Electric Cinema Birmingham: amazing heritage photos of the UK’s oldest working cinema

Fascinating images show inside Britain’s oldest working cinema which first opened in 1909 and almost shut for good due to the pandemic

Amazing photographs show inside Britain’s oldest working cinema saved from closing for good after 112 years.

The Electric Cinema on Station Street in Birmingham city centre was built out of a converted taxi rank in 1909.

Its future was thrown into doubt with the Covid pandemic forcing its closure two years ago - with fears it would never open again.

But businessman Kevin Markwick, 59, stepped in to save the historic art-deco picture house which reopened for the first time since March 2020 on Friday (January 21).

The Electric Cinema Birmingham in years gone by

Its future was thrown into doubt after the pandemic forced its closure almost two years ago prompting fears it would never reopen again.

Businessman Kevin Markwick, 59, stepped in to save the historic art-deco picture house which has reopened for the first time since March 2020.

Is it estimated around £100,000 has been spent restoring the two-screen cinema - which shows 35mm films as well as digital - back to its former glory.

Electric Cinema Birmingham on Station Street today

Why did Kevin step in to save The Electric Cinema in Birmingham?

Dad-of-four Kevin, who also runs the The Uckfield Picture House in Sussex, said: "I’m a bit nervous but excited to see people’s reaction to it.

"I really can’t wait to see the wondrous look on everyone’s faces when they get back and there’s nothing like listening to an audience enjoying a film.

"We have a successful cinema in Sussex that we’ve had since the 1960’s and we felt now was the time to spread our wings.

"The previous owner approached me and told me it was for sale, so I thought I’d have a look because this place is a piece of British cinema history.

"It has survived pretty much the entirety of the film industry, which in itself is an incredible achievement.

"It is certainly a project and will be an adventure - but given our experience with heritage cinema it is one we should be able to complete.

The former staff at The Electric Cinema Birmingham

"Most of the refurbishments are on the technical side. It’s a long-term project, because it had been closed for so long we had to do the basics.

"It wasn’t happy being shut for a year because of the pandemic. We had to replace the projection equipment and that took a while to sort.

"The projection equipment doesn’t like being turned off. We will be working on improving everything properly, but it will take a few years and many hundreds of thousands of pounds.

"The seats for example are £300 for a single seat, so when you see us getting angry that you’re putting you feet up on them, please understand why.

"The response has been overwhelming already. My village in Sussex has 15,000 people, Birmingham has 1.2 million so the amount of interest has been a bit of a shock.

"It’s a historic building and people are excited about it opening again."

A historic interior view of the the UK's oldest cinema - The Electric Cinema in Birmingham

What is the history of The Electric Cinema in Birmingham?

The Electric opened on December 27, 1909 showing silent films with a piano backing.

Over the years the cinema has been through several incarnations including showing adult movies during the 1970s before it moved to mainstream and art house films.

It has also been named Select Cinema, Tatler News Theatre, The Jacey and The Classic and The Tivoli before becoming The Electric again in 1993.

The building was saved in 2004 by entrepreneur Tom Lawes who turned it into a thriving business for more than a decade.

The cinema still retains many original features, including an old ticket machine, film projectors and its art-deco frontage.

Kevin Markwick took on ‘The Electric Cinema’ outside New Street Station in Birmingham, which was first opened in 1909 and houses 2 screens with varied seating arrangements including comfy sofa’s & footstools.

What is the future looking like for The Electric Cinema in Birmingham?

New owner Kevin believes film-lovers will keep flocking to The Electric following the pandemic as people return to a more normal way of life.

His daughter, Katie Markwick, 32, will become manager and the cinema will employ 13 people.

Kevin added: "We hope that we can let it grow and expand. We’re just breathing new life into it. We want to make this the go-to place for film lovers in Birmingham

"We really want to promote the cinema experience for younger audiences so they understand what they’re missing as streaming and watching films on TV isn’t the same.

"You can sit at home watching Netflix, but you can’t beat sitting with an audience and enjoying stories collectively.

Bette Mansfield, one of the usherettes who worked at The Electric Cinema Birmingham aged 17 in 1938

"It’s a funny old building. It’s had an odd life, it was a news theatre, a cartoon theatre and even an adult entertainment theatre at one point.

"We can do a films for everyone. We want to be showing a variety really, new releases, art house, everything. We’re also showing films in 35mm.

"We’ll be even showcasing a Russian Ballet at some point. We’ve sold out a few different shows now so hopefully that continues."

The cinema reopened with a screening of Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast. For the latest information on films being shown, click on: Electric Cinema Birmingham

A historic view of the the UK's oldest cinema - The Electric Cinema in Birmingham

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