A Tale of Two Cinemas

Back in the middle of the last century, if I fancied a night out at the flicks, I, like most other residents of Nottingham, would have had a number of cinemas within strolling distance to choose from. Time, tide and television wait for no man, however, and in this, the year of our Lord 2013, we find our options limited to two multiplexes, the Broadway and, last but by no means least, Nottingham’s sole survivor from the pre-war years – the Savoy Cinema on Derby Road in Lenton.

Opened in November 1935 as a single screen cinema with 1,242 seats, the Savoy was tripled in 1972 and later added a fourth screen. Although alterations over the years mean that the present frontage and interior bear little resemblance to the 1935 incarnation, the fact that the Savoy is still operating seems quite miraculous.

Meanwhile, about a mile away, the former Capitol Cinema on Churchfield Lane in Radford can be found adapting to its current, rather incongruous role as a church. The Capitol opened within a year of the Savoy in October 1936, with 1,122 seats, and survived as a cinema until June 1968, before becoming a bingo club. After the closure of the bingo club, the building became the Mount Zion Millennium City Church.

The Savoy and the Capitol share a common ancestry, both having been designed by Reginald W Cooper, a local architect who specialised in cinemas. Although Cooper’s cinema designs were all in the art deco style, each commission had its own unique character. By the time of his death in 1969, Cooper had already witnessed the closure of most of the cinemas that he had designed, but at least he was not around to see so many of these same buildings demolished in later years. Romance faded and was eventually elbowed out of the way by more profitable activities, leaving the world the poorer for the transformation.

Happily, the Capitol somehow escaped significant alteration, and the building and interior were granted Grade II listed status in 1995 (of all the other current and former cinema buildings in Nottingham, only two others are listed to my knowledge – the Elite in Upper Parliament Street (Grade II*) and the Picture House on Long Row (façade only – Grade II)). Ironically, even though it has not functioned as a cinema for over forty years, the Capitol is now a more faithful example of Reginald Cooper’s work than the Savoy.

As well as being a haven for those of us who have worshipped at the altar of Hollywood over the years, both the Savoy and the Capitol have made cameo appearances in films that have used Nottingham locations. The Savoy appeared on screen in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, while the exterior of the Capitol appears (albeit briefly) in another Sillitoe adaptation, The Ragman’s Daughter, as well as in the Shane Meadows film Once Upon a Time in the Midlands.

Cinemas, perhaps as no other type of building, are wrapped up with so many memories that it seems fitting that we should try to ensure their survival in some form or another when they are threatened with demolition. That we have failed to do so in so many cases is regrettable.