Eastbourne Luxor Seven - Charles S. P. Jenkins
Charles S. P. Jenkins has over the years returned to the UK to visit cinemas to photograph them, many of which have become bingo halls, some of which are now closed. In this article he has written specially for Playing Bingo he recounts his experiences of visiting Deluxe Bingo in Eastbourne, Pevensey Road and provides a history of the venue. He has also provided us with more photographs of the cinema which can be seen on the gallery page.
The Eastbourne Luxor Seven Bingo Club
In 2009, I went to Eastbourne for the first time. Obviously like so many of Britain’s once-busy seaside towns, it had seen ‘better days’. Despite the efforts of the small entrepreneurs, trade was not bustling. No one walked around in ‘funny hats’ and ‘sticks of rock’ were not leaving the shelves with any great speed. The town looked sad and forgotten. However, there was one highlight of my trip: an erstwhile cinema, the Luxor, which had been saved by being reinvented as a Bingo Hall.
The Luxor was a large imposing building with a green cupola on top and with the auditorium stretching along the street. When I saw the Luxor it was a Seven Bingo Club and people were going in for the ‘Afternoon Session’.
Since I have an interest in theatre and cinema buildings, I have come to appreciate Bingo, and will be forever grateful to it, since many such buildings have been saved from the wrecker’s ball by becoming Bingo Halls. Despite my liking of such buildings, I have to confess that at this time I still had never been inside a Bingo Hall. I had wanted to go into the Odeon Hackney Road once it became a Bingo Hall, but I could never quite bring myself to go in since its transformation into a Top Rank Bingo Club, as this had caused me great pain at the time. Still, Bingo was certainly responsible for saving this Odeon, as it has now been in use as a Bingo Hall longer than ever it was as a cinema.
As I walked past the Luxor, I wondered what it was like inside and also began to wonder why I still had not actually gone into a Bingo Hall. I stopped and looked through the entrance doors to see ‘what I could see’. I could see a lady at the reception desk talking to some people. I had to quickly move to one side and make way for others to enter. They were in good mood and laughing and joking amongst themselves. My curiosity about what it was like inside obviously got the better of me and I found being swept up in the frivolity and finding myself following an aged couple through the doors. I waited while they chatted to the receptionist and enjoyed a laugh or two with her.
I looked around at the reception area and felt my feet growing cold about visiting. I am one of those kinds of people who always feels the necessity to ‘explain’ himself and realised that I would have to ‘confess’ to the receptionist lady that I had never been inside a Bingo Hall before. My feet grew colder and I was on the verge of running to the door and escaping to the outside when the receptionist lady turned to me and gave me a smile.
My feet warmed and I smiled back. I moved forward and leaning on the counter, I remember mumbling about wanting to look inside the hall. I also remember saying all kinds of other things that were obviously of no importance to her, as she smiled again and told me to ‘go through’. Just like that ...‘go through’ and so I did...and ‘through the looking glass’ I went and discovered my own magical land at the top of a long flight of stairs.
The Luxor was built for the Walter Bentley Circuit, an independent group of cinemas, which opened in April 1933. The most noticeable feature of the building is the cupola or small dome atop the entrance. The original cinema was fitted with stalls and circle and had a forty foot wide proscenium. The stage was twenty-five feet in depth and was used originally for stage shows and concerts by dance bands of the day. When the cinema opened, John Howlett played at the Compton organ (3Manual/6Ranks) that had been fitted with an illuminated console..
The cinema was taken over by Union Cinemas in October 1935, which were in turn taken over by Associated British Cinemas (ABC) in 1937. Throughout these times, the cinema continued to be called The Luxor, but in 1962, it was renamed ABC. With the decline of cinema-going, the auditorium underwent a number of changes, starting with the removal of the organ in 1972. The cinema was closed in May 1973 so that it could be converted into ‘twin cinemas’. Twinning of large auditoria was very popular at this time and was achieved at the Luxor by turning the erstwhile circle into one auditorium with seating for 585 and the former café into a second seating 159. The part of the original proscenium seen in the old circle was covered over by the construction of a new one. The region that was once the stalls now became a bar.
In 1986, the Luxor-cum-ABC cinema was taken over by the Cannon Group and was once again renamed as Cannon! The new owners soon transformed the stalls-cum-bar into an independent Bingo Club with the name ‘De Luxe Bingo Club’ while the smaller cinema auditorium was converted into a bar with the name, ‘The Luxor & Seven’. But despite these changes in the hope of attracting more custom, the Luxor-ABC-Cannon’s days as a cinema were numbered. The final nail was driven into the cinema’s coffin in August 1990 when Cannon opened a brand new six-screen multiplex in Eastbourne. The old cinema apparently limped on for a short while, but on 21st February, 1991, the curtain came down for the final time, as its doors were closed and shuttered marking an end to the era of film projection at the Luxor.
