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Town celebrates 80 years of popular cinema which has wlecomed stars of stage and screen

Les King at the Regal Cineam in Wymondham. Picture: ARCHANT LIBRARY

Les King at the Regal Cineam in Wymondham. Picture: ARCHANT LIBRARY

Archant

A double celebration will mark the 80th anniversary of a popular cinema which has brought the stars of stage and screen to a Norfolk town.

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Old Regal Cinema at Wymondham  after its acquisition by the Wymondham Ex-Servicemen's Club in January 1977. Picture: ARCHANT LIBRARYOld Regal Cinema at Wymondham after its acquisition by the Wymondham Ex-Servicemen's Club in January 1977. Picture: ARCHANT LIBRARY

This weekend also marks 40 years since Wymondham and District Ex-Servicemen’s Club, now the Ex-Service’s Social Club, purchased what is now the Regal Experience Cinema for its new home.

The Regal opened in March 1937 with a showing of Swing Time, starring the iconic Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire.

Harold Crane, the first manager, introduced a Chums’ Club for children, who not only enjoyed movies but were also educated in road safety and kindness.

Bert Caley, who took over as manager in 1941, maintained strict discipline at the Saturday afternoon children’s matinees - but the Regal closed in 1962.

A flyer for the Regal's grand opening night on March 18 1937. Photo supplied by Philip YaxleyA flyer for the Regal's grand opening night on March 18 1937. Photo supplied by Philip Yaxley

It was acquired by entrepreneur Roy Dashwood and reopened in 1965, with Bob Harvey as manager and the legendary Les King - a former boxer and bouncer - as doorman to keep order.

Mr King himself became manager in 1967.

To attract patrons, he introduced king-sized gimmicks like a dogs’ night for well-behaved pets and a courting couples’ night, where ladies were admitted free.

Mr King once led a horse round the aisles when a Western was to be screened.

The Wymondham Ex-Servicemen's Club's bar secretary Norman Garwood (left), Maurice Bartram (barman), George Wallace (secretary) and Les King (cinema manager) at the time the club purchased the building in January 1977. Picture: ARCHANT LIBRARYThe Wymondham Ex-Servicemen's Club's bar secretary Norman Garwood (left), Maurice Bartram (barman), George Wallace (secretary) and Les King (cinema manager) at the time the club purchased the building in January 1977. Picture: ARCHANT LIBRARY

But perhaps his greatest triumph was when he showed David Puttnam’s Memphis Belle and managed to persuade the pilot of the Sally B, the Second World War aircraft used in the movie, to fly over the cinema.

And his discos in the adjacent clubroom became famous with groups like Slade and Procol Harum playing gigs.

The Regal closed commercially in 1993 but, since 2000, the Regal Experience has been screening classic movies in popular Sunday afternoon shows.

They have persuaded a galaxy of stars to put in personal appearances, with guests including June Whitfield, Sylvia Syms, Dora Bryan, Susan Hampshire, Rita Tushingham, John Leyton, Jean Kent, Shirley Anne Field, Frank Williams and Virginia McKenna.

Michael Armstrong with movie legend Virginia McKenna, who visited for the screening of Born Free in September 2007. Photo supplied by Philip YaxleyMichael Armstrong with movie legend Virginia McKenna, who visited for the screening of Born Free in September 2007. Photo supplied by Philip Yaxley

Madeline Smith, who has starred in many films, including a Bond and A Carry On, will be appearing at a screening this May.

What are your memories of the Regal Cinema? Email andrew.papworth@archant.co.uk

Wymondham and District Ex-Serviceman’s Club

Michael Armstrong with usherettes when Mary Poppins was screened in November 1965. Photo supplied by Philip YaxleyMichael Armstrong with usherettes when Mary Poppins was screened in November 1965. Photo supplied by Philip Yaxley

Founded in 1920, the Ex-Servicemen’s Club was previously been housed in a building on the corner of Queen’s Street and Market Street, in Wymondham.

It was then stationed in premises in Damgate.

But the club bought the Regal cinema complex in January 1977 for the sum of £35,000 from Dashwood and leased the cinema to Mr King.

At the time of the purchase, the progressive club had 440 members. It now boasts about 900.

Regal Experience members on the cinema's stage with June Whitfield in April 2008. Photo supplied by Philip YaxleyRegal Experience members on the cinema's stage with June Whitfield in April 2008. Photo supplied by Philip Yaxley

A joint statement by Nick Howes, Ex-Services’ Club chairman, and Jenni Horne, secretary, reads: “We have an excellent relationship with the Regal Experience Group and will continue to support them in the showing of some great classic films.

“The name of the club may have changed over the years, but we will primarily and proudly remain an Ex-Services’ Club working side by side with the Regal Experience.”

Weekend of events

The Regal on its opening day. March 18 1937. Photo supplied by Philip YaxleyThe Regal on its opening day. March 18 1937. Photo supplied by Philip Yaxley

On Saturday (8.30pm to late) Space Hoppers will be playing hits from the 1970s.

In keeping with the 1970s theme, on Sunday (2.30pm) the Regal Experience will be screening Grease from 1978.

Supporting will be a fascinating documentary of Regal memories produced by Jonathan Blagrove, who works on Paul O’Grady’s television shows.

To complete the celebrations, popular local entertainer Olly Day will give his thoughts on the occasion.

Memories are sure to come flooding back for many people - particularly for Michael Armstrong.

He has been associated with the Regal for almost 60 years, mostly as a projectionist but now as chairman of the Regal Experience Group.

Tickets on the door for the Space Hoppers gig are £4, or £2 for members.

Tickets for the Grease show are available from Michael Armstrong on 01953 603246 or Maureen Dodman on 01953 605593.

They are also available at at Simply Cards, Market Street, Wymondham for £5, or £4 concessions.

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