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Pitsea Broadway: Broadway/Century Cinema History

What I know about Pitsea’s Cinema “The Broadway”


Jack Fisher

The Cinema was built and opened in 1929. Built by the Howard group and named “The Broadway”. The Howard's also built the Tudor style shops and flats adjacent to the cinema. The cinema was partly built as a 650 seater theatre as well.

Its first manager, I believe, was a Mr Halley, his son helped out in the projection room. The manager and his family lived in the self-contained flat above the foyer.

In the auditorium the seating was arranged with 3 aisles. One down each side, with 6 exits, and one down the middle. The back three rows were curtained off to give privacy being the dearest seats. Naturally this is where the courting couples would head for. This area even had the arms of pairs of seats taken off for the couples. At the very back there was standing space for another 50 people. All 6 exits had heavy curtains to stop any drafts.

The stage was arranged so shows could be put on in front of the screen with access to the stage from both sides with a changing room on each side. As a boy I remember seeing the local tap dance group performing there. The screen was flat on the rear wall of the stage and had two sets of curtains (Tabs). There was a half-moon shape orchestra pit in front of the stage with access to the rooms under the stage. For some reason the orchestra pit door and the rear access door to the under stage rooms were in line with each other. If one was left open and someone opened the other light would flood into the auditorium. If there were audience in you soon were told to shut that ffff door.

The heating was a solid fuel manual fed coke boiler with access from outside. This heated radiator down each side of the auditorium. These were in recesses on the side walls. Behind them were vents to let air in through the radiators to heat the auditorium. Extraction of the air was through the main chandeliers. These chandeliers were three wooden framed glass panelled round discs close to the ceiling. They were the main source of lighting for the auditorium. Because the air was extracted through the chandeliers they had to be kept clean to allow them to light the auditorium.

Most audience smoked and this was drawn up through the chandeliers making them brown with nicotine. To clean them they were lowered to the floor on a cable - in early days to the aisle running down the middle in later days on to the backs of the seating. Also on the side walls in decorated panels and either side of the stage were strip lights. All lighting was operated from the projection room on manual dimmers.

In the projection room were installed two projectors. These were Ross F.C. A good British make. Easy to maintain and very reliable. Lighting for the projectors were Ross arc lights powered by the cinemas own generators.

The Granada Group bought the cinema in 1955 and renamed it “Century”. Any cinema in the Granada Group that was under 1000 seats was called a Century, any over 1000 was a Granada. The “Broadway” was revamped. The seating was changed and realigned so there was two aisle's instead of three. The orchestra pit was removed and floored over. Two of the side exits were bricked up. This gave them room to install a 100 extra seats making it a 750 seat cinema. The strip light on the side walls and proceeding arch of the stage were removed. The foyer was reduced in size and a confectionary shop was introduced. The flat above the foyer was closed and part of it made into a restaurant supplied from the kitchens on the ground floor with a manual operated dumb waiter.

There was little change in the projection room. The arc light were changed to an American make called Peerless but were still powered from the generators. The generators also powered the emergence lighting. It was not 'till 1965 that the power for the arc lights for the projectors and secondary lighting system was changed to mains power. The arc light were powered with mercury rectifiers and the emergency light was a battery system. Also installed was a new system called Projectormatic. This enabled the projectors to change over from one to the other automatically. The first automatic system in the south east. Other projectionists from all over Essex would visit to see it working.

On the stage they installed a new curved screen on a metal frame and brought it forward on the stage and taking up most of the room on the stage. A much more modem silvered perforated screen all ready for the Cinemascope presentations. It was said at one time that it was the best presented picture in the south east.

I was told that Granada wanted to take out all the decorative plaster work in the auditorium to modernise its look. This was refused by the local council because the building was an enlisted building. True or not I don’t know.

In the late '60s the manager a Mr Haines decided to try and increase the audience on Sundays. He wanted to put a pop group on for half an hour every other Sunday. This meant trying to increase the size of the stage. In the power house where the generators were housed were two chain jacks on H girders. Above the screen on the stage were two H girder’s. Transferring the jacks from the power house to the stage we were able to jack up the screen and role it to the back wall making more than adequate room to put a group on.

Title: What I know about Pitsea’s Cinema “The Broadway”

Author: Charles Jack Fisher

Copyright: © Charles Jack Fisher, June 2020.

Page added: 15/06/2020
Other points of interest:

(1) Jack Fisher worked as the last chief projectionist at the cinema. He later worked at the ABC cinema in Basildon Town Centre.

2) Although the former cinema and the remaining tudor style buildings built by Harold Howard are amongst the few remaining pre new town buildings in Pitsea, none have as yet been recognised for listed status.
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