Three hundred and fifty-nine degrees

Change and decay; or, Let it bleed

Does any other English town or city have a worse record for allowing its buildings to fall into disuse and decay than Brighton and Hove? Can any equal the record for the length of time that prime sites in the town centre have been left to rot?
Take places of entertainment, which are, after all, one of the key features of a seaside resort. A few have managed to survive, none more magnificently than the Theatre Royal. Opened on 27 June 1807 in the newly created New Road, it remains the city’s foremost theatre (at least until the Hippodrome re-opens). But this is not a review of the city’s theatrical history; it concerns the number of venues that closed, remained empty for years, were demolished, leaving empty sites for more years. Far too many of them.
Close to the Theatre Royal was the Oxford Music Hall, which opened in 1863. It survived a fire, rebuilding, extension, conversion to a cinema and several name changes before it closed as the Paris Cinema in 1962. It was offered to the embryo University of Sussex as an arts centre. It stood empty for five years, in one of Brighton’s busiest streets, before being demolished and replaced by offices. Five years is too long? Not in this city.
Frank Matcham, the doyen of theatre architects in the later Victorian and Edwardian period, designed the Alhambra Opera House and Music Hall, which opened on King’s Road, just to the west of the junction with West Street, in 1888. It became the Palladium Cinema in 1912, was briefly an Odeon, reverting to its popular name as the Palladium until becoming a relatively early victim of cinema closures in 1956. It was empty for seven years and demolished in 1963. The prime seafront site remained derelict for a decade until the Brighton Centre opened there in 1977.
Another Rank-owned cinema was the West Street Odeon. Opened to great fanfare in 1937, it closed in 1973 when Top Rank Suite opened down the road. It survived longer than the SS Brighton next door, which was razed to the ground in 1965, leaving a bare-earth car park for 24 years. The Odeon stood forlorn for another 17 years before the site was cleared.
Few will remember the Cinema-de-Luxe, dating from 1910, which stood on the bottle-neck section of North Street, almost opposite Ship Street. A fire caused its closure in 1942. A plan to re-open it in the late 1950s came to nothing. After 20 years of dereliction, it was demolished in 1962, Brighton Corporation having bought it to allow road-widening.
Hove has also had its dereliction. The former Granada cinema, later the Gala Bingo Hall, finally closed its doors in 2003. It was unused but not demolished until 2012.

The Brighton Railway Works, just to the north-east of the station, were demolished in 1969 (having been occupied by the Isetta bubble car company from 1957 to 1964). The station gained a bare-earth car park for the next 30 years or more until work began on construction of the New England Quarter, which is still ongoing in 2016.
Of course, the one that really takes the custard cream is Jubilee Street. The Jubilee Library opened its doors in 2005 on a site that was earmarked for clearance in the Brighton (Jubilee Street) Confirmation Order, a compulsory purchase order made in parliament in 1939. Clearance of the site began around 1952-53. The Jubilee Library was opened in March 2005, more than 50 years after the site was ready for development.

Change and decay in all around I see. . .
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.

Sign for the Hippodrome

An e-petition asking Brighton & Hove City Council to do all it can to keep alive the Hippodrome for live performances is now on the Council’s website at

The Hippodrome campaign

This is the wording of the e-petition submitted to Brighton and Hove City Council to appear on its website. Assuming it is accepted, it will appear at


We the undersigned petition the council to  use its best endeavours and take every opportunity to bring the Hippodrome in Middle Street back into use as a versatile space for live performances in accordance with aspirations expressed in the CP5 Culture and Tourism section of the proposed City Plan (February 2013).


As a Grade II* listed building with an interior of national historic importance, the Hippodrome is the only surviving space of its kind and size in the city. It is top of the Theatre Trust’s list of English theatre buildings at risk.

In seeking to promote cultural tourism, the City Council should be aware of the need for a larger theatre capable of attracting top-class theatrical, musical and dance productions. The Hippodrome could be used in a variety of modes: as a proscenium theatre, as a theatre-in-the-round or with a thrust or open stage, or for ‘circus’ type of performance, similar to the Roundhouse in Camden, London.

Such a venue would significantly enhance the city’s appeal to visitors, attracting  audiences from across a wide area, including London, helping to make Brighton the principal cultural hub of the south-east region. It should be recognised that converting the space into a multi-screen cinema would not contribute anything to this aspiration. Indeed, over-provision of cinemas, leading to unsustainable competition, could lead to a net loss of venues.

Watch @DavidF_Brighton on Twitter for news about the petition going live.


Back to the Hippodrome

There is more online about the plans to convert the Hippodrome into an eight-screen cinema. At there is a little more—a very little, albeit glossy and inspirational in tone, and still no detailed plans. We’ll keep looking.

