The Regent / Gaumont / Odeon Theatre, 37-43 Westover Road, Bournemouth
The Regent was designed by William Edward Trent with assistance from the local architectural firm Seal & Hardy for the Provincial Cinematograph Theatres chain. Construction began in 1927 with the demolition of the original houses on the site that was located directly opposite The Pavilion Theatre in Westover Road. On completion, it became the largest venue in town with 2,300 seats spread over raked stalls and a large balcony. A broad marble staircase lead to the main auditorium that was crowned with an eighty foot diameter copper domed ceiling and walls decorated with hand-painted panels in an Italian Renaissance style by the artist Frank Barnes. Smaller staircases either side of the main staircase ascended to the balcony and a spacious restaurant that could seat up to 300 diners. The large stage was fully equipped with theatrical facilities and an orchestra pit housed a Wurlitzer organ that could be raised to stage level.
The opening ceremony on Monday 13th May 1929 was performed by the Mayor of Bournemouth, Alderman C. H. Cartwright in front of a large audience of dignitaries and the Regent’s manager, George Kasoni. The first night featured a screening of the silent film Two Lovers starring Ronald Coleman and Vilma Banky, a recital by Reginald Foort on the Wurlitzer theatre organ, a musical interlude by the Regent Orchestra conducted by Mr. T. S. Clarke-Browne and a variety show, ‘Something Different’, featuring the Regent Girls, a nine strong dance troupe, Graham and Douglas, a pair of simultaneous dancers and the soprano Nan Foster. Forthcoming attractions included the stage plays The Street Angel, The Woman Disputed, The Battle of the Sexes and The Heart of a Follies Girl, plus a screening of Show Boat with sound. During the war years the cinema presented late night screenings for the troops stationed in the town, and the military commandeered the cinema to show instructional films in the build-up to D-Day.
Renamed the Gaumont on 22nd August 1949, the theatre staged numerous plays produced by its own theatre group and presented a series of jazz concerts starring the top jazz musicians in the country. It also hosted top international stars such as Victor Borge, Ella Fitzgerald and Johnny Mathis, plus variety shows with Frankie Vaughan, Shirley Bassey and Norman Wisdom. Live organ recitals, Melody for Late Evening starring Ronald Brickell on the Wurlitzer and Harold Gee on violin, were broadcast regularly from the Regent on Thursday evenings by the BBC throughout the fifties. In the sixties, it became a regular stop off for package tours, along with the Winter Gardens, packed with pop stars.
There were unruly scenes at a Billy Fury concert in 1960, when hordes of screaming girls threw fireworks and rushed the stage before attendants and the police intervened and pushed them back, and Cliff Richard had a knack of stirring up female emotions. However, The Beatles six night run in 1963 and their subsequent visits the following year were undoubtedly the noisiest and rowdiest the venue had seen. In November 1963 the ‘mop tops’ topped a bill that included fellow Brian Epstein artists Tommy Quickly and Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas plus an odd assortment of acts that were a throwback to the days of music hall. There was Tommy Wallis and Beryl, a novelty duo featuring a xylophone and tap dancing, the instrumental group Sons of Piltdown Men, The Glamorous Lana Sisters who specialised in close harmony singing, the singing duo Gary and Lee from Portsmouth and compere Billy Baxter, a club comedian from Liverpool. While The Beatles languished next door in the Palace Court Hotel between shows, the photographer Alan Freeman shot the cover for their second long player, With the Beatles, in the dining room and George wrote “Don’t Bother Me” which featured on the aforementioned album. The Beatles would return to the Gaumont twice the following year, first in August with The Kinks and finally with the Motown songstress Mary Wells in October.
Another show packed with a veritable who’s who of future rock talent occurred on 18th July 1965. The Rolling Stones topped the bill while “Satisfaction” was riding high in the American charts. John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton nearly missed the first show as Clapton and Mayall’s drummer Hughie Flint rented a rowing boat and ended up further from the shore than intended. The newly formed Steampacket featured the combined vocal talents of Rod Stewart, Long John Baldry and Julie Driscoll backed by Brian Auger and his trio and The Paramounts with Gary Brooker on piano and vocals and Robin Trower on guitar, went on to found the chart topping Procol Harum. Throw in Twinkle, a one hit wonder with the morbid “Terry”, and the lesser-known Tommy Quickly and the Remo Four plus Bobby Rio and the Revelles and you have a full evening of entertainment for the princely sum of five bob in the gods through to twelve shillings and sixpence in the front stalls. If that’s not value for money I don’t know what is.
