This was the first building in Great Yarmouth designed purely for the showing of films. It could seat some 800 persons in comfort. By 1929, shows were continuous from 2pm in the summer months. Akin to the Gem, the Empire was acquired by the Jays in 1938 and run as the Empire Picture Playhouse.
One gentleman recalls the distinct smell of perfume that consumed the cinema in an attempt to disguise the smell of tobacco and stink of the general public, who often only bathed once a week. As the joke went, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, bugs and fleas, take your seats at the cinema please!”
In November 1954, a fire broke out under the stage in the auditorium. However, due to the prompt arrival of the fire brigade and only minor smoke damage, shows still opened that same afternoon!
Empire experienced the same lull that many cinemas did in the Post War years. For many years, Bingo sustained the business, until 1985 when it returned to being a cinema full time. In August 1996 the building re-opened as a “Theme Street”, consisting of 8 bars and a Hollywood café inspired by the cinema.
“My late father, Edward Thomas Bowles, used to advertise at the Empire cinema in Gt.Yarmouth (see images above) He also showed the first talkie in Great Yarmouth and I started going to the children’s morning shows around the age of 4 at the Royal Aquarium. When we moved to Gorleston (prefab) my mother used to take me every week with her to the cinema, mostly the Coliseum and I also continued with the morning shows at the Palace. Now at the age of 71 I still go to the cinema – my late husband also loved the cinema as much as myself.” – Mrs Valerie Jordan