22 September 1910
Grand opening of the Duke of York’s, boasting all the latest facilities and comforts. Distinguished gathering hosted by owner and developer, Mrs. Violet Melnotte-Wyatt.
New projectors allow the Duke of York’s to screen longer films including one of the first ever feature length films to be released THE LIFE OF CHRIST FROM THE MANGER TO THE CROSS
Mrs. Melnotte-Wyatt sells the cinema to new owner Jack Channon, director of Sussex Picturedromes Ltd on 17 April 1918. It is the only cinema operated by the company and remarkably remains under the same ownership until 1963.
Mr W.T Bradshaw became the director of Sussex Picturedromes and he took charge of the Duke of York’s by the end of the 1920’s.
Sound is installed! The cinema was fitted out with new seats and carpets and wired up for sound with a speaker behind a new screen, which had to be moved forward from being on the rear wall. Sussex Picturedromes entered into a hire purchase agreement with Sund Equipment Ltd for a British Thompson-Houston “reproduer” at a cost of £1345. Opening on 26 May with a six day run of Fox’s musical Sunny Side up.
Extensive refurbishment and alterations took place, closing on 21 June 1937 and re-opening on Sunday 27 June. With extensive redecoration in the foyer and pay desk, plus new uniforms for staff. The first neon lights ever seen in a British cinema were installed by Pearce signs. After many years it was once again “..fit for a Duchess.”
The current fire station building was built in place of the previous smaller fire station shed.
At the beginning of the second world war on Sunday September 3rd the government closed all cinemas for the duration, though it became obvious that the public wanted entertainment to boost moral and so reopened on Sunday September 9th.
Second World War
Through-out the war if the manager Mr Jordan received an air-raid signal he would flash the house lights to warn audience members. Duke of York’s falls into a state of disrepair, is subject to vandalism and becomes rather antiquated.
A small improvement in the net house receipts was noted in the year ending 31 March 1947 but a substantial rise in overheads and salaries had occurred as a result of the first national agreement between the CEA Cinema Exhibitors Association and the NATKE National Association of Theatrical and Kine Employees introduced back in 1946.
The Duke of York’s was placed in the large but lowly C category of cinemas.
Mr W.T Bradshaw dies, Mrs Bradshaw takes on ownership and leans heavily on the advice of the current manager Peter Drew-Bear.
The Dukes started to offer an “All technicolour programme” and the biggest alterations took place to date, a new proscenium is reconstructed to allow the introduction of wide-screen CinemaScope with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 – 28ft wide by 12ft high. The new screen resulted in initial boost to attendances, launching with a three-day run of MGM’s musical The Student Prince from Monday 26 February.
Peter & Jean Drew-Bear take ownership of the Duke of York’s in 1963, following Peter’s success who had joined the cinema as chief projectionist in 1947 and had risen to become manager and then owner.
Twice-weekly bingo introduced to meet demand from local elderly population. Bingo continues until 1970.
Cinema sold by Peter Drew-Bear, who cites as reasons for sale the competition in Brighton and difficulty of getting quality films, which go to the big chains. The new owner is Victor Freeman of Victory Theatres, who owns a cinema in Bognor Regis and one in Littlehampton, which he converted to a bingo hall.
Duke of York’s is on the verge of switching to bingo four nights a week. But the cinema is sustained by the conversion of the huge ABC cinema in Gloucester Place to a bingo hall, and refusal of bingo licence application and permission for gaming machines for Duke of York’s. The subsequent death of Victor Freeman leads to the Duke of York’s being put up for sale.
Father and son team, Tim and Aubrey Partner, who run a cinema and bingo hall in Margate, acquire the lease. They decide against bingo in favour of catering for more artistic tastes, taking up the slack from the Brighton Film Theatre. However, the Duke of York’s remains in the ‘second-run’ category, showing films after the Rank and ABC outlets and staggers on to maintain an audience.
Pat Foster of art house club, the Little Bit Ritzy at Brixton, takes over the lease, with an art house programming policy. There are 460 cinema seats, half the original seating capacity. The landlord is the council, said to have acquired the property for possible future expansion of the adjacent fire station.
Duke of York’s sold as a going concern to Bill Heine, owner of art house cinemas, the Penultimate Picture House and Not the Moulin Rouge Cinema in Oxford. Little money is spent on the cinema during this period of ownership and it becomes endearingly shabby.
Fabled 20ft can-can dancer’s legs are installed on the outside balcony of the Duke of York’s, transferred from Not the Moulin Rouge Cinema in Oxford as it closes.
The Penultimate Picture Company collapses with debts of £150,000. Receivers continue to run the cinema as a going concern and it is bought by City Screen, an expanding art house chain.
Cinema is extensively refurbished and in the can-can legs are hoisted on to the roof, clearing the balcony to become an outdoor seating area for the bar.
2010 – Centenary Year
Cinema has 110,000 admissions, double the national average for single screen cinemas. Continues to show a mix of mainstream and alternative sub-titled foreign films and has also diversified into music gigs, comedy and screening live opera, ballet and theatre. Plans exist to buy the fire station next door, should it become available, to expand to create the country’s largest arthouse cinema.
Then what happened…
The original Duke of York’s seating, screen curtains and bar area are re-furbished and at the same time in partnership with Komedia the new Dukes at Komedia Cinema opens on Kensington Gardens, Brighton’s only central city Art House cinema.