Memories of The Regent flood in as demolition of cinema begins

From left, cabinet member Wayne Davies, council deputy leader Alison Barnes, construction director Tony Fitzgerald and project manager Mark Laidlaw at The Regent Cinema in Redcar. Photograph: Stuart Boulton

The demolition of the Regent Cinema has started this week which has led to a rush of nostalgia.

The old building on Redcar’s seafront has been a loved entertainment venue since the 1920s, first as The Pavilion Theatre and then as The Regent cinema from the early 1960s.

However, it had to close after it was found to be in a dangerous condition and plans are now in place to build a new, three-screen cinema and café due to open in 2022.

The council asked for people to send in their memories or leave them online and nearly 100 people have done so.

Some of the greatest events of the venue’s history were already well known. TV legend Larry Grayson coined his famous ‘Shut that Door!’ phrase there and the original door was found last year.

Gordon Middlemiss, of Normanby, got in touch to say his aunt, Joan Foulkes, always claimed to have invented the phrase.

“She told me about it numerous times,” said Mr Middlemiss, who explained that Joan passed away in her early 80s.

“She lived in South Bank then and was a regular. This one day, it must have been the late 1940s, Larry Grayson – he was known as Billy Breen then – was on and the door kept opening with the wind blowing through. My aunt had had enough and eventually piped up, ‘Oh, I’m fed up…shut that door!’ It got a big laugh and Larry took it up.”

Another big night was a premiere of major Hollywood movie Atonement in 2007 after some scenes were filmed on Redcar beach. Former Mayor Wendy Wall got in touch and said it was, “one of the greatest nights of my life”.

Some online messages recalled marriage proposals and usherettes falling as they tried to sell ice creams in the dark. Peter Baines, 82 of Redcar, got in touch to explain his first job was as a ‘spotlight boy’ at the Pavilion in 1952 or 1953 when he was just 15. He recalls using a cardboard ‘flicker’ on the spotlight to create a film effect for a Charlie Chaplin impersonator and also a flashing red light effect for a ‘fire dance’ performer.

John Bradbury remembered the site being used as the venue for school speech day for the old Coatham Grammar School and Marian Barnes recalled her mother taking in actors as lodgers. “I remember her complaining about stage make-up on the bedding and requests for cooked meals at midnight.”

But for Juliet Edwards, The Regent doesn’t just bring back happy memories of trips to the cinema, or even the children’s Saturday Cinema Club she used to run there as a teenager in the 80s. For Juliet, The Regent is all about her dad, Jeff Edwards, who campaigned to save the cinema and helped run it for years.

She explained that Mr Edwards, who died aged 64 in 1991, was known as Mr Cinema to generations of people in Redcar and Cleveland. He used to take films to remote villages in a blue, Volkswagen van and show them wherever he could.

“He lived and breathed film and his big love was The Regent,” says Juliet, who lives Normanby.

“He was there all the time and gave everything he had to keep it going at a time when everyone was saying there was no future for small, independent cinemas. He proved them all wrong.”

Neil Bates eventually took on the cause of The Regent and ran it for many years.

In November 2019, the council’s Cabinet approved an allocation of £9.68 million from the Tees Valley Mayor and Combined Authority Investment Fund for the redevelopment of the cinema.

Proposed designs for the building were made public in January, and a consultation exercise took place with members of the public who were asked to give their views. More than 700 people responded to the consultation, with 72% of respondents stating they were in favour of the redevelopment.

Councillor Wayne Davies, cabinet member for economic development, said: “It’s been fantastic to get such a strong reaction from people about The Regent. Now we must look to the future and a brand, new venue to create happy memories for generations to come.”

Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen said: “These stories demonstrate the massive amounts of affection people have for the cinema, and how central it was to the borough.

“Our funding will help create a top-quality venue that the people of Redcar and Cleveland deserve, adding real value to the town and making it an even better place to live and visit.”