As an early Edwardian Picture Palace, the Duke of York’s was advertised as having the clearest pictures ever seen, which were ‘extremely steady’, as the cinematograph was operated by electricity.
The programmes were to ‘suit all tastes’: dramas, comedy and the educational PATHE GAZETTE ‘setting vividly before your eyes all the principle events of the globe during the previous week’. Indeed, Pathe newsreels continued to be part of cinema programmes right until the 1960s when production finally ceased.
It was not just film which was shown during this era. The opening programme featured a ‘picture-play’, THE BYWAYS OF BYRON arranged by A.W Gilbert-Smith, which included a recited libretto. In October 1910, J.W Gilbert-Smith’s WAKE UP ENGLAND! was a rousing patriotic poem, recited and illustrated by a ‘unique collection of lantern slides’.
As film developed as a medium during the 20s, some of the more ‘variety’ aspects of the programme trailed off. Adverts in The Argus and Herald identify some familiar names, with films featuring Charles Chaplin and Mary Pickford.
Introduction of sound
In May 1930 sound was installed to accommodate the first synchronised sound films, though the soundtrack was not on the film itself, but played on enormous turntables attached to the projector. In July of that year the cinema was advertising THE BROADWAY MELODY,’ the greatest hit in the history of the Talking Screen’. The same programme advertised talking comedies and a MICKEY MOUSE cartoon.
During the Second World War the cinema became run down and suffered some vandalism. The films screened during the war were largely Hollywood productions of the era starring names such as Tyrone Power, Gene Tierney, Joan Crawford, Betty Gable and John Wayne. Programmes ran Monday to Wednesday, with a new film for Thursday through to Friday and a different film on Sundays.
In 1956, the first film to be projected in cinemascope at The Duke of York’s on a new enlarged screen was MGM’s THE STUDENT PRINCE.
Demise of cinema and British film production
As TV began to squeeze cinema throughout the sixties and seventies and British film production went into sharp decline, it became increasing difficult for independent cinemas such as the Duke of York’s to get the product to screen. Peter Drew-Bear, manager from 1963 to 1976 commented “You can’t obtain the basic commodity, which is film. The film production industry has contracted so much. The big monopolies take the best films and throw the remains to the dogs.”
During this time the Dukes experimented with reduced numbers of screenings and bingo nights to supplement income.
The late 70s saw the dawn of the Duke of York’s as an arthouse cinema, capitalising on Brighton flourishing as a University town. In 1978, new owners Tim and Aubrey Partner of Pavilion Ltd were quoted in the Argus “I think there are a lot of people in Brighton interested in slightly off-beat, interesting cinema, and at the moment they are not catered for.”
Whilst the cinema changed hands in the early eighties, the ‘off-beat’ programming remained. Week long runs of film were complimented by double bills, with special seasons exploring cinema from a cineastes point of view.
Typical programmes of this era included cult classics such as Ridley Scott’s BLADERUNNER, Wim Wender’s PARIS TEXAS, and David Lynch’s ERASERHEAD and European greats, such as Bergman’s FANNY & ALEXANDER. British films also played a major role, with Derek Jarman and Peter Greenaway featuring as programme staples, alongside more orthodox productions such as Bill Forsyth’s LOCAL HERO.
In 1994 Tony Jones and Lyn Goleby stepped in to buy the Duke of York’s for their emerging City Screen chain of cinemas, which operate under the Picturehouse title. At the time Tony Jones commented, “ We have been looking at the Duke of York’s for four or five years. It’s a beautiful building and will be our best cinema. If the Duke of York’s did not stay as an arthouse cinema, it would be criminal. Our ambition is to build it into one of the foremost arthouse cinemas in the country.”
Since then, City Screen has continued to show a mix of mainstream and alternative sub-titled foreign films. However, recent pressures due partly to the ease and of sophistication of home entertainment has meant that cinemas such as the Dukes have to keep on their toes to keep generating an audience. Recent years have seen again programme diversification. This time not bingo, but live music, comedy, and even digitally presented opera.