The Rex Cinema
Gone with the Wind...
The Rex cinema, built in 1937, it was one of the most sophisticated cinemas in the UK. Sadly it only lasted 3 years 6 months and 17 days before it was completely destroyed in World War II. The night before it was due to show "Gone with the Wind".
Mr H.T. A. Philpot makes an announcement at a social gathering in December 1935 of his intention to build a new Cinema in Coventry that will include a café and snack bar. Coventry Corporation sold the land at the recently completed Corporation Street for £17,250 on condition that a cinema and shops will be completed within 18 months.
Restaurant – clean modern lines, soft indirect lighting, a tropical bird aviary and mirrors. The restaurant will be terraced in the style of gay continental clubs.
Snack Bar – a frieze of caricatures of famous film stars sprayed onto the wall.
Auditorium – warm soft pastel shades of red with metallic finishes. Large vertical coves and square panels that will light the main ceiling. Curtain – gold fire proof satin.
Entrance Hall – will be brilliantly lit with soft red and gold. The pay boxes stocked with chocolate and tobacco kiosks. The large foyer will provide for both the stalls and balcony so there will be no external queuing in bad weather.
July – Building work began. Students from the Technical college visit the building site to admire the new modern pile driving method to ensure perfect foundations. First-time piles of this type to a depth of 18 ft were used in Coventry.
Apparently – During foundation works – a large masse of old foundations, huge quantities of soft black mud and a huge amount of water ingress. Large masses of horns of cattle bones and what appeared to be blood were encounter. It was suggested at the time by Mr J B Shelton (enthusiastic antiquarian) the site was once the site of the Bablake pool. If more excavations were made he suggested an old mill may have been encountered. During foundation works at the wine lodge, corner of corporation street, an ancient paddle was found. It was also suggested the large mass of cattle bones may have been from a period when the animal herds were slaughter on mass due to a plague.
Injury! Workmen injured on site – John Kirby (28) treated for a cut to head and shock. Henry Bunker (60) cut to the face and injury to the leg. And again, Dec 36 – Ambulance called for William Deacon suffering a cut to the head after a mallet fell on him!
Cinema designed by Robert Cromie, with Mr Montague Marvin acoustic expert ensured perfect acoustics. Seating Capacity for 2,562 (500 in the circle, 2062 in the stalls). Total cost £150,000 £6,000 on furniture, decoration and kitchen equipment. Restaurant seating capacity 200, snack bar 100. Between 9th Feb – 28th Feb 1937 663 lunches, 1,218 teas, 1,039 dinners averaging 150 meals per day.
450 / 500 Tons of steel costing £12,000. Cantilevered girder for the balcony: 98 feet long, 8ft 6 inches wide, weighing 46 tons, cost £1,150 and £110 to transport it from Glasgow. 113 Piles were sunk for the foundation. The steel frame encased in brick with white reconstituted Portland Stone with a cavity ensuring the cinema is sound and damp proof.
Long window 56 feet overlooking Corporation Street. Kitchen to be ultra modern and fitted with all gas appliances – A large Regulo controlled range with the new solid top and four ovens.
500 guests of the management – enough to fill the circle, stalls to be opened to the public on a first come first served basis.
Mayor [A.H. Barnacle] opened the cinema, congratulated the Philpot Brothers for a wonderful building which would undoubtedly help popularise corporation street. He added, the street had been subject to much criticism, but would be given a new start with the Rex, before long the street would gain popularity and importance of Corporation Streets in other cities.
The Mayor remarked – during his youth the great fair was the only principle source of amusement. Colonel W.F. Wyley, added – I recall a time when Coventry had only one small theatre – in Vicar Lane. [This memory would go back to about 1880 and his memory would be of the Empire Palace which stood near, what is now, Barracks Car Park]
Congratulatory telegrams came from W.F. Strickland M.P. (who couldn’t attend), Mr Lupino Lane, Mr & Mrs George Formby, Mr Basil Dean etc.
Mr Billy Milton (British Film Star), Miss June Duprez, the former Coventry Repertory company actress who is now enjoying screen success were introduced to the audience. M’lle Vanda Greville, the French film actress was also in attendance but was to shy to come on to the stage.