Not another cinema

Hippodrome 1910It looks as though Brighton and Hove City Council’s Planning Committee will be receiving an application within the next month or so to turn the Hippodrome in Middle Street, right, into an eight-screen cinema and restaurant. It is most important that the Grade II* building should be restored to its full glory—a matter in which English Heritage will be required to play a crucial role. The Hippodrome is top of the Theatres Trust list of English Theatre Buildings at Risk. You can see pictures of the magnificent and still intact interior on the Trust’s website at

It was re-designed by the foremost theatre architect of the 19th and early 20th centuries, Frank Matcham. If you want to see what has happened to the other Brighton theatres he designed, go to the top of North Road and gaze upon the tower block called Tower Point, which adds so much to the townscapeGrand btn (UKent). That replaced The Grand Cinema Theatre, right, formerly the Eden Theatre, re-designed by Matcham in 1894. Then down to the seafront and the Brighton Centre, which, after 20 years of dereliction, replaced the Palladium Cinema, originally the Alhambra Opera House and Music Hall, designed by Matcham in 1897. Only the Hippodrome survives.

It’s not easy to find information about the project online. The Brighton design firm of the conversion, Russ Drage Architects, does not mention it among current projects. Alaska, the developer behind the project, has a one-page blurb making much of the £18m cost but with no details other than a glossy artist’s impression of a bar space that gives no hint of the glory of Matcham’s interior—indeed, it has the flavour of an international airport lounge. An exhibition of the plans was open for four hours on each of two days and with little publicity. At the time of writing there appears to be no sign of plans online.

It seems as though the developers want to keep as quiet as possible until the planning application is submitted. Perhaps because any development of a prime town-centre site, if it is known about, is likely to attract attention from conservation groups and the wider public and could create at least noise, rising to uproar. That is what is now beginning to happen.

Once the planning application goes in, the project is less susceptible to public opinion. The Planning Committee has to work within strict guidelines and can say only yes or no to an application. Saying no may lead to appeals by the developer. Moreover, there is a fear that if the scheme is turned down the building will continue to languish and decay. Either outcome could be a wasted opportunity.

However, it may come as a surprise to those familiar with the prevailing spirit of this space and the outlook of its proprietor to hear that eight more cinema screens in one place are definitely NOT what we need.

Brighton has four cinema sites: the eight-screen CIneworld at the Marina, the eight-screen Kingswest Odeon, the single-screen Duke of York’s at Preston Circus and the two-screen (and most superior) Duke’s@Komedia in Gardner Street. That’s 19 screens. That may not seem like excessive provision for a conurbation the size of Brighton and Hove.

It is not insignificant that the aforementioned Alaska says it is in discussions with Vue Entertainment, which does not have a local presence and may enjoy being in competition with Cineworld and Terra Firma, the owners of the Odeon chain. But one minute from the Odeon and five minutes from the Komedia, in a street that is a relative backwater? In the Hove half of the city, which now has no cinemas, various plans since 1997 to build multiplex cinemas have come to nought, as did another scheme in 1997 for a 12-screen multiplex in what has since become the New England Quarter. Presumably Vue has done its feasibility study and has a solid reputation for commercial success, especially with its key 17-screen London sites in the Westfield shopping malls at Shepherds Bush and Stratford—two of the three most profitable sites in the country. The Hippodrome would not be in that league.

The Duke’s@Komedia is a shining example of a way forward. Although there are economies of scale (17 screens do not need 17 times the staff), such sites suit larger conurbations and edge-of-town locations. Digital technology is changing the outlook for cinemas. Smaller units are possible and could be located away from the town centre in areas with good public transport. In the end, cinemas are only as good as their programming, however comfortable and served with food and drink they may be. And Brighton town centre now has many excellent eating places.

Meanwhile, any efforts to save the Hippodrome ( are worth supporting. The culture and economy of Brighton need the performance space it could be. It’s worth reading the Culture and Tourism section of the pending City Plan ( with that in mind.


On the buses

When Chuck Berry was motorvatin’ over the hill and Eddie Cochran was proudly proclaiming that ‘My car’s out front and it’s all mine / A ’41 Ford, not a ’59’, where were British rockers? On the bus, of course!

In Rock Around the Town (1957), Tommy Steele sang: ‘We got in a monster, it was painted red. / A guy in blue turned to me and said / His words were followed by quite a stare. / I said, ‘What’d you want?’ He said, ‘I want your fare.’

However, the most redolent evocation of the domestic rock scene (literally, as he goes home for his tea with mum), has to be Wee Willie Harris’s Rockin’ at the 2i’s (also 1957). ‘Now, I rushed out the gate, went walking down the road. / I got to the bus stop, put on my overcoat. / Along came a bus, a number 54. / When I got inside they were rocking on the floor.’

