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Curtain Call

Published by: Alexia Lazou

While working with the collections, we sometimes find things which we cannot use or display, and a new and more suitable home is sought. One such example was a group of motor mechanisms used for operating the curtains in a cinema.

They had been rescued from Burger King in North Street, Brighton, formerly the site of the Bijou Electric Empire, which opened in 1911. Over the years the cinema had many name changes; it became well-known as the Prince’s News Theatre (1947-1966) and, significantly, was a regional British Film Institute (BFI) cinema (1969-1978).

Motor mechanism used for operating the curtains in a cinema

A call went out to various organisations, and we were contacted by Christian Skelton, Chair of Trustees at Selsey Pavilion Trust in West Sussex. Selsey Pavilion was opened in 1913 as Selsey’s first cinema and provided both film and live entertainment through the decades. It closed as a venue in 1974 but this year the Selsey Pavilion Trust were successful in purchasing the building with a view to restoring it back to its original purpose.

As you can imagine, this requires a significant financial input, so they are keen to source any suitable fixtures, fittings, and equipment for as little as possible. Although they are not at the curtain-raising stage yet, Christian thought our motor mechanisms could be reconditioned and installed in the renovated auditorium. He came over to have a look at them along with Allen Taylor, a member of the Projected Picture Trust (PPT). The PPT is an organisation dedicated to cinema technology, with a huge collection of equipment and archive resources managed by knowledgeable members. Allen has been helping Christian with the restoration and advising on the technical aspects.

So it was with great pleasure that Dan Robertson, Curator of Local History & Archaeology, and I met with Christian and Allen to hand over the motors. What one institution has no use for may turn out to be a welcome contribution for another! We wish Selsey Pavilion Trust all the best with their renovation and look forward to seeing the newly opened venue.

Visit the Selsey Pavilion website if you would like to know more about the project.

If the tech side is more your thing, visit the Projected Picture Trust’s website.

Alexia, Christian and Allen with the motor mechanisms going to Selsey Pavilion. The three of them stand by the back of an open van, the machinery sits on the van lift.
Alexia, Christian and Allen