Brighton's Picture Palace

Britain’s first ‘super cinema’

The Regent cinema in Queen’s Road opposite the clock tower, was Brighton’s grandest cinema, and regarded as Britain’s first ‘super cinema’. The site was originally acquired by Provincial Cinematograph Theatres in 1914, but work did not commence until after WWI. Robert Atkinson, the Regent’s architect, intended that the project would reflect all the most up-to-date trends in theatre design. His design which would cost almost half a million pounds, included plans for a winter garden on the roof and an underground ballroom.

Original plan revised

In practice, excavating the site was fraught with problems relating to the slope of the land. Atkinson was forced to revise his original design. The ballroom was eventually built on the roof and the Renaissance Restaurant, over the main cinema entrance hall. The interior was lavishly decorated with detailed plaster work and elegant lighting. The decor and the name were both a clear reference to Brighton’s royal connections.

Most innovative cinema

The cinema’s auditorium was entirely dominated by a huge proscenium arch which was decorated in vivid colours. The work on this feature was carried out by Lawrence Preston, Head of the Brighton School of Art. So decorative and ornate was the whole design that the Regent was generally acknowledged to be the most innovative cinema to have been built at that time. Atkinson’s design was certainly impressive; it was described as an Adamesque working of Roman classical motifs. The unusual ‘fan’ shape auditorium was in complete contrast to the design of contemporary cinemas with their rectangular auditorium and parallel walls.

Opened July 1921

On Wednesday 27th July 1921, the Regent cinema opened to the public showing the film A Yankee at the Court of King Arthur. There was also a performance by a popular baritone and orchestra, together with a recital on the orchestral organ. The glory days of Brighton’s Picture Palace were launched.

The photographs in the gallery above are reproduced courtesy of The Royal Pavilion & Museums Brighton and Hove. You can view their online collection of local photographs here

Comments about this page

  • It would be about 1922, soon after opening. The poster on the left advertises ‘The Village Blacksmith’, a 1922 film directed by John Ford, adapted from the Longfellow poem!

    By Peter Groves (20/10/2010)
  • Great when The Stones played there!

    By Peter Groves (20/10/2010)
  • Great pictures Jennifer. My Mum and Dad met at the Regent Dance Hall. I vaguely remember playing on these steps whilst waiting for a bus when I was little. I remember it being there but I don’t remember it being pulled down.

    By Carol Homewood (20/10/2010)
  • I remember going to the Regent to see the film Fiddler on the Roof. What a beautiful building, so sad it has all gone. My husband used to go to the ballroom in the 1960s.

    By Julie Annets (21/10/2010)
  • I was there that night! . . . and many others, once it had become ‘Big Apple’.

    By Jester the Clown (21/10/2010)
  • This became the entrance to ‘Big Apple’, as the ballroom later became known.

    By Jester the Clown (21/10/2010)
  • I was one of the first to join the Saturday morning club in the 1940s; it was called the GB club and cost 6 old pence.

    By Eddie Ancell (23/10/2010)
  • I must say this is the best photo I have ever seen of the Regent. Wish I had a time machine. What a great shame all that’s gone now. We just have all the lovely memories – nobody can take them away.

    By Julie Annets (04/11/2010)
  • I met my husband here in 1963.

    By Ymwedge (29/05/2013)
  • With reference to your caption beneath the photograph of the biplane suspended outside the Regent Cinema, I have to tell you that it is not a Tiger Moth as stated but an Austin Whippet, built in 1919 by the Austin Motor Company, Birmingham. Only five of these biplanes were ever built and  this one ended its days here.I would very much like to purchase a copy of this print for inclusion in an article I have written on these aeroplanes. Please advise.

    many thanks.


    By James Stringer ((Vice President - The Vintage Austin Register) (16/02/2016)
  • My mother ( now 97) remembers dancing on this beautifully sprung dance floor during WW11. She met her future husband at one of the many dances there.

    By Jenni Stagg (25/03/2018)
  • I was at the Johnny Winter gig. Great venue, fantastic performance, wonderful atmosphere and a memorable floor.
    Recalling the closing of the Regent cinema, my friend’s brother worked at the time in the antiques/second-hand trade and in his various trawls through places for finding items to sell used to visit auctions. One day he came back with the projection screen from the Regent cinema. Where it went onto from him I don’t know, but perhaps it is still reflecting moving images somewhere……

    By Jonathan Brown (09/08/2019)
  • I too was at the Johnny Winter show, I remember no seating on the dance floor and a low stage. The shows started at 11pm after the film had finished downstairs. Do I remember a Pink Floyd show there?

    By Warwick Stone (01/11/2019)

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