The programme included – God save the king, Coventry Mayor Speech, British Movietone News, Bottles (cartoon), Interlude – Wurlitzer Organ, Feature Film – San Francisco (about the 1906 earthquake, 30 years previous, likely many of the guest would have read the news first hand).
Wurlitzer Organ – only one in Coventry
Mr Reginald Dixon was at the helm (but some reports that he was ill that night and Arthur Aikman stood in..)– he closed his performance with an extremely ‘hot’ version of Tiger Rag – Recording of him playing at Blackpool here. Reginald Dixon was booked for 4 days. Harry Farmer was to follow.
Many guests danced on the stage to music by the Hippodrome Orchestra under the direction of Mr. W. Pethers who composed a piece especially for the night.
Projectionists – George Smith and Eddie Wileman
16th 8pm, only a week after the cinema had opened a power cut caused the cinema to close early. All 2,200 customers were given commentary tickets.
2,500 school children from across Warwickshire attend a Robert Mayer series of concerts for Children.
18th – Mirrophonic sound reproduction to be installed in the Rex after many transatlantic cables with the American company. The Rex is to be the first cinema in Europe to be fitted with the sound system. It was hoped this would have been ready for the opening night, sadly it proved to be impossible to obtain the system in time.
Thanks to the new Di-phonic horn system everything recorded on the soundtrack of the film, every variation in pitch and volume, is evenly distributed throughout the auditorium, preventing ‘dud spots’. The system adds a quiet beauty, even the rustling of a dress is fully auditable with the Mirrophonic sound.
At a trade show in London where the system was demonstrated, an audience of cinema professionals who had calmly sat through showings of San Francisco in their own theatres using conventional sound systems were fetched from their seats during the terrifying sounds conveyed during the earthquake sequence.
The Rex Cinema Coventry will be a ‘show house’ for the sound system. Hundreds of important people in the cinema industry from Great Britain, and indeed, Europe will travel to Coventry to hear our cinema sing aloud.
George Formby makes a personal appearance at the Rex during an afternoon performance, whilst he is performing at the Theatre Royal Birmingham in “Dick Whittington”.
Cinema applies to the council for a licence to sell intoxicating liquor – summary of some of the comments:
Any person dining at the Rex, who would like to take whisky or beer with his meal has to send out for it. The drink has to be carried through the streets when it rains it is unfortunate the drinks are watered down. It would be impossible to carry cocktails from the nearest licenced premises without spilling them. Mr R. Oxley of the Queens Hotel objected to the licence. He said, he had visited the Rex Cinema, but not the restaurant, however, he had heard birds whistling overhead.
Mr Ferraro oversaw the catering at the Rex. He had previously worked at Ciro’s London and 12 trips on the Queen Mary. During the licensing hearing, it was asked – “Has the manager found that the Rex, unlike the Queen Mary, will not run on water?”
After a long hearing, the Coventry Licensing Justice decided to grant a licence for the consumption of intoxicating liquor with meals for a term of 3 ¼ years. NO vertical drinking to be permitted.
Plans made to combine the snack bar with the Rex banqueting hall next door. A small snack bar (that looks more like a cocktail bar) was to be installed in the restaurant.
200 cinema electricians and projectionists from across the Midlands are invited to a special look around and lunch at the restaurant.
Royal heritage film to be shown every day during the week of the coronation. Any Boy, of any age, with the name REX will be given two free seats upon the presentation of their birth certificate.
November – Famous American Visit – Mr Spyras Skouras who owns over 800 cinemas in America was on holiday in England.
He made a special visit to Coventry to see the Rex cinema after it was recommended to him as one of the best provincial cinemas. Mr Skouras had visited several London cinemas and had been bitterly disappointed.
However, he was obviously delighted with the Rex cinema, Coventry. He commented upon the skilful design of the cinema, he said the restaurant was the best he had seen associated with a cinema outside of America.
Fire in the neighbouring shops – papers fall into the electric fire. Fire brigade quick put it out, no major damage.
The Coventry branch of the Electrical Association for Women met at the Rex Cinema.
January – Air Defence Cadet Corps Appeal: The sum of £78 has been raised by the appeal made at the Rex Cinema last week for funds to provide greatcoats, boots and other equipment for members of the No. 8 F (Frederick Bird) squadron of the Air Defence Cadet Corps, Coventry.
