Regent Cinema Marple: Background, history and milestones

       Marple's first regular film shows were held at the Shepley Hall, now the Conservative Club, on Church Lane. A cinematograph licence was granted to James Rolmaz in July 1911, and the hall was later run by Henry Lawrence. In August 1915 Lawrence moved from the Shepley Hall to new premises in Church Lane, which he called the Gem cinema. The Shepley Hall was later used for occasional film shows. By all accounts the Gem was a primitive, mostly wooden structure, with the seating consisting largely of wooden benches. The Gem survived until the arrival of talking pictures under a number of proprietors. These included Messrs. Morris and Ryden of Hollins Lane, Marple, with N. Cooper acting as resident manager, and Walter Stott, a well-known figure in Manchester cinema circles.

In February 1931, when an application was made to extend the opening hour from 10.30 p.m. to 10.45 p.m., the Gem was described as shabby by the police, and the clerk to the magistrates warned that unless the cinema was put into a presentable condition the licence might be in jeopardy. In October Harold Wright, the then licensee, applied for a dramatic, music and dancing licence in respect of the cinema. "The Talkies have come into vogue", he said, "and as the place is not large enough to install a talkie apparatus, we intend to run performances by dramatic societies and concert parties". The new policy began on Monday 20 October 1931. The building was later used as a meeting hall.

Early in 1932 a plan was approved for the conversion of the Union Rooms, and three adjoining houses on Stockport Road into a cinema. The Union Rooms had been built by Thomas Carver, owner of Hollins Mill in Marple, as a chapel, coffee room, library and reading room for the destitute. Later it was used by the Congregational Chapel. The original plans, drawn up by William Thornley (architect of the Plaza, Stockport) for Waiter Stott, entailed clearing the site and building an entirely new cinema to be called the Rialto. In the end the cinema, the Regent, was a conversion of the existing buildings. It was designed by architect R. N. Sampson, of Sheffield, for the Marple Cinema Co. Ltd. Fitted with British Thompson Houston sound equipment, the cinema seated about 500 people. The same company had also taken over the Arts Theatre in New Mills in 1930, and reopened it as a cinema early in 1931. In the following year, 1932, the regent cinema was opened to screen movies. It was from Sheffield the regent cinema was managed and in 1940 Edwin Arnfield was given full charge to run the cinema.

       The Regent survived into the 1960s in a poor state of repair; it was run by manager Ray Taylor, a well-known local character, and later, in its final days, by manager, projectionist, boilerman and caretaker Lawrence Corbett. It was closed on 3 August 1968, and put up for sale. In December an application was made of the Urban District Council (UDC) for the use of the building as a bingo hall, but this was refused. The U.D.C. then planned to issue a compulsory purchase order for the building. Based on the order the Lillis family (James Lillis and David Lillis) purchased the company and reopened as ‘Regent cinema’ in June 1969.

       David Lillis who had experience of cinema management with the ABC circuit, and with the help of his father who came with rich experience in managing a retail company, almost completely renovated the cinema. The circle seating was replaced with Pulman seats, new stalls seats were installed, the interior was redecorated and the entire circle and stalls were re-carpeted. The number of seats were reduced to from 500 to 252 in order to improve the leg space and comfort of the customers. In 1974, the old projector was replaced with a new equipment, installed from the Alexander Cinema, Chesterton. The Lillises also ran a twin cinema in Matlock for about 10 years. In late 1970s the cinema business was slow as films on video became popular. Since mid 80s, the cinema business became steady and in line with national trends attendance was improving.

       In 1991, David Lillis became the director of the company. The advent of new projection technology forced David to go digital in 2013. The movie Lincoln was the first movie screened in the new digital format.

       Since 1932, the cinema was temporarily closed in 1968 due to lack of enthusiasm and business acumen. Since 1969, Regent Cinema has been run continuously without any interruption until March 2020 when it was forced to close due to Covid.

       In April 2020, after running the cinema for 52 years, David Lillis decided to retire from the managerial position and handed the baton over to Edwin Gnanaprkasam. Before taking over as the managing director, Edwin was assisting David Lillis in the cinema for 5 years since 2014. During which, he developed an enthusiasm to carry on the legacy of this cinema.

        As Regent Cinema is a historical landmark to Marple, the retro ambiance of the place will be maintained though the online booking is introduced.

       The outbreak of Covid-19 forced the Regent to be closed temporarily from 17 March 2020 to 20 May 2021. We are sure that the cinema that stood the covid trial will live to see another milestone. NO TIME TIME TO DIE is a ray of hope at the end of a long dark tunnel.