FORTY years ago this month, the house lights went up after the last film show at one of Bournemouth’s best-loved cinemas.

There would be no more films, but the Grand would stay as a bingo hall and Westbourne landmark.

The Grand opened on December 18, 1922, with a theatrical production of Anthony and Cleopatra on its tiny stage. The following day, it showed its first film, A Prince of Lovers, and a Harold Lloyd short comedy.

The purpose-built venue could seat 1,000 people in its stalls and balcony, and its auditorium had a sliding roof which was opened in hot weather.

The facade and the front of the orchestra pit barrier were covered in tiles from Poole’s Carter factory, while the roof overlooking Poole Road had a globe which was illuminated at night.

Movies were still silent then, and the Grand claimed to have Bournemouth’s finest picture orchestra, under the direction of Captain WA Featherstone, who was also musical director of Bournemouth Wireless Orchestra.

Many of its audience travelled from Parkstone and Branksome, where the neighbourhood cinemas were small by comparison.

The Grand was initially an independent cinema, but was taken over by Savoy Cinemas and became part of the original ABC circuit. It was briefly leased to Regent Cinemas from 1933-35 before becoming an ABC again under the name Grand Super cinema.

Hugh Ashley, author of Bournemouth Entertains – a history of the town’s cinemas and theatres – remembers the venue vividly.

In a forthcoming book, Westbourne Exclusively, he writes: “On Saturday mornings, when I was about ten years old, as a member of the ABC Minors, a nationwide children's cinema club which had its demise in the 1970s ... I spent many happy hours in this cinema, watching with hundreds of other children, serials such as The Perils of Beryl (or was it some other over-excited hyperactive adventurer?), followed by corny westerns, cartoons and travelogues.

“Before the films, a man would stand on the stage and play the accordion as we sang songs to a dancing ball across the words on the screen; one such song we really loved was She'll Be Coming Round the Mountain When She Comes … Then he would reflect a spotlight from the projection room by using a small mirror stopping the glare on one child's face – that person would get free admission next week. I never won.”

In 1953, the cinema was taken over by Manchester-based Snape Entertainments, who appointed long-time manager Jack Southern.

Jon Kremer opened a record shop in 1967 in one of the shop units at the front of the building, which had originally been part of the cinema itself. The business, which became Bus Stop Records, occupied two different units during its lifetime.

“It was what was known as a second-run cinema,” he says of the Grand.

It often showed big releases that had finished their runs at the Gaumont and ABC. The Sound of Music enjoyed a long run there in 1967, Jon recalls.

“They also showed films that wouldn’t have been shown at a major cinema, like Martin Scorsese’s Who’s That Knocking at My Door? I remember seeing that at the Grand and we had never heard of anything like that in Bournemouth,” he said.

“Jack was immensely interested in films so he was always very pleased with getting interesting films. They weren’t always his cup of tea because he was a very straightforward guy but he enjoyed that aspect of it.”

Also in 1967, the venue held a private preview of Dick Lester’s satire How I Won the War, starring John Lennon. Among the audience were Sue Nicholl (later Audrey Roberts in Coronation Street) and Bob Monkhouse.

“The film was so-so but I remember Monkhouse was absolutely great. You wouldn’t begin to think he was this comedian and scriptwriter. I didn’t really realise his passion was films,” Jon said.

Times were getting harder for cinemas and in 1973, the Grand ceased to be a full-time cinema.

They Love Sex was the X-rated highlight of its last programme before films had to share the venue with bingo.

Films disappeared altogether from the Grand after October 8, 1977, when it bowed out with another adult movie, In Love With Sex.

But the building remains largely in tact as a bingo hall – and the Grand is even immortalised in a movie itself.

In 1976, when Ken Russell was making parts of his movie Valentino locally, the Grand was chosen to stand in for a New York cinema where Felicity Kendal’s character watches Rudolph Valentino on screen.

The audience sitting around Ms Kendal was made up of local extras in 1920s clothes, many of them Bournemouth College students.

Jon Kremer’s wife Abi was not among the extras but she was a student and went to chat to some of her friends.

An assistant director spotted her and pulled her out of the audience just before the cameras rolled. “Otherwise there would have been this great anachronism of this person in 1970s dress in an audience in 1920s New York,” said Jon.

He also recalls that in order to get the extras looking in the right direction, the cinema ran a “sub-Bruce Lee” martial arts movie.

“The Valentino audience were really looking at a Kung Fu film,” he said.