Through the co-operation of Mr H. T. A. Philpot and the management of the cinema the appeal was made by various speakers, each night prior to the showing of the air film “The lion has wings”.
The squadron expresses appreciation of the generous response of the public and states that the total contributed includes a donation of 10 guineas from No. 5 Group Centre of the Observer Corps.
25th August – Direct hit by a high explosive bomb lands on the circle blowing the cinema apart.
The frontage and restaurant survive. Local paper – just a single line saying it’s out of the listing. The Avery in the restaurant was damaged but some of the birds were found to be still on their perches.
The nearby West Orchard Church & West Orchard Congregational Sunday School led the Easter parade just before the war. A large colourful banner was used in in the precession. After the bombing, it was found floating tattered in the breeze on the debris of the Rex Cinema.
Reports of bombing in/around 2nd November / early October? another hit destroys the cinema, nothing is left this time.
Later stories were reported in the 1970s – Eddie Wileman projectionist went to the cinema on Monday Morning to get ready for the showing of Gone with the wind – Corporation Street was fenced off and the Rex had gone with a blast.
19th March – Two cases of theft of lead the property ministry of supply from sites in Coventry came before the Coventry magistrates yesterday. In one case, the theft of lead from the site of the Rex cinema corporation street was alleged against two Birmingham men – Arthur Percy Griffin, 69 and Thomas Leo Leathem. Detective Coleman said Leathem was employed as a labourer salvaging material from the Rex site, and the other man was a lorry driver moving the material. The two men took the lead to a metal merchant and received £1 17s. 6d. Leathem told the Bench that he had a fit of temper and took the metal. Griffin said other drivers had had orders not to take it, but he himself had not had any such order.
Each man was fined £3 and Leathem was ordered to pay £1 7s and Griffin 10s. 6d costs.
June 14th – Coventry people heard the sound of an explosion on Sunday Morning. The façade of the Rex Cinema was blown up by a charge, the south side of Corporation Street had to be closed temporarily.
September 26th – Battle of Britain Parade Sunday Programme: A great combined parade, representative of all services will take place at Coventry. The Mayor (Mrs Emily Smith) will take the salute accompanied by a group Captain A. G. Miller and Brigadier A. Smith.
The parade will march in column of threes, and the head will pass the saluting base on the site of the “Rex Cinema” in Corporation Street at 3 pm.
Council committee objects to a market opening on the site of the former Rex Cinema. The objection was based not on the increase of competition, but to the fact that a new market site, distant from others was proposed. It was felt that this helped to removed opportunities for comparison of traders offers by the shopping public.
April – Army Apprentices Mobile Exhibition: The famous queen mary trailer, complete with scale models of tanks, guns and modern army equipment made by boys of the army apprentice schools will be open to the public at the Rex Cinema Site Saturday 26th April 10 am – 6 pm. Free Admission
August – Sea Scots to exhibit canoes and other sea scouting equipment on the former Rex Cinema site Corporation Street for a one-day event.
December – Coventry Men’s Morris and sword dancing club augmented by a team from Birmingham will perfume at 2:30 pm on the bombed site (old Rex Cinema).
West Orchard Market to transfer to the Rex Cinema site to make way for the new Owen Owen store and the new hotel as part of the Broadgate Redevelopment.
October 9th – Market opens on the site of the Rex Cinema – Grand opening of the Rex Market at 10.30 Friday 9th October 1953 by the Lord Mayor of Coventry. Managed by Mr Leslie Walker Special displays of materials, dresses art ware, fancy and leather goods, chinaware, laces, ladies & Gentlemen’s wear, shoes, hardware, jewellery, books, novels, animal foods, pet shop, toys, confectionery, fresh fruit and vegetables, flowers, plants, light refreshments, ices, children’s roundabout. It’s a market well worth visiting.
Public notice – Coventry council give public notice of compulsory order to buy the land.
Coventry Council compulsory purchase the Rex Buildings Corporation Street at a cost of £82,475 as part of the Smithford Way redevelopment plan which include a 13 storey tower block.
Workmen building an entrance to the new multi-storey car park on Corporation Street unearthed tons of iron girders which were the old foundations of the cinema. These girders are to be torn out before the new roadway is finished. All that was the Rex Cinema has now gone, but some of the Rex complex, the shops (next door to the cinema) still remain, known as Fortress House.