Interview with Roy Bentley

Scope and Content

Cassette recording of an interview with Roy Bentley, former manager of the Odeon/Astra Cinema.

Administrative / Biographical History

Mr Bentley talks about the Odeon's early days and its first owner Zac Brierley. Brierley owned Cream's Coaches and the theatre was built in 1934 with a garage below it but this was suddenly converted into a ballroom before the opening in 1936. Brierley sold the theatre to Oscar Deutsch, a financier, in 1937/38. He had other building schemed in Rhyl and Colwyn Bay including theatres. Each Odeon theatre was a limited liabilty company and he was the chairman of each.

Deutsch died in [1946] and J. Arthur Rank bought the Odeon Cinemas. He also bought the Gaumont-British chain of cinemas and the American Paramount group. Roy Bentley was working for Gaumont-British at the time as manager of a large cinema in Coventry. Rank's policy after his takeover of the two British companies was to send managers of the British-Gaumont to the Odeon cinemas and vice-versa to try to avoid rivalry between the two former companies. Bentley was sent to the Odeon in Llandudno on a six month contract in 1954 but he stayed until 1973.

The Llandudno Odeon seated 1,983 during the late 'thirties and 'forties and Deutsch made money during the war years. The cinema's popularity plus the influx of civil servants and evacuees caused queues down the street almost every night. When Cinemascope came to the cinemas the Odeon lost 100 seats to accommodate it.

The theatre was used for concerts, shows conferences and civic events as well as for film shows. During Bentley's term of office the Conservatives held conferences there most famously those of Sir Anthony Eden during the Suez Crisis and also Harold Macmillan. In the early sixties pop artists including the Beatles, Billy Fury and Adam Faith played there. The theatre had good acoustics and the Welsh National Opera were persuaded to bring productions to Llandudno in 1957. Unfortunately it was a big flop - held in August with confusing publicity, there was poor attendance. Bentley peruaded the company to return the following year at a different time and took over the publicity. The attendance gradually grew peaking in 1968/69 then slowly declined.

The theatre was one of the few that possessed a lift though it only held ten people. It was also the first in the north of both England and Wales to have a diesel boiler, formerly it was run on coke. The cinema used one of the most powerful projectors known as a GK21.

According to Roy Bentley the decline in the cinema began in 1947/48 and reached an all time low in 1984. He was of the opinion that the reason for this was television and the poor quality of the films being produced. Also the cost of renting films vastly reduced the profits. The 'Bond ' films for example, could take 70-75% of the box office.

In 1969 the Odeon, now called the Astra, became part of the Hutchinson group and Alan Hutchinson made Bentley general manager. Bentley suggested selling the Savoy and Palladium cinemas and spending the money on a big conversion to the Astra to include 2 cinemas, a bingo hall and theatre but this was rejected. Alan Hutchinson died in 1984 and, according to Bentley, interest in the Astra was lost. Hutchinson's wife Dorothy was in charge but for undisclosed reasons had to leave. The Astra was taken over by the Apollo leisure company which, according to Bentley were just 'asset strippers'.

The Astra was demolished in November 1988 to make way for a block of retirement flatsand its famous Christie organ was destroyed whilst in storage.

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