The Black & White Picture Place

A Brief History of Cinema in Chester

by David A. Ellis and Steve Howe

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The Tatler / Classic

Chester’s only news theatre, The Tatler, later to become The Classic, opened for business on Wednesday, 2nd December, 1936.

The cinema, which stood on the south side of Foregate Street, was owned by Chester (Times) Theatres Ltd, run by Mr Corry Fennel. The company ran other shows in Manchester and Leeds.

News theatres showed 60-90 minutes of cartoons, comedy, travel, sport and news. Many of the news cinemas were built near or within railway stations and were mainly patronised by people waiting for buses and trains.
(They were also a popular parking place for children while their parents went shopping, as I remember very well from my childhood in Liverpool. S H)

Right: Foregate Street as it appeared in 1971: the recently-closed Classic Cinema and the Swan Inn were soon afterwards demolished to make way for a large C&A store. This later became Woolworth's and is now a branch of Primark...

J. W. Barrow designed the Art Deco Tatler for Warrington architects William Segar Owen, the building costing around £20,000. The foyer was large, and on show was a globe with the countries outlined in neon. Also on display were four Roman Samian ware vessels discovered during the sinking of the foundations.

A winding staircase led to the balcony lounge, which was small and housed two couches. The auditorium was long but not very wide. Footlights and vertical battens at the side of the stage originally provided screen lighting. Later, after a re-fit under Classic management, lighting was beamed from the balcony. Auditorium lighting was housed in coves, and the curved ceiling had a sky blue lighting effect.

There were wide gangways at the Tatler, and the 530 seats had armchair comfort. The projection room was equipped with an all-American setup- Simplex projectors and RCA sound.

The cinema presented its own newsreel of local events on 16mm called Chester Today. The cinema had its own laboratory for this. Later, a spotlight replaced the 16mm equipment. This was mainly used to illuminate the ice cream sales person.

In late 1937 the theatre began to show feature films. The Tatler sign came down in 1957 when Classic cinemas took control. The Classic presented films that were several years old, giving cinemagoers a chance to see films they had missed, or to see again ones long forgotten.

In its last few years the movie house showed more up-to-date second runs, and films from distributors the major circuits wouldn't touch. The Tatler's slogan was "All Chester is now going to the Tatler Theatre".

The Classic closed its curtains for the last time on 18th December 1970. The last seven-day picture was M.A.S.H starring Donald Sutherland. The final late night feature was Accident in Blue Jeans.

The Classic and the Swan Hotel, known as 'Eddie Davies', "the hotel with the famous film performing parrots", which was next door (both illustrated above) were soon afterwards demolished to make way for a giant C & A store, which opened in 1972, later became Woolworth's and is now a branch of Primark. A fine photograph of the Classic as it looked in 1970 can be seen on our Swan Hotel page.

"Where C&A stands now was the Tatler Cinema. It was smail with lovely red velvet seats. The usherette used to serve tea from an urn during the interval. Outside the cinema in Foregate Street was a row of beautiful trees". Dorothy Carline, Chester Standard 1998

tatler's projection room
Above: the Tatler's projection room in 1936 and right: the cinema's facade in 1945
tatler in 1945

Now go on to learn a little about another vanished Foregate Street cinema- the Regal- or find out about more of Chester's old pubs...

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