‘We know the town cherishes this place’ – Champagne reception as Letchworth’s Broadway Cinema celebrates 80th birthday
- Credit: Archant
It was a Champagne reception at Letchworth’s historic Broadway Cinema on Friday night as it celebrated 80 years.
The birthday show, 80 years to the day after the opening night on August 26, 1936, was marked with a showing of Charlie Chaplin’s 1936 classic Modern Times, with half the proceeds going to charity.
And with the Art Deco cinema soon to serve as a theatre as well following an extensive refit by the Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation, it is set to be a town centre fixture for years to come.
About 200 turned out for the birthday bash on Friday, and in a pre-film speech the foundation’s acting chief executive Colin Chatfield drew parallels with the black-tie gala opening in 1936.
The film that night was Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire in Follow the Fleet, for which something like 1,400 squeezed in.
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“I’ve never been to a building’s birthday before,” Mr Chatfield said.
“This is often judged to be the best independent cinema in the UK, which I think is a real achievement.
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“We know the town cherishes this place and the others we have. I think the people at that screening 80 years ago would be really pleased – first of all that the building’s still here, and secondly that it still brings such enjoyment to the community.”
Designed by architects Bennett and Bidwell, the Broadway was built to help meet demand, with the Palace packed out week on week.
The cinema acted as a venue for rallies, speeches and live music as well as films, and was a reception centre for evacuees during the Second World War. It was also used as a synagogue by the wartime Jewish population.
It was refurbished in 1955 to show the new widescreen Cinemascope films, and at the reopening on September 12 visitors again saw Fred Astaire – this time with Leslie Caron in Daddy Long Legs.
It is said that the Beatles were scheduled to play at the cinema in 1963, but cancelled after becoming chart-toppers. A year later their film A Hard Day’s Night broke all the cinema’s box office records.
The Palace closed in 1977 after declining profits, but the Broadway is still going strong – and has even starred in films itself. In 2013, for example, it featured in The World’s End as The Mermaid pub.
Heritage Foundation curator and historian Josh Tidy said: “This beautiful Art Deco cinema is part of the town’s rich history of all things film. Our unique town is full to the brim with cinematic connections and, eight decades on, its love affair with this picture house continues.”
To find out more about the cinema see broadway-cinema.com.