EARLIER this month, the curtains closed for the last time on the giant screen of Bournemouth’s ABC cinema earlier.

And the end of the final night’s film, Back to the Future, was also the end of almost 80 years of history.

Associated British Corporation (ABC) opened its Westover Super Cinema on June 19, 1937, with the Earl of Malmesbury officiating.

The film was Shall we Dance?, starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and the programme included Reginald Porter-Brown on the Compton organ.

The cinema was a showcase venue for ABC, boasting 2,600 sets in its single giant auditorium, as well as a balcony cafe and restaurant.

The fact that it was considered a prestige venue is reflected in the fact that it hosted two UK premieres in 1951.

The first, on May 31, was Happy Go Lovely, starring David Niven and Vera-Ellen. The premiere saw stars including Googie Withers, Ben Lyon and Bebe Daniels and music hall legend George Robey.

The event coincided with the annual conference at Bournemouth Town Hall of the Cinematograph Exhibitors Association. Local councillor and cinema operator Harry Mears was the association’s president that year.

A similarly lavish premiere was held at the Westover that year for MGM’S lavish production of Showboat, starring Howard Keel.

Bournemouth woman Pam Alexander remembers the Westover well from that period.

Her father Alfred Alexander, known as Alex, moved there from Westbourne’s Grand to become assistant manager. He took over as general manager on the retirement of Dennis Shave.

“I used to go in after school and he used to give me an ice cream and take me into the theatre,” she says.

“It was a big place. It was quite grand really to go to the cinema then. It was a different experience to go out and see a big screen.”

Mr Alexander kept a scrapbook recording how he had marketed films at the cinema. Live entertainment, tie-ins with local shops and discussions with local youth clubs were all tailored to big new releases.

One picture shows Bournemouth’s branch of Austin Reed decked out in a display to coincide with the release of Father of the Bride in 1952. Both Austin Reed and the cinema would disappear from Westover Road within months of each other in 2016-17.

Mr Alexander’s family remained local. “He kept going away and they used him as a trouble-shooter to go around sorting cinemas out and bringing them up to standard,” said Pam.

He died in 2000, aged 78.

The Westover was renamed the ABC in 1958 and a decade later, it was due for a major refurbishment.

Like many large cinemas, it was “twinned” – turned into two screens. It reopened in 1970, a year after the nearby Gaumont went through a similar twinning.

The magnificent main screen upstairs was equipped with the latest 70mm projection equipment. Paint Your Wagon was the first film on the bigger screen. The second auditorium showed All the Way Up, a comedy starring Warren Mitchell, who was among the VIP guests at the opening.

Dennis Bowden, manager from 1960-78, presided over the reopening and the addition of a third screen in 1973. His grandson Adrian Bowden recalls the cinema as “a big part of my childhood”.

Roger Marley was another of the venue’s long-serving managers.

He had been a trainee projectionist at Torbay’s Regent Cinema and Paignton Picture House before going into management and had gone on to run the ABC in Basingstoke.

By the time he moved to Bournemouth in 1988, the ABC chain had been bought by Cannon and bore its name. It was to become the MGM and then revert to an ABC in his time there, which ended in 1999.

Mr Marley was another manager with a flair for marketing and had been trained in the days when managers were expected to be ready in their dinner jackets to greet cinema-goers at 6pm daily.

Back in Torquay, he had brought a Mini Cooper into the cinema to promote the release of The Italian Job. It had got stuck on the staircase, but it still did its job in attracting attention.

During his time in Bournemouth, he put on special screenings welcoming a host of celebrities from the town’s summer shows. The likes of Britt Ekland, Gordon Kaye and Su Pollard were among the visitors.

“We were certainly given quite a bit of freedom. The major part of the managerial role was to take on marketing but some people are better at management only. I think I was able to do both,” he says.

He also made use of the cinema’s 70mm capability, putting on a season of films made for the giant format, including My Fair Lady, The Longest Day, Far From the Madding Crowd, War and Peace and Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet.

He revealed that in the late 1990s, ABC had gone a long way with plans to turn its Bournemouth cinema into a multiplex. The giant ABC1 screen would have remained, while more would have been added in the space left vacant by the former ice rink.

“In 1999, they decided to pull out of it, which was such a pity,” he says. The idea was shelved and then abandoned when ABC was bought by Odeon.

Today, Roger is a Bournemouth councillor, responsible for devising the Bournemouth Community Cinema scheme which has brought films to North Bournemouth at the Henry Brown Youth Centre. He is also the council’s champion for arts and culture.

He says of his career: “I was lucky to get paid for a hobby. All I ever wanted to do was cinema.”

Although he was sad to see the ABC go, he is looking forward to seeing the new Odeon that will open next month at BH2, off the Square. His long-time deputy Daphne Klos will work there.

“Congratulations to them for bringing this state of the art cinema to Bournemouth,” he said.

“I feel it’s a long time overdue. I wish them all the luck in the future.”