The Electric Cinema

A plea for help

Ken Preston

1 March 2024

The Electric Cinema in Birmingham, the UK's oldest working cinema

Photo Credit: Elliott Brown - https://flic.kr/p/2ihDxFc

I am interrupting our regular schedule of fiction with a true story and an appeal for help.

Yesterday, the UK’s oldest working cinema closed its doors for what might be the final time. This unexpected news hit me like a punch in the gut.

But before I continue, the TL;DR version: There is a petition to save this artistically, culturally, and economically important Birmingham establishment from demolition to make way for a tower block of apartments. If you could take a moment to sign it, I’d be very grateful.

https://chng.it/V2sVYTp9pZ

But if you would like to know more about why The Electric is so important, to the city of Birmingham and the wider region, and to me personally, read on.

The Electric opened on the bank holiday of 27 December 1909 and was Birmingham's first film theatre. The architectural plans were designed by leading theatre architect of the time, Bertie Crewe (1860–1937), which are now a part of the Library of Birmingham's archives and collections.

The cinema has had several name changes over the years, becoming The Select, The Tatler News Theatre, The Jacey Cartoon Theatre, The Jacey Film Theatre, The Tivoli, and finally back to The Electric.

It was known as The Tivoli when I first discovered it, way back in 1985.

My first visit there was for a Lucio Fulci double bill, starting with The Beyond, and followed by The House by the Cemetery.

The Beyond film poster

I can still remember sitting in this dark, freezing cinema, only me and an old man a few rows behind, who spent the duration of the film sorting through his shopping bags, to watch the movie.

Well, that’s what I thought. As David Warbeck and Catriona MacColl stumbled blindly into Hell and the credits rolled, I turned in my seat to find the cinema was now packed with people. Unnerved as I was by what I’d just seen, this gave me one hell of a fright.

David Warbeck and Catriona MacColl in the final scene of The Beyond

In 1993 it became The Electric once more and began showing a mixture of art-house and mainstream films.

I’ve been going ever since.

The pandemic of 2020 closed its doors again. I managed to go on a tour behind the scenes just weeks before its closure. This time it looked like The Electric had closed its doors for the final time, until Kevin Markwick acquired it and invested £100,000 in its redevelopment, opening the doors again in January 2022.

Honestly, The Electric has become my second home in the last couple of years.

In The Electric, just before the 2001 screening

I’ve seen Jaws (of course), Raiders of the Lost Ark, Mulholland Drive, the Peter Cushing Doctor Who films, 2001, Oppenheimer in 35mm, a triple bill of silent movies with live piano accompaniment, Killers of the Flower Moon, and more at the new Electric.

The last film I saw was in January, Sideways, with wine tasting.

And now it’s gone again.

I can’t believe it.

Except… there has been a massive show of support since the news broke yesterday. And the petition is already over five thousand signatures.

Could you add your signature, and show Birmingham City Council, (who have already announced they are slashing their arts and culture budget by 100%!) that this 115-year-old building, with its history and its art déco features, is of more importance to the city than an anonymous tower block of glass and steel.

Up until yesterday, The Electric was a vibrant hub for passionate film fans and casual moviegoers alike, with a viewing experience unlike any you will get at a multiplex. It has survived two world wars, the arrival of television, videos, multiplex cinemas, streaming services, and a pandemic.

Let’s make sure it can survive for another 115 years.

Here is that link again, and thank you for reading.

https://chng.it/V2sVYTp9pZ

Queueing at The Electric to see The Wickerman
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