GALLERY: Letchworth’s The Broadway Cinema celebrates 75th birthday

The Broadway Cinema celebrates its 75th birthday today (Tuesday) so The Comet has taken a look back at the history of the Letchworth GC venue over the last seven decades.

DESIGNED by Letchworth GC architects Bennett and Bidwell in an Art-Deco style, the cinema in Broadway was built by Howard Hurst to help meet demand with running cinema The Palace, packed out every week by 1935.

The building required 350,000 bricks and was broken by patterned concrete blocks - all cast on site - which framed the traceried windows.

Inside, the d�cor, designed by a specialist cinema interior designer, was finished in a peacock blue and gold colour scheme, which was complemented by the matching uniforms of the usherettes.

Nearly 200 lights were put in the ceiling, with concealed lamps on every other seat, while the octagonal foyer housed free cloakrooms and a ventilation system which purified and temperature-controlled air drawn in from outdoors.

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Outside, huge red and blue neon lights were installed to complete the build.

The cinema opened its doors for the first time on August 26, 1936, when 1,400 attended a black-tie gala performance of Follow The Fleet, starring Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire.

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Less than a decade into its life, The Broadway Cinema was put to an alternative uses during the Second World War, acting as a reception centre for an influx of evacuees and a synagogue for the town’s wartime Jewish population.

In 1955, both The Broadway and The Palace were refurbished to show the new widescreen Cinemascope films and a gala reopening was held to celebrate the renovation on September 12.

Smartly dressed visitors on the night again watched Fred Astaire, this time alongside Leslie Caron, on the new ‘Curvilinear’ screen in Daddy Long Legs.

The Broadway remained popular throughout the years following, hosting occasional rallies and speeches, as well as becoming a venue for live music from the likes of band leader Acker Bilk and young rock’n’roller Marti Wilde.

Rumour has it that The Beatles were scheduled to play at the cinema in 1963 but cancelled when they became chart-toppers - a year later their film A Hard Day’s Night broke all of the cinema’s box office records.

Despite declining audiences which saw The Palace close in 1977, The Broadway put on a series of classic and special films in the early 1990s, including Gone With The Wind, Casablanca and Cinema Paradiso, which frequently played to a full house.

In 1996, a �2m refurbishment, funded by the newly established Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation, created twin screens downstairs in the stalls - Screen Two and Screen Three - holding 150 seats respectively, while retaining the sweep of the former circle in an upstairs 450-seater Screen One.

Following the renovation, Letchworth GC born director Simon West chose to use the venue for the European premiere of his directorial debut and Hollywood blockbuster Con Air.

Another director born in the town, Kevin Gates, followed suit in October 2006 when the world premiere of The Zombie Diaries was held at The Broadway.

The film, almost entirely filmed in Letchworth GC, was later released in the rest UK in August 2007.

A further refurbishment, costing just under �1m, saw the former restaurant converted in 2008 into Screen Four, which now holds 50 people.

*For a gallery of photos of The Broadway Cinema during its 75 years click on the link at the top right of the page.

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