EIGHTY-eight years of cinema-going on Bournemouth’s Westover Road will come to an end tomorrow afternoon when the Odeon cinema closes for the last time.

Last week we looked at building’s early days as the Regent Theatre, its rebirth as the Gaumont and its growth as a live venue for entertainers from Johnny Mathis to the Beatles.

But the increasing emphasis on live music was a response to the fact that the leisure industry was in flux – and big changes were in store for the Gaumont.

In April 1964, the Gaumont hosted a touring exhibition by the Rank Organisation called Cinema 64. It set out a vision of multi-storey entertainment centres housing several leisure activities.

The report noted that “people have got out of the habit of saying that tonight being Friday, we go to the pictures”.

Closed circuit television relays of big sporting fixtures were one new idea tried at the Gaumont. Two took place in 1966 – a wrestling match and live boxing from Earls Court, with Britain’s Brian London making an unsuccessful bid to take the world heavyweight title from the future Muhammad Ali, Cassius Clay.

But the days of the grand old 2,300 seater auditorium were numbered. And in August 1968, the Echo reported on the major changes that would be taking place.

“The first Cinerama to be installed on the South Coast will be put into the Gaumont Theatre, Bournemouth, during its alterations into a twin cinema this year,” the paper reported.

“The work will take between six and eight months, but thankfully the ABC Westover a few doors away will probably not be closed at the same time.”

Rank was to spend £320,000 on “twinning” the cinema – effectively slicing it into two horizontally to create two auditoriums. The last film in the old single cinema would be Hang ‘Em High, starring Clint Eastwood.

As the opening of the new Gaumont drew near in 1969, the Echo explained the scale of the undertaking.

“A 75ft wide screen made up of 1,000 individual strips of material 28ft high and each one placed in position separately, Pullman seats giving arm-chair comfort at £1 a time – these are just two of the features of the 757-seater Gaumont 1,” it said.

It was Rank’s third twinning, following those in Liverpool and Leeds, giving Bournemouth the honour of having the first twin-screen cinema in the south outside London.

An Echo reporter was shown a clip of Spartacus to demonstrate the Cinerama screen.

“I’m told the idea of Cinerama is audience participation. All I can say is that people in the front row are certainly going to feel right in the film,” the reporter said.

The reopening, under manager George Gibson, was a gala occasion. The films were Ice Station Zebra on Gaumont 1, and MacKenna’s Gold on Gaumont 2.

Kim and Caryn Coleman , from Hillbourne Road in Waterloo, Poole, were picked as the “Gaumont twins” for the evening. They joined a procession of film actors including Fiona Lewis, Chrisitan Roberts, Linda Hayden, Anthony Booth and Sue Lloyd.

John Davis, chairman of the Rank Organisation, told the assembled dignitaries that cinema was still the “finest form of mass media entertainment and at the lowest price”.

But he wished the British film industry would use its talent to make entertainment “rather than more X films”.

The mayor, Cllr David Beckett, said he was “a little sad” that the old Gaumont, which he remembered with affection from the 1920s, was gone, the Echo noted. “But having seen the transformation, he was happy that the Rank Organisation had chosen Bournemouth for their latest twin cinema.”

Hundreds of balloons were released from the first floor balcony, which the report noted was “practically the only part of the old Gaumont still recognisable”.

The Gaumont was the ideal place to see big releases in the 1970s, whether it was the Bond series of blockbusters such as The Poseidon Adventure.

On February 9, 1978 came the biggest release of them all – Star Wars, which was the first film to show on both Gaumont screens at once.

As the queues waited for the 11am showing on the first day, Bertie, Bournemouth’s lottery robot, entertained them by turning up to meet Darth Vader – played for the day by Mike Bacon of Poole.

Assistant manager Carl Pyatt told the Echo: “I think the film is absolutely tremendous.”

Bournemouth was the last town whose Rank cinema was called a Gaumont rather than an Odeon – the resort having had its own Odeon at Lansdowne. The Gaumont succumbed to rebranding as an Odeon in October 1986.

By the end of the 1980s, the era of the multiplex had arrived, and Odeon 2 was split into four screens for a relaunch in June 1989. The Terrace Bar was later turned into a sixth screen, opening on February 23, 1995, with a charity premiere of Little Women.

Plans to build a new multiplex in Bournemouth town centre were already under discussion when Rank sold the Odeon chain in 2000. Today, Odeon is preparing to open in the BH2 leisure complex off the Square, as the credits roll for the last time in Westover Road.


WITH the Odeon closing and the ABC already gone, we asked readers via bournemouthecho.co.uk for memories of Bournemouth’s Westover Road cinemas.

AdelaidePete said: “The film would invariably finish five minutes before the last bus home. A fine evening out spoilt by missing the last ten minutes pretty much every time!”

Ohnonothimagen said: “Watching Led Zeppelin's The Song Remains the Same in the summer of 1976. It was so hot, there was a small window in the ceiling open.”

Old and Proud said: “Two come to mind – seeing The Poseidon Adventure with my then boyfriend and my dad, now 88, running down the road shouting ‘The water’s coming!’ My best memory – watching Grease on my honeymoon. Still love that film and my husband.”

Eastandman said: “I liked Earthquake in the 1970s with the Sensurround speaker system that made the whole place shake. It made going to the cinema a whole different experience.”

Love Boscome added: “I remember that at the ABC. I though the whole place was going to collapse, it was so realistic and scary.”

He also recalls being taken to the Gaumont by his mum. “Two films were showing, Diamonds are Forever and Bedknobs and Broomsticks. As the only boy with two sisters, I desperately wanted to see Sean Connery as Bond. But no, it was Angela Lansbury and her flying bed. “Even then I was mesmerized by the whole experience, the huge lit curtain that would slowly roll back with the Pearl and Dean sound. What year was that 1971? In those days, going to the cinema was really something.”

Canfordcerry said: “Saturday morning kids club. What a wonderful way to pack out a cinema with as many as you could jam in there to give parents a couple of hours of free time. We were coached over and back from the Heath every week, loved it. Must have been early to mid-70s.”