One of The Regent Centre’s longest serving members of staff has decided to retire after over 36 years in his current role.

Gary Theobald joined the Regent in Christchurch in its formative years on 16 July 1984 as the Centre's Press Officer.

The Regent had originally opened on Boxing Day 1931 as the town's cinema before closing in 1973 and becoming a Mecca Bingo hall which finally closed in 1982.

Having been purchased by Christchurch Borough Council, which had plans to secure its valuable High Street location as a future asset for the town, local enthusiasts had persuaded the Council to let them make use of the Regent as an arts centre in 1983.

Gary said: “The Regent was already making itself such a valued addition to the town that the Council had agreed to help by funding a small team of full and part time staff at the Centre and I joined that team led by the General Manager, Suzette Sully.

“Together we worked with the volunteer staff to set the Regent on the road to where it is today.”

Press and publicity quickly became the lifeblood of the Regent and by helping to promote the shows and generating the buzz and footfall that would bring in the audiences, box office revenue was achieved to help fund the rolling programme of improvements that were planned for the Regent.

Looking back now in 2021, Gary admits the Regent seems to have been a bit primitive back in 1984.

He added: “Today's staff would be incredulous at how basic it was compared with what is today, which is one of the most successful independent cinemas and theatres in the country.

“The Circle was devoid of seats and the stalls were badly in need of tender loving care.

“Stage equipment was minimal, but shows were taking place and enquiries by local companies about appearing live on stage at this new venue were coming in.”

The theatre now has the enviable reputation for generating record breaking audience levels, being the No 1 independent cinema in the UK for screenings including the Andre Rieu concert screenings, the Royal Opera event cinema seasons and the opening weekend box office return for Downton Abbey the movie.

When Suzette Sully was forced to retire through ill health in 1995, Gary, who had previously been involved with the Isle of Wight Film Society, took on the film booking for the Regent.

Second guessing what Christchurch audiences wanted to see became the order of the day and his title was changed to Press Officer and Film Programmer.

Gary said: "Thirty-six years seems like a lifetime, but it has gone by in a flash. That is because the Regent is a vibrant, creative and happy place to work.

“It is staffed by talented people who are backed by a team of dedicated volunteers and a Board of Directors who have been instrumental in identifying and implementing the long-term goals of the Centre.

“I will miss the Regent very much, but I am keeping in touch with colleagues and friends at the Centre and will watch with interest as it recovers from what had been an extremely difficult year for the entertainment sector in general.”

During his retirement, Gary will be happily ensconced on the Isle of Wight with his partner, Pat, playing tennis, ploughing through his "old school" DVD collection of classic movies and looking after his equally "old school" 1982 Mazda RX7.

He said: “2021 promises to be a momentous year for the Regent with the hugely anticipated return of live shows to the stage and a big birthday party in prospect when the Regent celebrates its 90th birthday on Boxing Day.

“I can only wish the Regent and everyone who works there, every success.

“They have earned it and deserve it and I know that the town will relish having their entertainment hub back, fully restored, re-decorated and ready to go forward with an exciting programme of live shows, films and event cinema."