31 July 2013

Can Paris offer new
hope for an old cinema
in Lichfield?

The current edition of the Lichfield Gazette [August 2013] publishes the following full-page feature on page 14, which is a reprint of one of my blog postings:

Can Paris offer new
Hope for an old cinema
In Lichfield

By Patrick Comerford

The Regal Cinema today (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Here the Reverend Patrick Comerford gives a fascinating insight into the restoration of a cinema very like our own, but with a Gallic twist

Recently, The Economist published a news story about the Louxor Palais du Cinema, north-west of the Gare du Nord in Paris, which was once one of the jewels of Egyptian-inspired art deco. It opened in 1921, boasting pillars, papyrus motifs and pharaohs’ heads – and with an auditorium that could seat almost 1,200 people.

The Economist recalls that this was the heyday of silent movies of the sort that ‘The Artist’ has brought back to life. However, after World War II, the cinema fell on hard times, and the Louxor screened its last movie in 1983 before Pathé sold the building to a retail firm that had plans for a store. But the plans never saw the light of day because the Louxor’s exotic façade had been listed for preservation. From 1987 the building stood empty.

Two pressure groups were formed in 2001 to regenerate the Louxor and to raise the tone of the neighbourhood. Paris City Hall bought the site, work began on restoring the Louxor to its original glory, and three years and 25 million euros later, the Louxor re-opened on18th April with Grandmaster, a Chinese martial-arts movie, as its first showing.

This news must surely give hope and succour to the people in Lichfield who are campaigning to save the Regal Cinema at 23-27 Tamworth Street.

The Regal Cinema opened on 18th July 1932 with Maisie Gay in The Old Man and Shirley Dale in The Begger Student. It was designed by the Birmingham-based architect Harold Seymour Scott, who was one of the directors of the independent operating company.

Like the Louxor in Paris, the external and internal styles of the Regal were described as a “delicate” Egyptian, Art Deco style. There was seating in the auditorium for 1,300 people, with 1,000 people in the stalls and another 300 in the circle. The proscenium was 40 ft wide, and the cinema also had its own café.

By November 1932, the cinema had been leased to the County Cinemas chain. It was taken over briefly by the Oscar Deutsch chain of Odeon Theatres Ltd in September 1939, but it was back in the hands of the original independent owners by around 1941.

In August 1943, it was taken over by the Associated British Cinemas (ABC) chain, which operated the Regal Cinema until July 1969. The Star Cinemas chain then took over. Part time bingo was introduced on several nights a week, and on 10 July 1974, the Regal Cinema screened its final film; Bruce Lee in The Big Boss. The Regal then became the Star Bingo Club.

The building was sold in the late 1970s, and became a KwikSave supermarket, with a snooker club in the former café area.

By 2008, the building was ‘For Sale’ or ‘To Let’ for leisure use.

Proposals to demolish the auditorium and to build a hotel on the site, retaining the Regal Cinema’s facade as the entrance, were put forward in February 2010. Planning consent was granted for the partial demolition and new build of the premises to create a bar and restaurant and a 104-bedroom hotel, with associated facilities.

However, in the three years since then, no work has been carried out on the proposed hotel.

Last July, Anna Coley started a Facebook page, “Restore the Regal Cinema, Lichfield!” Around the same time, Adam Bradley organised a petition for the restoration of the Regal Cinema “to its former glory.” By the time the petition closed, it had been signed by more than 80 people.

Lichfield District Council points out that “planning permission has been granted for a new cinema as part of the new Friarsgate Scheme, which should satisfy the demand for a cinema in the local area.” However, the argument is not simply about the need for a cinema for Lichfield and the surrounding catchment area. It is about the conservation of a unique and beautiful building that is part of Lichfield’s architectural heritage.

If this was a Tudor-era cinema in Bore Street, a Georgian-era cinema in Bird Street, or a Victorian-era cinema in Beacon Street, the case for its preservation would be quite clear. Is art deco architecture less valued because it only dates from the 1930s?

The blogger Brownhills Bob points out that The Regal is the only Art Deco building left standing in Lichfield since the Robin Hood on the corner of Saint John Street and Frog Lane was demolished. It was also built in the 1930s, replacing an earlier pub dating back to the 1790s. In his book on The Old Pubs of Lichfield (2001/2007), John Shaw recalls the names changes it went through, including City Gate, City Frog and Funky Frog, before being demolished in October 2000 to make way for new apartments on the site. Part of the Art Deco Burton building at 26 Market Street dates from about 1938, when the foundation stones were laid, but the ground floor has since been replaced with later shop-fronts.

Lichfield Film is the brainchild of Lucy Beth, who told the Lichfield People website: “The lack of cinema in Lichfield is something which is constantly discussed … Lichfield Film aims to bring a relaxed cinematic experience to the city.”