Other shows of note included The Everly Brothers, Bo Diddley and The Rolling Stones in October 1963, the American pioneers of folk rock, The Byrds, with Van Morrison’s Them in August 1965, Roy Orbison, The Small Faces and The Jeff Beck Group featuring Rod Stewart in April 1967 and the last live show to appear at the theatre, Tom Jones with special guest Kathy Kirby and the Ted Heath Orchestra in November 1967.
The theatre brought the curtain down for the final time on 16th November 1968, as it closed for a complete modernisation and reopened on 15th July the following year as a twin screened cinema under the management of George Gibson. The larger space downstairs became Screen I and the balcony was converted into the smaller Screen 2. The Gaumont was renamed the Odeon by the Rank Organisation on 30th October 1986 and Screen 2 was sub-divided into four screens in June 1989. In February 1995, the former terrace bar was converted into the small 140 seated Screen 6.
The Odeon finally closed its doors for good on Thursday 9th February 2017 with a screening of La La Land starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. It was superseded by the new ten screen multiplex on the site of the old Hants and Dorset bus station across the lower gardens in Exeter Road.
If you have any memories you would like to share of the Winter Gardens, please use the contact box at the bottom of this page.
Package Tours that visited the Gaumont Theatre from 1962 to 1967:
7th February 1962: Cliff Richard and the Shadows + Dallas Boys + Patti Brooks + The Trebletones + The Two Tones + Compere Tony Marsh
27th February 1962: Billy Fury and the Blue Flames + John Leyton + Eden Kane + Joe Brown and the Bruvvers + The Viscounts
7th December 1962: Cliff Richard and the Shadows + Jackie Trent + The Breakaways + Alan Randall + The Trebletones + Compere Alan Field
25th April 1963: Billy Fury + The Tornados + Mike Preston + Dickie Pride + The Echoes + Mike and Tony Nevitt + Compere Larry Burns
4th August 1963: Gene Vincent and the Outlaws + Heinz and the Saints + The Bachelors + Billie Davis + The Brook Brothers + Mike Berry and the Innocents + Sounds Incorporated + The Roof Raisers + Compere Tony Allen
19th to 24th August 1963: The Beatles + Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas + Tommy Quickly + Sons of Piltdown Men + The Lana Sisters + Tommy Wallis and Beryl + Gary & Lee + Compere Billy Baxter
26th October 1963: The Everly Brothers + Bo Diddley + The Rolling Stones + Julie Grant + The Flintstones + Mickie Most + Compere Bob Bain
29th March 1964: Cliff Richard and the Shadows + Dailey and Wayne + Bob Miller and the Millermen featuring June Leslie and Alan Lee + Dougie Arthur and the Milltones
2nd August 1964: The Beatles + The Kinks + Mike Berry and the Innocents + Adrienne Poster + The Hearts + Compere Tony Marsh
14th August 1964: Gerry and the Pacemakers + The Kestrels + Elkie Brooks and the Quotations + Tommy Quickly + Sounds Incorporated + Michael Haslam + The Remo Four
17th to 22nd August 1964: The Searchers + Dusty Springfield with the Echoes + Eden Kane + The Interns + The Down Beats + Don Arrol + Peppi
23rd August 1964: The Rolling Stones + The Baron Knights with Duke D’Mond + Long John Baldry and the Hoochie Coochie Men + The Overlanders + The Worryin’ Kind + The Paramounts + Julie Grant + Compere Gerry Clements
30th October 1964: The Beatles + Mary Wells + The Remo Four + Don Gibson + Sounds Incorporated + Michael Haslam + The Rustiks + Compere Bob Bain
2nd to 4th July 1965: Cliff Richard + The Shadows + Faye Fisher + The Trebletones + Compere Des O’Connor
18th July 1965: The Rolling Stones + Steampacket with Long John Baldry, Rod Stewart, Julie Driscoll and Brian Auger + Tommy Quickly and The Remo Four + The Paramounts + John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton + Twinkle with Bobby Rio and the Revelles + Compere Ray Cameron
15th August 1965: The Byrds + Them + Unit 4 plus 2 + Charles Dickens and the Artwoods + Johnny B Great and the Quotations + Sue Holloway + Compere Jerry Stevens
11th to 13th August 1966: The Walker Brothers + Hamilton and the Hamilton Movement + Dave Dee Dozy Beaky Mick & Tich + The Creation + Wishful Thinking + The Quotations + Compere Bob Bain
1st April 1967: Roy Orbison + The Small Faces + The Settlers + The Jeff Beck Group with Rod Stewart + Paul and Barry Ryan + Sonny Childe and the TNT + Robb Storme and the Whispers
24th November 1967: Tom Jones + Kathy Kirby + Ted Heath and His Orchestra