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The History of the Abbey Cinema, Wavertree, Liverpool.
Its a mad mad mad mad world
JOY OF LIVING, 1938
Irene Dunne (Maggie Garret)
and Douglas Fairbanks Jr
The Abbey cinema Wavertree, Liverpool was designed by Alfred Ernest Shennan a respected
Liverpool Architect who later became Alderman of the city of Liverpool. His portfolio of local cinemas
included the Forum (ABC) Lime St, The Plaza Allerton,The Mayfair Aigburth and The Curzon Old
The Abbey first opened on the 4th of August 1939 with the screening of "Joy of Living". Four years
later the ownership changed hands from "The Regal cinema Company" to
become the jewel in the crown of local cinema pioneer John F Wood’s Bedford
Cinema chain, the owner/operators of Liverpool’s first purpose built cinema the
Bedford cinema, Bedford Rd Walton (1908).A progressive company always at
the forefront with the latest cinema technology soon brought film presentations
in Cinemascope, 3d, stereoscopic sound and 70mm to the screen of
Wavertree`s Abbey cinema.
The Abbeys most important cinematic event took place on the 18th of March
1964 when after a brief closure for extensive refurbishment costing nearly
£100,000, the Abbey reopened with a spectacular film format called Cinerama .The opening film aptly titled “this is Cinerama” was soon to have the
Merseyside public queuing at the cinema`s doors like everyday was opening day at Primark.
Without describing the technical side of Cinerama in any great depth, The end result provided the cinema going public with a gigantic curved screen
which was one of the biggest if not The biggest screen per square foot in the UK and a razor sharp picture definition with full field of vision, comlimented
by a seven channel surround sound system and an abundance of loud speakers, arguably a system as good as any modern day digital or Imax
presentation seen today. If that wasn’t enough to wet the appetite, the Abbey also became the first cinema in Liverpool to have its own licensed bar.
The original 35mm (three lens) Cinerama format was however short lived, primarily due to the expense and complication of producing and projecting
movies using three individual cameras and projectors. Less than twelve months after “three strip” cinerama was first introduced to the Merseyside public,
the Abbey changed to single lens 70mm Cinerama and similar 70mm formats sharing the same giant Cinerama screen. To the purist the only noticeable
difference being a slight loss of picture definition at the extreme edges of the curved screen
The first film presented on the Abbey’s giant screen in the re-marketed single lens
70mm Cinerama format was "Its a mad mad mad mad world”, screened on the 15th
of April 1965. Although the Abbey still regularly booked 35mm release films, Their
box office takings were on average 30-40% higher with films shown on the giant
screen. With this in mind during the years after 1965 the Abbey continued to press
the film distributors for more of the same giant screen blockbusters movie. As the
years passed the lack of 70mm product and the total demise of Cinerama in 1971
made this increasingly harder to achieve.Despite this handicap, throughout its
remaining lifetime the Abbey cinema still managed to provide its Giant screen hungry
patrons with a regular feast of current 70mm blockbuster movies, including new
releases such as The Towering inferno, Earthquake, The Poseidon adventure, Close
Encounters of the Third kind, 2001 A Space Odyssey A Star is Born, Oliver, Papillion and If there was ever a shortage of
current 70mm productions they could always depend upon the ever popular timeless classics, with re-runs of Gone with the
wind, Lawrence of Arabia, The Ten Commandments, Ben hur, Dr Zhivago, South pacific and many other old favorites.
By the mid 70`s Bedford cinemas Ltd had closed all of its other cinemas on Merseyside and continued under the company name "The Abbey Cinema Ltd"
(reg No383978),With its head office at 19 Castle St Liverpool L2. Despite having a reputation as one of the best loved cinemas on Merseyside the Abbey
was finding it increasingly difficult to remain open due to the increased overheads and fuel costs associated with running a building of such a large size at
a time when uk cinema attendance were still continuing to fall.
In 1978 the American company Cinerama Ltd went into receivership. All binding agreements made back in 1964 with the Abbey Cinema Ltd finally ceased
and shortly after on the 25th of November 1978 The Abbey cinema’s managing director Tony Wood gave formal
notice to all employee’s that the Abbey would close on the 25th February 1979. With strong public uproar to the
impending closure supported by City councilor Cyril Carr and other Liverpool city council members there followed
two successful short lived stays of execution. However the Supermarket chain Lennons eventually won the day
and the Abbey cinema finally closed on the first Saturday of August 1979, Receiving a standing ovation from a
near capacity audience after the final performance of the most successful film in the Abbey Cinerama`s 40 year
history "The Towering Inferno".
Now more than 25yrs since the Abbey closed its doors, Liverpool cinema audience’s have yet to experience a
film on a cinema screen any bigger. Those who still remember the Abbey are left with just a distant memory of
how spectacular later films such as Star Wars, Titanic, Gladiator, Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter would have
looked and sounded on the Abbey in comparison to other cinemas. If the Abbey had survived into the new age of digital film production it would have
been one of the biggest & best screens in the Northwest to experience a 3d film and no doubt would once again have had Merseyside cinema audiences
queuing all the way to the top of Church rd to watch Avatar and other latest 3d digital blockbusters on the Abbey’s infamous Giant screen.
JOY OF LIVING, 1938
Irene Dunne (Maggie Garret)
and Douglas Fairbanks Jr.