Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: May 13, 2020
Webpage updated: May 13, 2020




In February 1910 Plymouth Borough Council approved plans by Mr Joseph Lyons and Mr Edward A W Gifford for an electric theatre in Union Street.

On May 27th 1910 a Mr Edward Oxenford Preston registered the Bournemouth, Exeter and Plymouth Bioscope Theatres Ltd.  The prospectus issued on June 7th 1910 indicated that they intended to erect an electric theatre in Plymouth.  The Company's local director was a Mr Robert Wylde Church of Sun Buildings, Plymouth, who just happened to be an auctioneer and property agent.

At 3pm on Friday July 29th 1910 the 400-seat Empire Electric Theatre was opened at 40 Union Street, Plymouth.  Its licence was issued on September 21st 1910, after the premises had been inspected.  The manager of the cinema was Mr R W Pritchard.  Admission cost 6d or 3d and the adverts proclaimed 'Only latest pictures shown' and 'Come when you like...Leave when you like'.  It was one of the few cinemas in the area where the screen was located over the entrance.

The interior was decorated in a warm shade of crimson with green hangings and it was lit with red and white electric lamps. There were upholstered, tip-up seats. The atmosphere was kept cool by what was termed 'an electric contrivance'.  Externally the theatre was white and gold and 'the smartly uniformed porter is by no means an insignificant feature'.

However, the most noteworthy feature was the use of an anamatiphone, which synchronised the film with a gramophone, 'thus rendering it possible to reproduce both the music and the spectacular effects and acting of an entire opera'. For the remainder of the first week eight scenes from "Faust" were both seen and heard.

Sadly, things went very wrong and a notice appeared on the following day apologising for the 'temporary failure of the machines' and the sudden termination of the afternoon performance but adding that the evening show was 'greatly appreciated by a large audience'.

The Company soon ran into financial trouble due to 'the exorbitant rents of the premises at Plymouth and Exeter'.  The Syndicate was wound up on February 15th 1911 and the liquidators took over the Empire and claimed its contents.

It would appear that the Empire Electric Theatre then changed hands and a new licence was issued on July 26th 1911 to its new manager, a Mr W J Bartlett.  In 1914 the licence was transferred to Mr Harry Douglas Parry who retained it until July 1923 when it was changed to Major A O Ellis.  He continued to hold the licence until the Empire Electric Theatre was destroyed in March 1941.