Goodbye Regal Cinema

By Dudley Dawson

This week they’re tearing down The Regal Cinema on King Street, making room for a travel lodge and retail site.

Since it was some time ago the council dubbed the building without merit and longer still since its doors closed for the last time, the following brief missive aims to celebrate the work of the Northern Morris company who ran the cinema from 2003 until its eventual closure in 2006 – capping off its rich and tempered history.

Making a home for itself in the stalls and twin cinema building tacked up against the Gala Bingo, The Regal was the last in a long line of cinemas to occupy the King Street space – dating back to November 7th 1936 when the Oscar Deutsch Odeon opened with the Gary Cooper number – ‘Mr Deeds Goes To Town’ (remade by the Farrelley bros in 2002). When The Regal debuted with Eminem rap-riot 8-Mile in 2003, the cinema had long since become a twin screen affair; having housed a Star, Studio, Cannon, Virgin, ABC and Odeon respectively.

When I moved to Lancaster later that year they were showing Kill Bill and Finding Nemo. Coming up from Blackpool, where in 1999 the last art deco cinema got renovated and made over as Funnygirls cabaret bar – and then having grumbled curmudgeonly through several years of multiplex screenings (no thanks to George Lucas), it was a trip to pitch down in Lancaster and be able to see a film in the kind of classy, deco-era environments that I thought (mistakenly) were all but gone.

Many trips were made – sometimes twice a week. If the film was a piece of crap (as it often was – thanks to Tim Burton); being in the building, with its plush and sometimes makeshift ambiance, was enough. It may be projection (cough), but I don’t imagine I was alone with my affections. There were many packed houses (Disney/Walden’s new Narnia; Troy; Team America etc.) and maybe some loyalist moments? – like in January 2005 when the heat gave out and two or three couples sat stoically through Phantom Of The Opera.

In August 2006 however, local heads became aware that the Vue was opening across town, and maybe there wasn’t room for three cinemas in the city? The multiplex had been waiting on an operator and when it got one The Regal played itself out quietly with the Samuel L. Jackson laugh-a-minute Snakes On A Plane.

Aside from the local activist group calling itself ’28 Days Later’ stealing in to take some much appreciated photographs (, not much else has happened. Months have gone by whilst the place has gotten boarded up and ‘soft stripped’ of all its ruddy furniture. The Gala Bingo held out a little longer. On Christmas week I saw bulldozers ripping into the right side auditorium.

That much was a drag, but aside from giving me a cool glance over a hunk of rubble, the strip gave me a chance to think on many a fond memory of the place and to muse on what’s been gained and lost for local arts, entertainment, history etc. In its passing.

Andrew (1985) suggests that any trip to the cinema is a route into its past. As a technology medium foremost, all parts of a film reflect their development in a particular time and space – with its technological advances and limitations. Under this lens, Avatar 3D becomes as much a reflection of the medium’s shifts and breaks as A Propos De Nice. Maybe similarily, film theatres can be seen to reflect the developments and aspirations of their times?

The Regal’s space between the multiplex and art-house may have let it stick out, seem out of joint or archaic. Compared to the inner-city megaplexes it’s sparsity may have come across modest. But in that modesty was maybe a direct line to one of its merits: as a warm reminder of what had come before and after. Perhaps its archaic qualities drew attention to one of cinema’s key features and attractions: of being an art-form in constant redefinition (Andrew, 1985)?

If the film lover is, as Andrew (1985) suggests, a mix of historian and cultural interpreter, it’s arguable that they could get a similar sense of perspective visiting any picture house in the country – observing the changes, watching the contours etc. In its particularity though The Regal offered an explicit space to track sixty years of shifts in socio-cultural-economic history – and likewise the chance to muse on a breadth of the subjective experiences from the local going public up and down generations.

If like me, you’re mourning its disappearance, there’s consolation to be had via other regional charmers – The Royalty at Bowness; Ulverston’s Roxy; Zeffirelli’s at Ambleside. Two of these, to the best of my knowledge, are run by The Northern Morris company. If you haven’t had a chance to visit one of their other beautiful cinemas, please do …

Getting back to projection, their love and respect for cinema and its history seems genuine, sensitive and intact.

The Regal was a major plus for me living in this city.I’ll be sad to see it go.

