A short history
The Century cinema in Pitsea Broadway first opened
its doors on Friday 28th March, 1930. The chairman of Pitsea Parish Council, Mr. William Pedlar
performed the opening duties.
Its original name was Broadway and was one of a number of
buildings funded by local businessman Harold George Howard. It had seating for 700 and would also
provide a whole host of entertainment including variety shows and professional wrestling, as well
as a children's Saturday morning matinee programme. The theatre also featured a below floor level
orchestra pit and upstairs living accommodation.
When first built it had no mains electricity along with the
flats and shops on both sides of the Broadway. Diesel powered generators, housed in a purpose built building that stood
behind the flats along side the cinema, provided the electricity for the cinema and also to the
shops, Tudor Chambers, the Railway Hotel, Anne Boleyn Mansions, adjacent street lights and the war memorial that until
1969 stood at the junction with Station Lane. The cinema was still receiving its power from
these generators in 1956 with the responsibility of their running assigned to the staff.
The following is an extract taken from the opening programme:
One's first impression of the "Broadway" Cinema is of a classic structure in distinct
contrast to the Tudor surroundings. The Theatre is situated in a central position in the main London Road, and adjoins a very fine corner
block of Shops and Flats of Tudor style of Architecture, the whole of the work being carried out by the Architects, A. J. Varndell and
L. A. Green. The elevation of the Theatre is designed to give full play to the flood lighting effects.
The site has an area of about 15,000 sq. feet with a frontage to the London Road of 55ft., and is readily
accessible to the whole of the surrounding districts.
The Theatre is planned on the most
up to date lines, with spacious Vestibule, foyer cafe and tea room. The stage is 34ft. wide and 14ft. deep and is fully equiped with
ample dressing room accommodation, and every device has been adopted to make the stage working modern and efficient. ALL parts of the house
are connected by telephone, and the operators' room with rewinding room, and workshop is placed at the rear of the Auditorium, and is fire
resisting in every respect, the walls being in steel and brickwork, with hardwood doors, and floor and ceiling in reinforced concrete. Each projection
aperture is fitted with a regulation steel shutter, controlled automatically by either the operator or the attendant in the Auditorium, should
Further regarding fire risks it is interesting to note that the provisions for escape are more than
adequate to deal with an Auditorium of much greater size, there being 7 exits, each 5ft. wide, five of them giving access to exit passages
10ft. on to a 20ft. road, and two through the Vestibule on to the London Road. There are two fire hydrants, one at each end of the
Auditorium, and extinguishers in accordance with the Essex County Council regulations. The stage has three exits and the operators room
Later ownership and name change to Century
During the 1940s it became
part of the local Radion (Rayleigh) Ltd., group of cinemas and was
managed by Mr. James L. Webster, a director of the company. In 1954 the cinema was acquired by
millionaire businessman Sidney Bernstein's Granada Theatres Ltd. and became part of the Granada
Cinema Circuit chain who then closed the theatre in January 1955 to carry out renovation work
estimated at £30,000. These improvements included a new Cinemascope screen and sound as well as
a name change to Century when it re-opened on Tuesday 15th February, 1955.
At the time of the re-opening the
cinemas' manager was Mr. George Mallett and as well as the main
auditorium there was a restaurant, snack bar and sweet shop.
In 1962 professional wrestling bouts became an
additional feature and in the late 1960s bingo nights were introduced to boost takings and these would prove more popular
than the cinema programme which came to an end on Saturday 31st October, 1970.
The final days film programme
was the 1963 Greek mythology fantasy 'Jason and the Argonauts', starring Todd Armstrong,
followed by the husband and wife team of Bill Travers and Virginia Mckenna in the 1966 adventure
'Born Free'. The Century was then converted for permanent use as a bingo hall and renamed
Granada Social Club.
The club was renamed Gala in 1991 when Granada Social Clubs
(Granada Theatres Ltd.) merged with Coral Social Clubs who were owned by brewery company
Bass. In 1997 Bass sold their bingo chain in a management buy-in and the club continued as Gala
until owner Gala Coral Group Ltd announced their intention to close down the venue following a
reorganisation of the company that also saw other bingo clubs closed throughout the United
Kingdom. The final bingo session was held on Monday 27th July, 2009.
Notable past events
include the crowning of the carnival queen, held at the venue in July 1952, and a 1955 celebrity
attended evening with film stars Jill Adams and Derek Bond to promote the namechange to Century.
the buildings appearance remains little altered from when it was first built.
Other Century managers include
Mr. Fred Dawson and his successor, Mr. G.S. Bird who worked there
in the 1950s and in the 1960s Mr. Deryck Haynes. Mr. George Wilson was co-manager from around
1967 to closure and remained employed at the venue until 27th February 1971 when he retired.
Notes of interest:
(1) Special thanks to Jack Fisher, the last chief projectionist at the Century cinema, Pitsea for supplying additional information.
(2) Albert James Varndell, estate agent and chartered surveyor. He was known to live local to the area and had
estate agents offices in partnership with L.A. Green (A.J. Varndell & Co.) at 1 Broadway, Pitsea and Station Approach, Laindon.
(3) Granada's use of the name century was not exclusive to Pitsea. The leisure chain once operated 4 other examples at Leyton, Leytonstone,
Loughton and Stratford.