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Dover: Lock and Key of the Kingdom

The Granada Cinema

Dover’s first large modern cinema was the Granada in Castle  Street. The cinema was the first in the Granada chain founded by  Sidney Bernstein, who in the 1950s moved from cinema to  television when he started Granada Television. The new cinema in Dover was originally to have been called the County but during its construction Bernstein decided this would hardly be glamorous  and catchy and, remembering a highlight of a holiday in southern  Spain, decided it should take the Andalusian city’s name. A few weeks before the opening on 8 January 1930, posters  appeared around Dover with the line “Start Saying Granada”.  Nothing else, no explanation, and only days before it opened did  the local press reveal what a ‘Granada’ actually was. On the big  day journalists and film industry guests were treated to travel  from London by train in a special Pullman car organised by  Bernstein.  The publicity said that the Granada could seat 2,000, although  the true figure was around 1,700. The building was designed by  architect Cecil Masey and the interiors by the Russian born stage  director and designer Theodore Komisarjevsky. Komisarjevsky  went on to be responsible for the interiors of all but two of the  other cinemas in the Granada circuit. The foyer was in a French eighteenth century style with a marble  staircase, chandelier, and Venetian mirrors.  In keeping with its  namesake city the Granada’s auditorium was decorated to  resemble a Moorish courtyard.  A cinema trade paper ‘The  Bioscope’ described the auditorium as “having a suggestion of  the Alhambra, a Russian ballet dream of Granada rather than an  attempted reproduction”.  Bernstein and Komisarjevsky are said  to have completed some of the painting themselves in the frantic  rush to have the cinema ready on time. As well as films the programmes included variety acts and the  stage was provided with curtains, footlights, dimmers, a modern  stage lighting switchboard and three levels of dressing rooms  backstage.  A 3-manual Christie organ was installed in the centre  of the orchestra pit and rose up on an electric lift during  intermission with the organist already seated at the keyboard.  The organ pipes were hidden from public view behind the right  hand grille of a pair of decorative grilles in arches either side of  the stage. The first presentation at the theatre was ‘The Last of Mrs Cheney’ starring Norma Shearer and Basil Rathbone. The film was  accompanied by a forty five minute stage show comprising of  West End Varieties together with eight Granada Girls.  Leonardi &  His Band performed and went on to perform on a daily basis and  Hedley Morton was the resident organist at the Christie Organ. In January 1931, admission prices were reduced. The  management said that this was a birthday gift to the patrons of  Dover, but evidently it was a ploy to increase business.  In  addition, economies were introduced at the theatre: the live  stage shows were suddenly stopped and Leonardi & His Band  returned to London.  Only the organist remained and continued in  his capacity of support. The Granada was bought by the ABC  cinema chain in 1935 but continued to operate under the  Granada name.   During the Second World War the Granada continued to operate  and was mentioned in a cinema trade magazine as “exactly 19  nautical miles from the enemy and the nearest British cinema to  Hitler.”  On 23rd March 1942, the packed the theatre was shaken  by a bomb that landed some 20 yards from the away where it  wrecked a number of shops.   On the Saturday evening of the 6th September 1942, enemy  shelling caused possible serious structural damage to the  building.  The screening was stopped and the audience filed out  of the building in an orderly fashion.  Once the building was  deemed safe, the theatre reopened. Two years later, on the 3rd  September, 1944 the Granada was again damaged by heavy  shelling, closed for repair and, like the phoenix rising from the  ashes, reopened once more. In 1960 the cinema was renamed the ABC but many old  Dovorians always referred to it as the Granada. Also in 1960 the  organ was removed and later sold to a cinema organ enthusiast. Audiences began to decline steadily as more and more people  stayed at home to watch television. In 1971, with the closure of  the Odeon, it became Dover’s last remaining cinema (the  Gaumont and Essoldo both having closed in 1960). In spite of its  now unique position, audiences continued to decline. In the early 1970s the circle was closed leaving just 610 seats in  the stalls to cater for the remaining customers. The cinema  eventually ceased to be economically viable and closed on 30  October 1982. The building was converted into a night club but  this closed and the building stood derelict for many years. In August 2014 the derelict building was finally demolished  exposing to view the faded glories of this once splendid Picture  Palace.  It was a sad fate for this first of the Granada cinema  chain, when six other Granadas with interiors by Komisarjevsky  have been listed.
The Granada Cinema, 1930. A drawing taken from the cover of the programme for the opening performance. The Granada Cinema auditorium c.1930.  The side wall and part of the stage seen from the balcony.  The pipes for the organ were behind the decorative grille to the right of the stage. The Granada Cinema foyer, 1930.  This grainy picture from the Official Dover Guide 1930 does not do justice to the opulance of the entrance to this Picture Palace. The Granada Cinema, 1956. Demolition, August 2014. A detail of the moorish molding on the auditorium walls. The black paint from the night club years is peeling back to show the green of the original colour scheme. Demolition, August 2014. The remains of the auditorium. The black paint dates for its time as a night club.