Refs: Andrew, D. (1985) ‘Cinema and Culture’ Humanities 6 (4), pp. 24 – 25.

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13 Responses

  1. Having moved to the area in 2004, I had the good fortunate to visit The Regal a few times before its’ demise. I remember taking my niece there to see Chicken Little and then going with friends to a rather rubbish horror film called Hostel. About as scary as your average Nightmare on Elm Street/Friday The 13th flick.

    However, whilst the films may have not always been how shall we say ‘top notch’, I have nothing but the fondest memories of the ol’ Regal itself. It did indeed represent a sense of history as Dudley pointed out and an insight into a long since bygone age. I particulary remember the old fashioned ticket stubs, the usherettes, all symbols of a bygone age. I remember the prices being fairly reasonable too, when you didn’t need to get a second motgage just to get a ticket. Plus the vibe and atmosphere was a lot nicer too, without (from what I can remember) some of the more ‘challenging teenagers’ disrupting the film for everyone else by talking the whole way through.


  2. Reza,

    I think between 2003-2006 it was about three pounds and fifty pence a film? Might be wrong.

    I missed Hostel – too close to the bone for me (having had the misfortune of having use a youth hostel once or twice) – but I saw Land of The Dead, which was great.

    I remember some fun in the audience though:

    when I saw ‘Return of The King’, there was a chubby young pup trying to impress a young lady with a laser pen – bouncing it off the screen etc.

    One of the more upright ushers kept coming in and out, swinging his torch like a nightstick. At one point he sat down next to this kid, folded his arms and rested his legs up against the seat in front of him, just waiting to see if the laser was going to make another appearance

    – he got the job done and the kid didn’t put up much of a challenge. All the same it was funny to see.

    I felt like booing and wooing – like it was a skit in itself!?

    I loved going to the Regal.


  3. I enjoyed it’s old timey charm – the little raffle-ticket-esque tickets, the steep steps… And indeed some brave ushers dealing with the kids at the back.

    I saw some good and terrible films there, but you felt like you’d gone to the pictures. Can’t say that I’ve enjoyed the Vue.

    Luckily, we still have the Dukes.

    Good article DD!

  4. A great loss. A cinema which was ran as if it were from a bygone age. The ticket booths as Richard says, and the ice-cream trays. Also a numb arse and a threatened DVT if you happened upon a three hour marathon feature – all of which were traditional in those type of cinemas.
    Vue, (apart from their wonderful football-managerial-type chairs) are a testimony to our creeping, increasingly homegenized experience of virtually everything from getting a cup of coffee to our “shaving systems”.
    It’s a shame.

  5. It used to be half price (or some such discount) Tuesday afternoons, and I took advantage many a time. Often on my own. It’s different going to a matinee show on your own when your mates are working to going to an evening show alone when you think people might look at you as some kind of sad sack.
    Anyway one Tuesday back in the depths of pre-history I popped in to see a lovely little film called The Craft. It had been on a couple of weeks, wasn’t a massive hit unfortunately, and so it turned out i was the only patron that day.
    When the film finished I turned to the projection booth and waved thanks, because I enjoyed that film and I appreciated them showing it for me. I often wondered though, if I hadn’t been there, at what point would they have stopped the film?

    Those were the days, but, as the mighty Lynyrd Skynyrd would have it ‘Tuesday’s Gone with the wind….’

  6. I absolutely hate The Vue. Typical corporate, faceless, soulless cinema. Expensive, uncomftable and one that attracts the worse elements – I remember seeing a very average film called ‘Children of Men’ and there were these horrible ‘chav’ teenagers in the back row talking all the way through, bloody mobiles going off and just making a general nuisance of themselves. They were lucky they didn’t get lynched afterwards, tbh. They certainly got some very dirty looks as they were leaving.

    SG – Sounds like you went on some bad days. I always remember even the teenagers being well behaved in there. Maybe I just got lucky on those particular days?

    Also remember seeing Michael Moore’s ‘Farenheit 9/11’ there and thinking it was conspiracy theory type rubbish. But I should have really expected that from Moore, so I have only myself to blame for being dissapointed.

