Why Wymondham’s Regal Experience is a real screen gem

The cinema at the time of its opening.

The cinema at the time of its opening. - Credit: Archant

Derek James hails a triple celebration for Wymondham film enthusiasts.

Michael with two usherettes when Mary Poppins was being screened in November 1965.

Michael with two usherettes when Mary Poppins was being screened in November 1965. - Credit: Archant

There are three anniversaries to celebrate in wonderful Wymondham next weekend, one market town in Norfolk where the cinema still survives thanks to community spirit, goodwill and hard work.

It is time to give a round of applause to members of the Ex-Services' Club and all those involved with The Regal Experience for coming together to make sure the building is at the heart of community life...and keeps showing great films.

The club – which now has around 900 members - and the cinema group are a great double act and the winners are members of the public. This is an illustration of people power at its very best.

In market towns across Norfolk and Suffolk, the cinema played a leading role in so many lives – until audiences dwindled and many cinemas found they couldn't carry on.

Some ornate and fine-looking old picture palaces disappeared in clouds of dust, others were converted into other businesses with little thought or concern for preserving their history.

Not so in Wymondham – the story behind the Regal is unique and it is one we can all be proud of.

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Not only do they show classic movies on a some Sunday afternoons but they have brought some great film stars to visit the town, the Regal and meet the people.

The likes of Virginia McKenna, Jean Kent, Sylvia Sims, June Whitfield, Susan Hampshire, Peggy Cummins, Muriel Pavlow and many, many more.

It is an extraordinary achievement.

Anniversary 1: The Regal Cinema opened in a blaze of glory 80 years ago, in March of 1937, with a screening of the classic musical Swing Time with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers

Anniversary 2: It is 40 years, in 1977, since the Wymondham and District Ex-Servicemen's Club bought the building from Roy Dashwood. The late, great Les King took over. He was the most colourful cinema boss in the region, probably the land. Even he couldn't save it and it closed as a cinema in 1993.

Anniversary 3: It is 60 years since the man who has devoted so much of his life to the Regal, Michael Armstrong, first arrived as the venue to play his records. 'They were 78s then, Russ Conway was a favourite,' he said.

'The Regal was like a second home to me when I was young. I would fetch fish 'n' chips for the staff on a Saturday night,' added Michael, who now has his very own mini-Regal at his home in the town.

The film shows at the club, which still acts as a fine cinema, are encouraged and loved by those running the club such as chairman Nick Howes and secretary Jenni Homes.

They said: '2017 marks not only 80 years since the Regal was opened but also 40 years since the purchase of the cinema by what was then called The Wymondham & District Ex Servicemen's Club.

'The name may have changed but we will primarily and proudly remain an Ex-Services club working side by side with the Regal Experience,' they added.

The celebrations start on Saturday March 4 night when the much-loved Space Hoppers will be playing hits from the 70s at a dance at the club.

Then on the Sunday at 2.30pm the Regal Experience will be showing musical favourite Grease and a documentary of Regal memories produced by Jonathan Blagrove, who made The Final Reel for the Norfolk at the Pictures project.

Tickets are available from Michael Armstrong on 01953 603246, Maureen Dodman on 01953 605593 or at Simple Cards, Market Street, Wymondham.