Built in 1936 the Ritz cinema was to be the best cinema in the area, it boasted an air cleaning system and wonderful art deco decor.
The grand opening was on Monday 15th March 1937 at 7.15pm. Patrons that were invited received a souvenir program holding this information:
Mon 15th March 1937 7.15pm
General Manager – W. Brailsford
Architect – C. Edmund Wilford A.R.I.B.A.
Builders – T.J. Braybon and Son LTD
Grand opening by Councillor A.G. Coats, J.P. Chairman of Sheerness Urban District Council
1 National Anthem
2 Opening ceremony
3 The band of the Corps of Royal Engineers (by kind permission of Maj. – Gen. Band and the officers of the Corps). Director of music: Lieutenant D.W. Jones, L.R.A.M.,A.R.C.M.,P.S.M.
4 British movietone news
5 Gaumont – British Picture Corporation LTD presents:
Jimmy Tracy – Wallace Ford
Lance Corporal Bert Dawson – John Mills
Sally Briggs – Anna Lee
Sgt. Major Briggs – Frank Collier
Jean – Grace Bradley
Here at last is a picture which puts the British Army on the screen. Made with the co-operation of the military authorities it is a glorious outdoor thriller produced with a vigour which carries you away. It is most military vainglory, but a sincere tribute to the men of the service who police the empire, showing them at work and at play. Wallace Ford is in his element as an American who gets shanghaied into the army and he loves it, while Anna Lee and John Mills give support which is everything that can be desired.
6 God save the Queen
“Wally” Brailsford Born in Leicester, and has been connected with the entertainment business since leaving school except while serving in the army during the Great war. Until some seven years ago was one of the best known entertainers in the midlands, and has had the honour of appearing on two occasions before H.R.H. the late Prince of Wales (the present Duke of Windsor). Left the stage to join Mr. Louis Morris’s staff six years ago, since when he has been connected with the opening and management of six of his largest theatres. Comes to Sheerness from the Regal, Bow where he has made himself extremely popular. “Wally” believes in creating a “homely atmosphere” in the theatre and also believes in making his patrons conversant with the whole working of the theatre, with this object in view, he will, in the very near future give patrons of The Ritz a chance to tour the whole building. Sound and sound reproduction will be explained and the projection equipment described during a visit to the projection room. If you don’t feel at home in The Ritz, tell “Wally”! He will welcome your suggestions and do his utmost to obviate your complaints.
Patrons are especially reminded that Sunday programmes will be continuous from…
5.30 – 10.30
Doors open at 5.15
Last complete programme commences at 8 o’clock
General Manager – Wally Brailsford
Telephone – Sheerness 272
Times – Weekdays doors open 1.45pm, continuous performance, 2 o’clock to 10.45pm
Sundays – Continuous 5.30pm to 10.30pm, doors open 5.15pm
The staff – Every member of our staff has been carefully selected and trained to give personal satisfaction to everyone who enters the theatre, and their first consideration is the comfort and convenience of our patron’s
Prices – Front stalls – 6d + 9d
Rear stalls – 1/ + 1/3
Rear circle – 1/3
Front circle – 1/6
Special matinee prices before 3 o’clock
Car park – Spacious car park adjoins the theatre, free to patrons. All exits on the left of the theatre lead directly to car park Monthly magazine –
A monthly magazine programme (which is in course of preparation) will be forwarded, post free, if you will kindly hand in your name and address at the box office
Suzy – Jean Harlow
Gorgeous Hussy – Joan Crawford, Robert Taylor
Old Hutch – Wallace Beery, Elizabeth Patterson
Head Over Heels – Jessie Matthews, Louis Borelli
This’ll Make You Whistle – Jack Buchanan, Elsie Randolph
Romeo And Juliet – Norma Shearer, Leslie Howard
Theodora Goes wild – Irene Dunne, Melvyn Douglas
Pennies From Heaven – Bing Crosby, Madge Evans
Good Morning Boys – Will Hay, Lilli Palmer
Love On The Run – Joan Crawford, Clark Gable
After the Second World War the cinema was taken over and renamed Essoldo, this was also the time the number of patrons started to decline as television had become popular and people chose to stay home for entertainment.
In 1960 the cinema proudly announced it was to be one of the first to show a German sex education film named “Helga”, one of the most important cinema releases in the country. This was possibly the first serious and responsible sex educational film in the country it included scenes of childbirth.
1973 saw the Classic chain take over the ownership of the cinema however after 4 years it was closed as it was unable to make a profit.
Mr Melvin Chilver bought the cinema in May 1977 and renamed it Images, he adapted the inside of the building with the intention of creating a leisure complex consisting of a cinema, night club, discothèque, pool hall, squash club and restaurant. The large screen was removed and a new screen placed on a new wall surrounding the balcony, this created a cinema capable of seating up to 400 people. The original screen area was converted to a nightclub named Woody’s after the street (Wood Street) in which the building is sited.
In September 1978 Images was closed as Mr Chilver had lost £5,500 in the last 19 weeks it was open. This may have been a result of the policy that, by showing the latest releases, the cinema was charged 70% of all takings and 90% if the takings were over £1,000.
The last few months of 1978 saw over 4000 people sign a petition asking for the cinema to be re-opened, this resulted in Mr Chilvers appealing a previous refusal by Sittingbourne Magistrates to install 2 gaming machines in Woody’s. The appeal was a success due to Mr Chilvers agreeing to consider the re-opening of Images with all proceeds from the gaming machines to be used to pay for improvements to the cinema. Good to his word, Mr Chilvers spent £30,000 on structural alterations and redecoration. A new screen was proposed to be added later in the year with room to seat 70 people, although this never happened.
When Images re-opened it was run by Mr Sutton and his wife, however the cinema was still struggling to make a profit and in 1984 Mr Sutton needed to find a way to encourage more people to visit. He formed a private club and ran soft porn films 1 night a week, this didn’t attract enough custom and was soon stopped. The cinema finally closed its doors on 9th November 1985 after running up losses of £25,000. Woody’s carried on and the section that held the ground floor seats of the original cinema design opened as a pool hall, later to be used as Top Banana, an over 21’s nightclub while the cinema was left in the same condition as it was on the day it closed.
Woody’s itself, with Top Banana closed around 2004 and the building was left unused for some years. In 2007 a planning proposal was approved for the building to be demolished and for apartments to be built on the site, the original plans included a medical centre but this was scrapped.
A visit around the building before demolition started would have surprised anyone, sitting alone on the top floor of the building were 2 projectors, unused since 1985 with film cases scattered around, the room next door had a sign saying “Chief Operator” and a look inside the cinema would reveal the seating in place waiting for patrons to come and enjoy the next film.
I would like to thank the demolition guys and the Site Managers for allowing me access to the site and allowing me to take photographs of the demolition, I would also like to thank Caleb and Bernie Watson for giving me access to the windmill to get a better view of the demolition.