Although the former Civic Hall frequently shows films and movies are occasionally billed as part of the Lichfield Festival, the city has been without a permanent cinema since the Regal closed.

The calls for restoring the Regal have received an overwhelming response in recent months in letters to the Lichfield Gazette.

Planning permission for the new hotel runs out in September. That means work on the plans could still proceed, and that the company has until September to start turning the Regal into an hotel.

What happens if work does not begin by September? The planning permission runs out, and hopefully an order will made for the preservation and restoration not only of the exterior but for restoring the interior too, and for the use of the building once again as a cinema and perhaps as a community arts centre too?

To see the petition go to:


The Facebook campaign to save the Regal Cinema is at:


Patrick’s career has included the positions of: Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Adjunct Assistant Professor in the University of Dublin (Trinity College Dublin), and Canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. For many years he worked as a journalist with the Lichfield Mercury, the Wexford People and The irish Times, where he was Foreign Desk Editor until 2002.

Patrick’s blog can be found at:


Regal application

A warm Moroccan welcome
on a warm summer’s evening

What is your image of a welcome in Morocco?

Patrick Comerford

What is your image of Morocco?





The Atlas Mountains?

Anew report from World Economic Forum on global tourism, looking at 140 countries, and gathering data up to the end of last year [2012], asked people: “How welcome are foreign visitors in your country?”

According to the data, the top three most welcoming countries for foreigners are, in order: Iceland, New Zealand and Morocco. Ireland is there too among the other high-ranking countries, including the rich and peaceful (Ireland, Canada, Austria), a few tourist havens (Thailand, United Arab Emirates), and, for some reason, big parts of West Africa.

The three countries least welcoming to foreigners are, in order: Bolivia, Venezuela and Russia. Other poorly ranked countries include the more troubled states of the greater Middle East (Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia), Eastern Europe and, surprisingly, China and South Korea, are near the bottom.

The survey is not based on the number of foreign visitors: the mid-ranking US and low-ranked China have some of the world’s highest rates of foreign tourism. Nor is it based on regional safety and security: Yemen ranked above Sweden and Belgium.

But perhaps nobody is surprised that tourism-friendly Morocco is so high on the list.

Is it any wonder that Ryanair opened two new bases in Morocco this year, in Fez and Marrakesh, as part of a new €158-million investment?

Since April, Ryanair has based two new aircraft in Marrakesh serving 22 routes including seven new destinations: Baden, Bergerac, Cuneo, Dole, Munich, Paris and Tours. One plane is based in Fez, flying to 15 destinations including four new routes to Lille, Nantes, Nimes and Saint Etienne. Ryanair is also flying to two other airports in Morocco – Essaouira and Rabat.

Morocco’s Tourism Minister Lahcen Haddad said recently: “The Moroccan tourism sector is very proud of the confidence Ryanair is showing in the capacity of the Moroccan destination to grow and develop to become a leading market in the Mediterranean region.”

It is surprising then to find that none of these Ryanair connections to Morocco is available from Dublin.

But I received a warm, traditional Moroccan welcome last night [30 July 2013] at the Moroccan Ambassador’s Residence in Dublin for Ramadan Iftar and to mark the Moroccan National Day.

Iftar is the evening meal when Muslims break their fast during Ramadan. This is often done as a community, with people gathering to break their fast together. I have experienced this in the past in Pakistan, Egypt and Turkey, when Iftar is done right after Maghrib (sunset).

Traditionally, three dates are eaten to break the fast. Many Muslims believe that feeding someone iftar as a form of charity is very rewarding. The traditional prayer for breaking the fast at the time of Iftar is: “Oh God, it is for you that I observe fast and it is with your blessing that I break it.”

At a Moroccan iftar, dates, milk, juices, and sweets typically provide the sugar surge needed after a day of going without food. Harira, a hearty lentil and tomato soup, satisfies hunger and restores energy. Hard-boiled eggs, meat-filled or seafood-filled pastries (briouats), fried fish, and pancakes might also be served.

Large batches of sweets such as sellout and chebekiaare are traditionally prepared in advance for use throughout the month.

Eid Al Ârch or Fête du Trône (Throne Day) on 30 July is an annual celebration marking the accession to the Moroccan throne of Mohammed VI in 1999.

At last night’s reception in Foxrock, which began at sunset, there was plenty of traditional Moroccan iftar food. The guests included diplomats, judges, politicians, academics, business figures, charity and aid workers, the ambassador’s neighbours and both members of the Muslim community and church leaders – a healthy and practical exercise in Christian-Muslim dialogue.

We were all entertained in traditional Moroccan fashion in a large tent in the garden. And as we sipped our mint tea, nobody exclaimed: “Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.”