    Back to the subject at hand – it still feels weird walking past where The Regal used to be and just seeing an empty space. But it quote Bobby Dylan ‘The times they are a changing…’

    Thank god for The Dukes that’s all I can say…


  7. I dont mind the Vue, does ace kids screenings sat n sun morning, very cheap. HOWEVER…had nasty stomach from the food, eugh……

  8. Has anyone got photos of demolition for my youtube film as i had my camera stolen

    Please help

  9. Granted the interests and sympathies etc. of The Vue may be different to that of the Dukes – but both manage, I think, to homogenise an experience of buying popular culture/entertainment on their own terms.

    Depends on where you like to spend your money and time I guess?

  10. I’ve been a huge film geek since the Saturday mixed-bill screenings I was taken to in the 70s and the joy in the early 80s of being able to VCR the classics on BBC2 while I was at school and watch them when I got home.

    I will have first visited the cinema on King Street in 1989 so there are reels and reels of memories associated with the place. These include coming out of Seven and feeling like I needed a drink; the queue for Titanic stretching down to the traffic lights despite the rain and the huge relief of being in a room full of people laughing their heads off at The Full Monty in a week when most of the country seemed to have allowed themselves to be hypnotised by the media into believing they were devastated at the death of Diana.

    I remember a very nice first date (Love Actually) and years beforehand a terribly sad last one at what we both knew was the end of a long relationship. At times in my life when I’ve been single it was a great place to take myself on a date (try doing that with a restaurant meal, picnic or bowling) especially when I lived up on High Street and they hadn’t blocked off the car park behind Middle Street. I could go from sofa to cinema seat in the time it takes a DVD to load. I even had a favourite seat (told you I was a geek).

    If I put on the 3D glasses they gave me at Vue yesterday and close my right eye, I can generate a few rose-tinted memories of this old cinema. I agree there was something nice about that connection with the past – about an experience that you felt wasn’t a million miles from something your grandparents might have done and therefore an important tradition or ritual. Going up that big flight of curving steps added to the sense of occasion. Can anyone confirm my belief that they also had a weekly OAP screening where they served tea and biscuits. I seem to remember a huge feeling of envy at that.

    Then again, without wanting to piss on anyone’s popcorn, if I’m being honest I also remember sticky carpets and stinking and broken toilets. For about a year the defunct towel dispenser was replaced by an actual towel draped over the radiator and looking like it hadn’t seen the inside of a washing machine since Eddie Murphy’s last good film. I also wonder how those OAPs managed to get to their tea and biscuits up those stairs. For all their homogo-corpora-blandity at least Vue have cleanliness and access policies. I also remember that during quieter scenes in dramas or romances, you would often hear explosions from the screen next door or buses passing outside and on one occasion the Gala bingo caller. Bit of a mood-breaker…

  11. Went past today on the bus to see it flattened to the ground, quite a shocking vision. Have a few fond memories of being in that space. It’s always poignant to see your youth history being stripped away, that’s nostalgia for ye…..x

  12. Full credit to LR for giving people a chance to express their memories of the place. Th trend now in Lancaster is towards the bright future of “creative industries”. I agree with the person who said we have now a homogeneisation of cultural outlets. On the one hand, Spotlilght has moved into the antiseptic, EU-funded, bleached white architecture of the Storey, with that toe-curlingly bad mural, the brown sofas that were in fashion for three months in London ten years ago, and a bar where vacant-brained people on the minimum wage serve you imported Japanese lager in the wrong glass. On the other, the Dukes presents such great films and plays, but is also such an uncomfortable, expensive, crapply designed place to spend time in. In both cases, each cases I go there only to see the film or play, not to hang around in some shite off-the-shelf modern bar and spend 3.50 on international agribusiness lager whilse sitting on seats you can’t actually sit on and having music which someone thinks will appeal to our sense of exclusive trendiness overlaying the conversations we are trying to have.

    The future of art (broadly defined) in Lancaster (or anywhere) is not in such places. It’s in places where people do things for themselves.


  13. Loved the Regal. It was wonderful to find it after moving from a town that had also lost it’s own town centre cinema a few years before, this time through council incompetence, I think it would have held it’s own had it been kept on. I don’t believe in the out of town multiplexes and think cinemas should stay in town – but the Vue is a mistake – that area would have been ideal space for a large shop or department store which is what Lancaster really needed. The Regal was a joy because you wouldn’t leave there with your ears ringing from an overheated sound system – and the interval in between with the ice-cream (as mentioned) was a joy.

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