was 'Day of the Triffids' during Spring 1963. I recall that 'Legion's Last Patrol' was the 'B' movie in the same programme and the theme tune reached No 4 in the charts. I ordered the music from Allen's Music Shop in Broad Row and then transcribed it so I could play it on my trombone. Best wishes Duncan Kirkwood

By Duncan Kirkwood
On 17/02/2011

Can't believe the council allowed this gem to be knocked down, paid for by the council and people of the town and replaced by a horrible 1980s shopping centre. Some great films here in the 70s and 80s. Planet of the Apes, Pink Floyd the Wall, Mad Max and many more including Enter the Dragon, an 18 certificate when I was 16! - happy days. Cinema still exists today at the Hollywood ex Royal Aquarium 3 in 1 Royalty.  I started here as trainee projectionist 1977 left 1981 as senior; returned in 2000 now chief projectionist proud to be upholding the tradition of film entertainment for the people of Great Yarmouth.

By Steve Evans
On 31/07/2012

Like so many others above, I to have fond childhood memories of 'The Regal'.  I left Great Yarmouth over 40 years ago and was thinking of a nostalgic return to look around old haunts with the family.  However, thanks to Google Earth I have been able to take virtual tours which indicate to me that where there was once character about the place, it has been replaced by generic town blandness, so I will save the petrol and hotel money.  I am staggered that such a noble building in such a prominent position was allowed to be demolished - and for what??

By Steve Whelan
On 22/10/2012

I spent a lot of my childhood with my father Billy Soards at the Regal with Reg Hall (and his dog), Kenny Banner, David Tate and Leslie(cannot remember his surname) in fact we have a bar here in Luxor, Egypt named after the Regal called Regal Lounge. Sadly my father passed away before we had opened but I have fond memories of my time at the Regal and all the other cinemas in Yarmouth including the Empire and 3 in 1(Hollywood) as it was then. Great times, great people. I spent quit a bit of time with Kenny; he worked on shift with my father. If you see this, Keith, say hi to him. Russell

By Russell
On 19/04/2013

Remember queuing for number 8 bus under that frosted glass tilt on the side of the building as a schoolkid (and if you missed it ,could run through the passage way opposite between the shops ,down Regent Street and catch it, all out of breath at the Town Hall stop ) used to drink at the Theatre Tavern in not to later years , when Billy and Barbara were behind the bar ,saw The Jam play at the Regal as well as a few other bands ,was too young for the old Divers but remember King street Divers ,Pegottys ( St Georges Wine vaults ,when we first went there ! ) 151 ( Lion and the Lamb ? ) / taylordata@aol

By Chris Taylor
On 20/01/2014

i use to meet a girl called linda outside the regal bus stop 1967 or 1968 she lived in caistor i use to walk her home through caister golf course one night she was waiting for me outside the regal i never turned up i was playing snooker she sent someone down the snooker hall for me and i carried on playing snooker looking back now it was not a nice thing to do if you read this linda sorry

By les collins
On 01/04/2014

saw the walker brothers at the regal in the 60s stjll play there stuff today first love never dies is a brilliant song use to go in divers when they had the round bar great times so many placers are gone now like the goods hotel they had a place at the back with a jukebox great times les collins

By les collins
On 14/04/2014

saw morcambe and wise danny la rue walker brothers at the regal use to drink in the divers pub with the round bar great times the music was great the seafront was all ways busy summer time all ways seem to be sunny not like now

By les collins
On 14/04/2014

Loved the regal.I used to go in the old divers great times in was great too.Good days 

By Kathleen burman
On 27/04/2015

Slight error in the text of this article. You say "It was finally demolished in 1989 to make way for the Market Gates Shopping Precinct."

Market Gates was completed long before that (I remember passing the Regent to shop there). The Regent was demolished to be replaced with shops and a pub - the Troll Cart (last time I was in the area, a Wetherspoon's).

By Paul Rayner
On 19/11/2018

The A B C Regal was no doubt the best theatre in Gt Yarmouth, so sad when it was demolished in 1989.  Each summer top showbiz names would perform twice nightly for 20 weeks to packed houses Monday to Saturdays.  On Sundays there was the Sunday Specials which featured many top bands from the sixties.  It was for me the highlite of the week to attend these sunday shows. 

The bill for one show featured Cilla Black, Billy J Kramer & The Dakotas, Nashville Teens and Sounds Incorporated.  Another was The Swingin Blue Jeans, The Fourmost and the Merseybeats all in the same show. 

But for me, the best ever Sunday show was seeing Roy Orbison twice, backed by a a band from Birmingham called the Art Movement.  The moment he came on to the stage is a moment I will never forget,his voice was just like on his records.  I would be interested o hear if anyone else saw any of those two shows.

By John Pegg
On 23/11/2018

I worked at Vettesee's in the 60s. We called it the little J. I can honestly say I loved every minute.  They were a great family to work for.  My boss was Joe Vettesee.  He and his wife Gina lived over the little J and during the winter months I worked down the bottom of Regent road at the Big V and many a time i have served someone from the shows on at the Regal, etc.  It was a great time, and their ice cream was the best. 

By Susan Dexter
On 08/04/2019

i can remember going to the Regal and think one of the last films I saw there was GEORGIE GIRL one of the red graves were in in black and white 

By Susan dexter
On 08/04/2019

I can remember going to the Regal and think one of the last films I saw there was GEORGIE GIRL.  One of the red graves were in in black and white .

By Susan dexter
On 08/04/2019

The Regal was built by my paternal grandfather, Edgar Balls (1882 to 1951) and his brother.  The firm ceased trading in the 1950's.

By Roger R Ball
On 03/05/2019

The Beatles performed there 3 times in 1963.

By Mark Stewart Collar
On 07/01/2022

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