Bygone Worthing – Odeon Cinema


It’s called progress or development… but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good thing.  I was very lucky to have grown up in the seaside town of Worthing with my formative years during the late 70’s and early 80’s.  The town has changed a lot since then, and many of the landmarks and important buildings that featured in that childhood have long since gone.

The greatest loss was of the Odeon Cinema; originally situated on Liverpool Road, it opened on 24th March 1934 and was the 7th new building constructed by the Odeon chain.  There was a large cafe, in a curved extension in front of the cinema with the foyer slightly recessed behind.  This café would become Steers Steakhouse in later years – always wanted to go there but, to me memory, I don’t think the family ever ventured; possibly partly due to my Mum being vegetarian but also because back then, it was quite an extravagance for the family to “eat out”.

The auditorium was an ideal shape – wide and slightly fan shaped – with seating provided for 1,076 in the stalls and 455 in the circle. It contained a huge four layered pendant light fitting in the centre of the ceiling (see photo).

From the start the Odeon Worthing was massive success. At £32,500 pounds, it was the second most expensive to build to date for the chain, but soon showed its worth.  The number of screens was tripled in June 1974; Screen 1 having 450 seats and 2 and 3 (under the balcony) 120 seats each.

This was where I was first introduced to the Star Wars galaxy, probably some time in 1978, the ground-breaking special effects of Tron and where I recall after having watch Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, when leaving the cinema EVERYONE looked up to the skies scanning for “visitors”.  The main film would often by preceded by a short cartoon or similar and I remember watching an animated tale of an opera singing whale before one of the main features.  I have no idea what it was called, or what film it accompanied, but it sticks in my memory for some reason.

The Dome Cinema

Worthing did have another cinema; the Dome (situated on the seafront) but when I was growing up it was affectionately referred to as “the fleapit” and you would often be sharing your popcorn with various rodent friends.  As it was located next door to the towns’ main bus depot the film’s soundtrack would often include the unintended conversations of the drivers arriving for/leaving work.  Originally opened in April 1911 as a multi-purpose entertainment centre known as the Kursaal (which included use as a roller-skating rink), it was converted into the Dome Cinema by 1921 and it originally contained 875 seats. The building underwent a full heritage Lottery funded restoration/renovation, closing in June 2005 and re-opening on 6th July 2007 with 580 seats in the original auditorium and a second 118 seat cinema in another part of the building.

The Dome cinema is where I saw “Back to the Future” for the first time (more about that in future posts) so has a special place in my heart.  Other than numerous visits to the Dome in 1985/6 to watch Marty McFly and Doc Brown’s exploits I have only returned once; to watch Star Wars: The Last Jedi with my son.  A much more luxurious experience (without rodent companions or bus driver profanities).

Awaiting demolition in 1987

The Odeon Cinema was, sadly, closed on 27th September 1986 for redevelopment. It came as a surprise to the developers in January 1987 when the building was designated a Grade II Listed building by English Heritage. This delayed the start of any redevelopment and a legal battle ensued. Sadly (& criminally), the developers won through and towards the end of the year it was De-listed and swiftly demolished in late-1987. The site is now occupied by retail outlets (namely Game and HMV; Laura Ashley having ceased trading at the location in August 2019).  The approach road (seen in the original photographs) was closed to traffic as part of the redevelopment in 1987….

The end of an era

It’s may be regarded as quite a dramatic statement, but in my opinion, the loss of the Odeon “ripped the heart out of the town”.