The Ritz was built
by Union Cinemas and acquired by ABC in 1938. The biggest
in Northern Ireland with over 2200 seats, it opened
its doors for the first time in November 1936. The opening
film was “Queen Of Hearts”, starring Gracie
Fields, at that time at the peak of her popularity.
On the first night all seats were filled to see Our
Gracie, who appeared on stage as well as on screen.
The cinema had a large foyer at both stalls and balcony-level,
the latter being reached via a grand staircase over
which hung an opulent chandelier. The restaurant offered
excellent meals to both cinema-goers and the public
in general, as well as an area for dancing.
The Ritz was equipped with Ross projectors and Peerless
“Magnarcs”. Between the machines stood a
biunial slide lantern, used to project the words of
the songs played on the Compton organ as part of every
programme. Reckoned to be one of the finest on the ABC
circuit, it was played for fourteen years by the great
Joseph Seal, who also made many live broadcasts from
the Ritz on the old BBC Light programme, as did his
successor, Stanley Wyllie. In 1959 Stanley left to become
a transmission controller with the new ITV franchise-holder
for the area, Ulster Television.
I had the great good fortune to meet and work with
Stanley for several years when I went there in 1977
as a film assembler. He told me that the Ritz was considered
the top job amongst ABC organists, which may account
for the fact that the post was held mainly by only two
players in its twenty-six years.
Ritz cinema Fisherwick Place, Belfast, was
opened by Gracie Fields in 1936
In 1953 the Ritz installed synchronising equipment
and a stereophonic sound system for the showing of the
3D feature, “House Of Wax”, and a few others
in that format followed. It was also the first cinema
in the city to advertise the fact that all its films
would in future be shown on the “giant wide screen”.
This was simply a larger picture with the top and/or
bottom masked off to give an aspect ratio of 1.66:1.
By 1954 the major studios were shooting their product
with all significant action inside an imaginary frame
to allow projection at this ratio without decapitating
the actors. Cinemascope followed, of course, but the
greatest advance came in 1959 with the installation
of new projectors for the showing of “South Pacific”
The Ritz allegedly had the largest projection box
in Europe at some eighty feet wide. But the angle of
projection was too steep to allow an undistorted picture
from 70mm film, so several dozen seats at the rear of
the balcony were sacrificed to make way for a new booth
directly underneath the existing one. The projectors
were not dual-gauge, because at the first showings,
the newsreel, trailers and adverts were projected from
the old box. But eventually, Philips DP70s and new “Strong”
arcs were installed. The picture quality and that of
the six-track magnetic sound was something not previously
experienced by Belfast audiences. Many of the wide-gauge
features were shown throughout the sixties and early
seventies. These included the blown-up version of “Gone
With The Wind”, and a 70mm print of “The
Ten Commandments”, originally made in Vistavision.
Disaster struck the Ritz, or rather the ABC, as the
cinema was now known, in 1971. The organ had already
been silent to cinema audiences for about twelve years,
of course, but now prolonged heavy rain resulted in
the flooding of the organ chambers which occupied the
space beneath the stage. Joseph Seal, who had been the
circuit’s musical director since 1952, came over
from England to inspect the damage, but sadly nothing
could be done. But much worse was to follow in September
1977 when several incendiary bombs were hidden in the
seats and the cinema’s interior and roof were
totally destroyed during the night.
It was eventually rebuilt and opened some four years
later as the Cannon 4-Screen. But the atmosphere of
the huge auditorium, the wide screen and the plush seating
could not be recaptured, and the Cannon closed a few
years later with the opening of a purpose-built 10-screen
not far away. The cinema was demolished and the site
is now occupied by Jury’s Hotel.
Billy recalls the Roy
Rogers club at the Curzon Cinema
Your Curzon memories
Brief history of the
Philip Wilson - June '08
My mother took my twin brother and I to the Ritz every
year to see the pantomime. All the staff wore smart
uniforms and Frank Carson usually played the role of
Buttons in Cinderella. It was a huge magical place
to me as a child and has memories I'll never forget
David Ellis - Feb '08
I worked in the Ritz in 1959 and have fond memories
of the staff. I left to join the RAF. I wonder if any
of the staff of that time remember me. Some names that
I remember Ada, John, Mickey, Junior. IF any does remember
please get in touch.
Robert Louden - Feb '08
The Ritz also played host to many live acts including
The Beatles, 8th November 1963 and Bob Dylan, during
his infamous electric tour, in 1966.
Des Walker - Jan '07
I remember going from Donaghadee to see Frankie Laine
perform live on stage at the Ritz. The organ never
leaves your memory, because it was played so beautifully
by Mr Seal. The screen was very large, compared to "The
Regal Cinema"in Donaghadee and brings back fond
memories. The only other organ that impressed me was
also similar to the Compton. That was inToronto,Canada
(Sheas Theatre)and it also came up from below,with
all it's lights,etc.That was around 1955-56.
Paul Robinson - April '06
In 1962 as part of the publicity for the launch of the
Triumph Spitfire car one was driven into the foyer of
the Ritz and left on display beside the shop. The car
was supplied by the Clarence Engineering Co. Ltd, Ormeau
Avenue, Belfast, Standard-triumph distributor for Northern
Geoff Pike - July '05
What about the demos outside when the Exorcist was shown
Joe Mc Caffery - July '05
Enjoyed reading about the Ritz. Went with my mother
every week seen Mrs Miniver also How Green Was My Valley.
I lived at 64 Unity Street, my father at that time was
in the navy.
FSDowie - July '05
I remember as a young boy going to the Ritz and being
enthralled by the wonderful playing of Joseph Seal.
What a magnificent sight to see the mighty Compton rise
from the pit, all lights flashing, as Joe introduced
his programme with his signature tune, "Do ye ken
John Peel"? - Happy memories!