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December 2004
Electric Cinema re-opens
By Phill Huxley
The Electric Cinema
The Electric Cinema
Birmingham's oldest cinema has re-opened after an Art Deco refurbishment. The 110 seat Electric Cinema in Station opened its doors as a luxury independent cinema on Friday 17 December.
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FACTS

The Electric Cinema re-opened on Friday 17th December 2004.

It is now a one screen cinema with screenings seven days a week.

Ticket prices are:
Adults £6.00,
Concessions £4.00,
Sofa Seats £10.00.

The first films screened will be Enduring Love 17 - 23 Dec and Coffee & Cigarettes 20 - 23 Dec.

The Electric is the oldest working cinema in the UK.

The cinema opened in December 1909.

In 1936 it was rebuilt by architect Cecil Filmore as an Art Deco news theatre.

It was once allegedly a haunt of George Bernard Shaw.

The Electric closed on 12 December 2003.

It failed to sell at Auction in March 2004, before being bought by Thomas Lawes and refurbished.

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The historic Electric Cinema in Station Street is back in business after being bought by local entrepreneur Tom Lawes.

Lawes has spent over £250,000 refurbishing and renovating the cinema with help from volunteers, friends and family, restoring its 1930's Art Deco look. Screen one will seat 100 people complete with luxury sofas and waiter service, whilst screen two has been converted into state of the art sound-mixing facility.

The cinema, which dates back to 1909, is the oldest working cinema in the country. It closed in December 2003, with former owner Steven Metcalf describing it as "no longer economically viable."

Auction

After the Christmas closure, the building was then put up for auction in March 2004, failing to reach its reserve price.

The new Electric Cinema frontage.
The new Electric Cinema frontage

"I only found out about the auction the day before" explains Lawes. "It missed the reserve by £2000 and that gave me time to get a business plan together and put in a bid.

"I've got a Dubbing studio that has outgrown my house and I was looking for somewhere to move. I'm from Birmingham and I knew all about the Electric, so when the opportunity arose, I went for it."

Art Deco style

During the careful refurbishment, Lawes sought to return to the Art Deco style that the cinema possessed when it was first rebuilt in 1936.

"I went to Central Library to get the 1936 plans. Then along with photos, we tried to reproduce as much of it as possible. I also got the 1909 plans, but there's almost nothing of the original building left apart from the coal shoot, boiler and a bit of flooring in the basement.

"I used other buildings as a reference point. The front doors have been made in hardwood similar to an Art Deco bingo hall I know in London.

"We also went to look at the old Futurist cinema in John Bright Street which is now a lap dancing club - something the Electric could have become. It's a wonderful building with beveled glass in the windows at the front which we sought to emulate."

State of disrepair

The building is described by Lawes as being in a "terrible state of disrepair" and "almost derelict", when he bought it earlier this year.

Cinema
The derelict cinema building

"Basically it's been a case of repainting and replacing everything. We've put a new floor in downstairs and tried to modernise things.

"I've been helping with the building work, my clothes are covered in paint and I haven't changed them for a week! It's been hard work but worth it, the cinema looks stunning, there isn't anywhere else like it."

Luxury independent cinema

The new Electric is marketing itself as a 'Luxury independent cinema', but what does that mean?

"I'm not a fan of the term arthouse and I don't want to make the Electric too snobbish. I want to include everyone in the city, put on local premieres and make it the focus for the film making community in the West Midlands.

"We plan to show a mixture of new films and independent cinema. We will show quality intelligent films, whether they made in Hollywood or Bradford.

"The screen itself is one of the few existing features that we have kept. We've moved that forwards, incorporated a stage at the front and applied for a music license."

Making a profit?

Previous owner of the Electric Steven Metcalf claimed that Birmingham simply has too many screens and that the Electric could never be profitable. Perhaps unsurprisingly Thomas Lawes disagrees.

"That's complete rubbish. Other cities have successful independent cinemas, so why not Birmingham?

"Two of the successful independent cinemas that I've been to are the Electric in Portobello and the Everyman in London and I see no reason why we can't emulate them.

"The cinema was in such a bad state, it's no wonder that nobody wanted to come."

The old Electric ticket machine
The old Electric ticket machine

Electric history

The historic venue, once reputedly a haunt of George Bernard Shaw, opened in 1909 and has an interesting past. Originally called the Electric Theatre, the cinema had a number of name changes over the years, before reverting to its original title in October 1993.

In the 20's, the cinema changed its name to the Select, showing a programme of silent movies. In the 30's tastes altered and in 1936 the cinema was bought by local entrepreneur Joseph Cohen. It was rebuilt and reopened as the Tatler News Theatre, the second in the city.

After World War Two, with television becoming increasingly popular, attendance at news theatres dropped. In the 50's the cinema changed its focus and evolved into the Jacey Cartoon theatre. This didn't last for long and in the 60's it became the Jacey Film Theatre, mainly showing a programme of art house and continental pictures.

The old projector, formally in screen two
The old projector, formally in screen two

For much of the 70's the cinema was a shadow of its former self, largely showing pornographic films.

The early 80's saw a revival, with the cinema taken over by Lord Grade's Classic chain and split into two screens. This incarnation didn't last for long and in the mid 80's it became the Tivoli, before being taken over by Steven Metcalf in 1993 and reverting back to being called the Electric.

The Electric closed on December 12th 2003, with the final film shown being Quentin Tarantino's 'Kill Bill'. Initially the cinema was due to shut its doors for three weeks for a Christmas break, but it soon became clear that it was not to re-open, leaving staff and regular customers angry at its sudden closure.


The Electric Cinema re-opens on Friday 17 December 2004. The cinema is open seven days a week and ticket prices are: Adults £6, Concessions £4, Sofa Seats £10.

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YOUR COMMENTS

jackie jones
It seem's as though this cinema has copied the electric on portobello rd which is actually the oldest purpose built cinema and is refurbished to a better standard lacking originality i would say the electric portobello wins hands down

John Turner
I have fond memories of the Jacey Cartoon Cinema back inthe 50's The programmlasted for 2 hours continuous performance and you could go in and leave after you had seen the full programe We as kids used to stop in hours especially if it was raining Looney Tunes. Charley Chaplin, Larule and Hardy, and all the Walt Disney Cartoons where shown I used to lie down in the isle totally overcome with Laughter. I still love to watch Cartoons even though I am in my 50's and they where all in colour which made it all the more exciting My first video was 2 hours of Tom And Jerry Happy Days!!!

Becky
I have such fond memories of the old Electric in the 1990s and was utterly devastated when it closed down! Yes, it was a bit grimy, the seats were uncomfortable and the sound quality wasn't the best, but it was this total lack of stark modernity that added to its quaint, simplistic charm. It was basically like stepping back in time and I loved it! I live in London now but have still to find anything like it. I'm a little pessimistic about visiting the new-look Electric, but am really hoping it's good enough as B'ham really does lack any authentic, decent alternative venues.

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