Britain’s oldest cinema: the Duke Of York’s in Preston CircusReading time: 2'

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Ray Brooks is fond of Britain’s oldest cinema: the Duke Of York’s, in Preston Circus. «Being under-age for some of the films, meant you’d often had to ask queuing patrons if they’d take you in. Or else try to creep in unnoticed»

Ray Brooks
Ray Brooks

Ray Brooks has no doubts about what his favourite cinema is: «It is also Britain’s oldest: the Duke Of York’s in Preston Circus, Brighton. My earliest memory of it being when my aunt took me there to see Dumbo. Because of the really long queues, we couldn’t get in and I remember being so upset».

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Cinema is in the family

My dad had been General Manager of the Savoy cinema (ABC) in East Street, Brighton – now a casino. My granddad was once doorman at the Regent, one of PCT’s first super-cinemas, in nearby Queen’s Road, where Boots now stands.

It’s also a small world as, funnily enough, I only recently discovered that a school friend of mine – Peter Walker. He began there as a projectionist, had later bought the place. The same Peter Walker who’d offered me my first film role for £600.

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The Duke Of York’s Cinema: Preston Circus, East Sussex
The Duke Of York’s Cinema: Preston Circus, East Sussex

The structure

The Duke Of York’s is a lovely old brick building, and, architecturally, is so very well put-together. I remember that, instead of buying a cinema ticket, you’d be given a brass tag. Then the usher would drop it down into a tube and you’d hear it go ‘clink-clank’ as it fell to the bottom.

The cinema also has a certain dusty/cobwebby charm. It used to put me in mind of the film: The Smallest Show On Earth – the sort of place where, when you open the auditorium door, the whole screen lights up! There was a sense of fascination with this cinema, too. Being under-age for some of the films, meant you’d often had to ask queuing patrons if they’d take you in. Or else try to creep in unnoticed.

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But I also liked the Duke Of York’s because it used to show what I call ‘Continental’ programming. Films like Wages Of Fear, that you just wouldn’t get to see anywhere else.

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