Curiously, perhaps even remarkably, what brought this to mind was seeing Thin Lizzy on a BBC Top of the Pops compilation performing Dancing in the Moonlight (It’s Caught Me in Its Spotlight). Even as late as 1977, Phil Lynott was singing, ‘And I’m walking home / My last bus has gone.’ Rock on!


If it ain’t broke… today that Stephen Spielberg plans to produce a remake of The Grapes of Wrath for Dreamworks. His company already has a remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca in the pipeline. The film of John Steinbeck’s novel was made in 1940, starring Henry Fonda and directed by John Ford (right). Hitchcock made his film from Daphne du Maurier’s novel in 1940. Both films from novels. Both made in 1940. Both screen classics.

Spielberg earned his well-deserved reputation by making original movies from original scripts. Although not averse to sequels—franchises are there to be milked—he has only once made a film that could be considered a remake: War of the Worlds, better known in its 1938 radio version than for the earlier film from 1953, which is largely forgotten. So why now?

Remakes of classics are a conundrum. They acknowledge that the original is a great film but effectively assert that the new version will be better/more up-to-date/more accessible or all the above. Implication: don’t bother watching the original. Remakes may be more up-to-date (by definition) and possibly more accessible, but they are rarely—probably never—better. The originals, because of their classic status are still available, albeit only on DVD or television, so they are being insulted by the hubris of the remake merchants.

Perhaps if more cinemas showed more classic films the urge to re-make would be diminished. But maybe not. Remakes also signify an absence of new ideas, without which cinema will die.


More than coincidence?

William Kennedy Laurie Dickson left the employ of Thomas Edison in 1895, having established the 35mm film standards that persist to this day. He was already involved in a partnership that became the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company for which be became a travelling cameraman, in due course coming to England in May 1897. It was known that he had filmed in Worthing on the Sussex coast. So having recently published a book about film-making in the more important film centre of Brighton & Hove, I thought it might be worth checking out more about Dickson’s time in Worthing. The results were meagre. It seems he spent only a couple of days in the town, filming the swimming club, among other things.

However, the search threw up one snippet worth noting, although at the moment for nothing more than mere curiosity. In trying to find out why he was not present in the 1911 British census (conducted on 2 April), it turns out he sailed from Liverpool to New York on the White Star liner Baltic on 25 March 1911. My eye was caught by the name two lines above his in the passenger list: Mr Eugene Lauste. He had also worked for Edison, between 1886 and 1892 and with Dickson had  developed the Latham loop, about which patent battles were to be fought, used in the wide-film system  known as the Eidoloscope. Not long before that transatlantic crossing Lauste had achieved a practical sound-on-film recording, something he had been working on for several years.

Maybe their journeying together to America had no greater significance than two old colleagues travelling together. Maybe…


Booked up: Cinema-by-Sea

Blogging seems to come easily to some. Not here by the looks of it. Nearly three years since the last post. Then there’s a message to say someone is following this blog. Wow! Fame at  last.

Amazing that the publication of Cinema-by-Sea: Film and Cinema in Brighton & Hove since 1896 has gone unremarked in this space. It was published late November 2012 and has been selling steadily ever since. Actually, it’s been selling well, considering it’s currently available only in bookshops in the Brighton area and online from Amazon. You can read all about it at and even order it from that page. It aims to be the most comprehensive account of all the films made in Brighton and Hove, plus histories of all the cinemas, the stories of the invention of colour cinematography in Southwick and the sad case of the lost studios of Whitehawk, and over 200 biographies of people associated with film who were born, lived worked or died in Brighton.

Cinema-by-Sea cover small




Made in Brighton Film Festival 2

The new website is now online and the main section of the programme is uploaded. Only the short film aspects are still to be finalised, partly because more requests to include films have been arriving almost daily.

Twelve feature films covering 60 years (albeit with a 40-year gap in the middle) are at the core of the festival. These include the world premiere of Heathen, which, although it has had a DVD release, has yet to be seen on the big screen. This is one of four recent feature-length independent productions, each of a noticeably higher quality than some of the older B-feature films.

This aspect of the resurgence of British film-making is largely ignored. With so many movie channels, not to mention digital channels that also show movies, it is astonishing—nay appalling—that such films never get even a television screening. They are much more a part of our national culture than the silly American high-school movies that are regularly screened, even though their quality leaves as much to be desired as their relevance. The fee for one such airing would probably cover the budget. It must be hoped that the development of an alternative content market in cinemas with digital projection facilities will also change the way British production is encouraged and stimulated.