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Top of the bill

Justine Sambrook
Credit: John Maltby | RIBA LibraRY PHOTOGRAPHS Collection

During the 1930s John Maltby embarked on a commission to photograph every new Odeon cinema, a profitable assignment as the chain was growing rapidly and by the end of the decade he had shot 1,100 views of 250 different picture houses. One of the first opened in Weymouth in 1933 (pictured). A former Georgian stables, it had been a garage before its owner decided a cinema would prove more lucrative. It remained in use until 1999 but was demolished in 2005 to make way for flats.

In 1949 the cinema business was booming, with 4,830 picture houses nationwide, but the invention of television swiftly reversed its fortunes. By 1965 the number of cinemas in the UK had halved and those remaining were subdivided into smaller screens more suited to the depleted audiences – at the expense of numerous art deco auditoriums. 

The bingo craze of the 1960s saw some converted more-or-less intact to accommodate this new form of entertainment but many town centre cinemas fell victim to the US exported multiplex. 

Today, countless film-goers travel to a many-screened behemoth in an outskirts retail park, while those  buildings that avoided demolition have found a new life as nightclub, pub or luxury apartments.

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