But take heart for all was not lost: the Spirit of Bingo once more leapt on its trusty white charger and galloped to the rescue, thank goodness, and was to save the building from neglect, decay and ruin...well, at least for a while, that is! But before I get to that, let me tell you about my visit to the Luxor Seven Bingo Club, which is the name I knew it by.
After ‘going through’, an attendant pointed the way for me to go and I climbed up a flight of stairs that led to what was once the circle of the old cinema. I was surprised to see that all of the cinema seating had been removed and replaced by small tables more conducive for playing Bingo. At the far wall was another reception area an around it was part of the covered proscenium.
On one side of the main hall were two staircases: a small one leading up to a second area filled with bingo tables and where the caller’s console was found and a larger one that led up to the old upper circle area, which was also filled with tables. I remember standing and listening to the caller, as he informed the crowd of the prize money that was waiting for a ‘lucky patron’. Once he started ‘calling the numbers’, I started my tour of the place.
I noticed the ceiling of the hall. The original had obviously been covered with a new false ceiling and fitted with new lights. The decoration was very colourful, mostly red, orange, brown and yellow. From the top gallery, I went through some doors with the logo of the company formed into chrome handles. The stairs led down to a white empty room, which was perhaps used as a waiting area when the building was a cinema. I passed through the room and came into an area that was now used as a bar.
The bar was highly decorated with attractive rainbow lights hidden around the ceiling. There was a vast array of spirits against the bar wall that were available for the patrons to sample between games.
I passed through the bar and came to two entrances with old-cinema-style signs over them. One was for ‘gentlemen’s clocks’ and the other for ‘cigarettes chocolate’. Next to these was a flight of stairs, which led up to the main floor of the Bingo Hall. The stairs were decorated with a mosaic present since its construction. The original handrail was in place and decorative with what looked like metal musical notes.
There was another staircase down to the entrance area, which had a number of ‘poker machines’ for the patron to play on their way out after their Bingo session. At the bottom, I was greeted once more by the receptionist who asked me if I had enjoyed my visit. I said that I had and she urged me to ‘come back again’.
Now to return to the fortunes of the Luxor following its closure as a cinema in 1991: the entrepreneur, Peter Hargreaves, now entered the picture and purchased the building. After his company spent some £1.2 million, the erstwhile Luxor was converted into a Bingo Club and opened its doors in October 1995. I have been unable to find out if the building sat vacant between closure as a cinema in 1991 and its opening as a Bingo Club in 1995 or if it was used for some other purpose. Be that as it may, apparently the now converted Luxor became the flagship venue of Mr. Hargreaves’s company, Stylus Sports (while trading as Deluxe Bingo). In addition to the Luxor, other clubs were also operated by the company in Folkestone, Hastings and Southend. However, several unfortunate factors soon came into play, which worked against the continued success of the company and of the Luxor.
Firstly, Hastings Pier, built in 1872, was damaged during a major storm in 1990 and was closed to the public between 1999 and 2002 and then again in 2006 due to safety issues. In October 2010, the pier was further damaged by fire, which included almost total destruction of its superstructure. As a result of the loss of this landmark feature, the number of visitors coming to Hastings decreased, as did the number attending sessions at the Deluxe venue in the town. And secondly, the Luxor suffered from the decline in patronage to Bingo Halls with the advent of on-line playing and its gain in popularity.
By 2009, unfortunately Stylus Sports Limited was fairing none too well and placed itself in ‘Company Voluntary Arrangement’, which led on to it going into ‘Administration’, all of which meant that the company was in trouble! The company RSM Tenon was appointed administrator of Stylus Sports Limited and their assets were sold to Leisure Worldwide Deluxe Limited who then assumed the running of the Luxor. At this time, Mr. Hargreaves apparently still owned the building and was working for Leisure Worldwide Deluxe.
Tragically in May 2011, the the Luxor Seven Bingo Club closed its doors without warning as a result of Leisure Worldwide Deluxe Limited going into administration. This left the staff with no jobs and thousands of members looking for a new bingo-home. A statement made by a member of the company told a journalist from the local newspaper that they had tried to negotiate a new rental deal with the landlord, but were unable to come to terms. The company representative also said that the number of patrons at the club had diminished as a result of the recession and the previous winter’s poor weather. Apparently the excessive snowfall of that winter caused the club to be closed for a week. The representative also cited the company’s loss in revenue as being partly due to the increase in popularity of on-line Bingo.
Sadly, the Luxor remains closed and one wonders if redevelopment of the area is not far off.
Although I haven’t been back to Eastbourne since 2009 and will not now return to the Luxor Seven Bingo Club, I am no longer fearful of entering Bingo Halls and even have my own Gala Membership Card, which I have proudly presented for entrance on a number of occasions! Hopefully, the other Bingo Halls still in operation at this time will not suffer the same fate as that of the Luxor. Now, eyes down and on with the game!