10 things you (probably) didn’t know about Brighton’s Duke of York’s Picturehouse
The Duke of York's exterior

One of Brighton’s best-loved cinemas for over a century, the Duke of York’s is currently celebrating its 105th birthday and shows no sign of growing old gracefully.

Keen to discover more about the inner workings of the Duke’s, we asked Marketing Manager Jacob Engelberg to tell us a few facts about the cinema that might be worth sharing with your friends the next time you stop by to catch a film…

1. The Duke of York’s is the oldest surviving purpose-built cinema in the UK

Duke of York's opening
Courtesy Duke of York’s

“We came into existence in 1910 and have been recognised by the Cinema Theatre Association as the oldest surviving purpose-built cinema in the UK. On 22nd September 1910, a crowd of 2000 people brought Preston Circus to a standstill at our opening.”

2. An actress founded the cinema

“The Duke of York’s was the vision of Violet Melanotte Wyatt, an actress from Birmingham who is quoted as saying “I want an electric theatre!” However Violet and her husband Frank became insolvent one year after the cinema was opened and the Duke’s was handed over to new hands.”

3. Alcohol and films are a good mix

“The cinema was converted from the rear part of the malt house of Longhurst’s Amber Ale Brewery. Perhaps our customers’ penchant for good ales is influenced somewhat by this boozy history!”

4. The Duke’s has had talkies since 1930

“After a sound refurbishment, we showed our first “talkie” on 26th May 1930. The film was Fox’s musical hit Sunny Side Up, a sentimental will-they-won’t-they romance starring Janet Gaynor, the first recipient of the Academy Award for Best Actress.”

5. The cinema has had distinguished staff

“Our commissionaire from 1937-39 was Ernest Edward Thomas, the soldier who fired the British army’s first shot in World War One. Thomas lived around the corner from us in Stanley Road and died of pneumonia while still working at the Duke’s.”

6. CinemaScope made the movies big again

“In 1956, we installed CinemaScope which boosted the attendance of audiences who were tempted away from the big screen with the advent of television. Our new 28ft wide screen made its feature debut with MGM’s musical The Student Prince.”

7. The Duke’s is a home for LGBT communities

Derek Jarman

“Brighton’s reputation as a home for LGBT communities had become established by the 1970s and the Duke’s programme responded appropriately with the screening of controversial queer classics including Saturday Night at the Baths, Sebastiane, and Scorpio Rising. In 1988, we hosted a protest event against Section 28, in which Derek Jarman screened his film Caravaggio and held a talk. The Duke’s very own queer film strand Eyes Wide Open Cinema continues this legacy to this day, screening LGBTQ-related films every month.”

8. The cinema still has legs

Legs at the Duke of York's #Cinéma #Brighton #England

A photo posted by @laetitia_mazzoleni on

“Our recognisable pair of can-can dancer’s legs were installed in 1991 and later moved to our roof in 1995. Borrowed from a cabaret theatre in Oxford and kept ever since, the legs encapsulate the conviviality of our cinema across the decades.”

9. Nick Cave is regular

Nick Cave

“Amongst our patrons is beloved Brighton-based musician Nick Cave. His epic documentary-musical and love letter to Brighton, 20,000 Days on Earth, played in 2014 to sell-out audiences.”

10. The Duke’s is always changing

In 2015, we are 105-years-old and our cinema’s journey is far from over. This year, we installed new, state-of-the-art projection and sound facilities that ensure our cinema is the best option for lovers of film in Brighton. We have also teamed up with local partners Pizzaface to bring visitors a selection of pizzas to enjoy before, after, or during our films! We endeavour to bring our audiences the best in film from current mainstream and arthouse releases to classics from the past and cult gems.

The Duke of York’s Picturehouse is proud to be a reputable Brighton landmark and our impressive history remains an imperative to continue this legacy for decades to come.

Visit the Duke of York’s website and find them on Facebook.

Main image: Truus, Bob & Jan too! / Flickr / CC