The Regal in Watton was built in 1937 and was an impressive construction built in the heyday of cinema construction and popularity. It operated as a cinema until 1973. Dennis Bishop remembers fondly the thrill of being able to go to a cinema even in a small market Town like Watton.
Then there was the CINEMA – The Regal. The decoration was for us spectacular – plush seats, thick carpet, wonderful lighting – amazing for the 1950’s and 60’s. was the Regal Cinema. The building stood on Norwich Road, halfway between the police station and the railway station with a long low old wartime building to the right which was used at one time as a clothing factory. Large trees surrounded the site and on the road frontage were white posts just wide enough for a car to access the car park. Also on the right hand boundary was the cycle shed for our bikes.
The outside of the building was impressive from the front. A canopy hovered over a series of six wide steps with the glass entrance doors at the top. We queued on the step early to get the best seats. Over the canopy was the word REGAL in large letters that were illuminated at night. To the right of the canopy were the two display boards, which announced the films for the current and next week. There was always an ‘A’ and a ‘B’ film each night with trailers for future films and a Newsreel – Pathe News. Down each side of the building were two exits. The foyer had the ticket office and ladies toilet on the left with the main swing door into the auditorium in the centre and the manager’s office and the Gents toilet on the right. Also on the right was the access to the projection room over the foyer. The usherettes were local ladies who knew everyone and I am sure reported back to parents if necessary! The manager was strict and often took boys out for making noise. Soft pop up seats, queuing with friends outside before it opened, being shown to your seat by an usherette, ice creams at the interval, coming out into the light after being in the dark for so long, the Pathe News reels, trailers, the B movie first – and then the full feature. Of course the girls were in one row and the boys in the row behind.
The cinema was open every night except Monday and it was also open on Saturday mornings for children. It really was quite glamorous for its time, particularly for such a small market town. Cowboys and Indian films were our favourites. The top names were Roy Rogers, Tom Mix, Hopalong Cassidy, and later John Wayne and Alan Ladd. My favourite film for many years was Calamity Jane – I just loved Doris Day .
Initially I was allowed to go to the cinema on Saturday mornings with my friends at about age 7years. It was an adventure. Cycle to the cinema, meet friends on the way, park your cycle in the cycle shed and then go into this dimly lit huge cinema and wait for the film. No trailers and no newsreel – just the main film. Cartoons like Mickey Mouse and Popeye and films with Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy and others.
Later we went in the evenings, usually on Friday and saw more serious films. Films like The Red River, The Lavender Hill Mob and of course Calamity Jane.
As teenagers things were more serious and taking girls to the pictures was a very advanced step. First we would go as two groups, boys and girls. Then we would often pair up and some were left out at times – a difficult experience. We must have been to the cinema every week for years and were able to see hundreds of films in the 1950,s.
The cinema closed as TV became more popular and the building became the home of a travel business and then a removal business. It was finally demolished and houses built on the site.
I also remember that the local school used the cinema as a venue for its prize-giving day. It was the only venue in town that could seat the full school.
When the cinema finally closed, it was empty for many years and then used as a camping holiday business and a removal and storage business. It was final demolished and is now housing,