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Changing Times | Building has played central role in town’s life

A slightly different article this week, as I went to the Regis Centre recently to see the country and western show. The theatre was full, which was good to see, but it made me think of all the changes that have occurred on this site, from its days as an open field which had a model train running on a track for visitors to enjoy.


Next came the Kursaal building, which was a very ornate building, with its distinctive domes. This building was constructed in 1910 and opened on June 4, 1911. The new proprietor was William Tate, who had financed its construction himself.


The opening show was a musical entitled, Old Heidelberg. I wonder what that was about. There was also a performance by the Royal Garrison Artillery Band. This building was an extension of another of William Tate’s constructions, that of The Arcade, which we still have today.


This year we will see the installation of a blue plaque to commemorate William Tate and his buildings which became one of the most dramatic changes at that time on our seafront. Throughout the years, it had name changes to The Theatre Royal and became home to many entertainments within the large theatre, which could hold 1,000 people, a skating rink and Pierotland and also Palais de Danse, the Esplanade Club eventually used the premises and also another name, that of The Rex, came into being – one of which is well known to many people in the town. This whole construction was eventually demolished in 1975.


Today’s building was opened in 1980 and has also had many incarnations, such as The Watershed, The Alexandra Theatre, The Hotham Arts Centre, and a wide variety of people and volunteers have been involved with its history.


There have been many ups and downs in its history, but I thought I would just focus on the various uses of the premises. Reading the informative leaflet about the uses for the premises, it mentions museum display, and for a time there were stuffed birds from the Guermonprez collection in the main foyer, sadly long since moved to Portsmouth.


There was also a large patchwork completed by the local WI. There was a plaque commemorating the opening on an outside wall, but the wall and plaque have since disappeared. I wonder has anyone knowledge of the whereabouts of a round plaque unveiled by Princess Alexandra?


There were some very successful careers conventions held there in the 1990s, in the main hall. I can well remember being involved, as the personnel manager of Weir Electronics, which would advertise employment opportunities for school leavers and along with other major employers in the area. Employers and colleges from within the area came into the town to promote the opportunities available.


At another point I was involved with the local history society, providing history displays and selling its books and magazines at community events as the town was promoted by the Chamber of Trade.


Yet another period in the 1980s and 1990s saw the very successful clown conventions in the town using the main hall for various organisations to sell their clown goods and for services to be held.


Also, many a pictures of all the visiting clowns was taken outside today’s Regis Centre.


I have mentioned before how programmes either for events, or buildings can give you a perspective on various aspects of our history, so a look through my collection of these items was necessary.


It is interesting to see how they have progressed over the years, from almost photocopied sheets to full-blown colour programmes.


Another of our local organisations to use the facility was the Ashley House pantomime members, who for years entertained locals with their shows around the 1980s. I do wish those advertising events would put the year into the date. I have many items with ‘June to October’ or January 6 but no year.


Yes, I know at the time you know which year it is, but historically it is difficult. Their programme contained a large number of advertisements for local companies, which was good, and it is now interesting to see who was around and who has survived.


One of the largest advertisers was Lec Refrigeration, which closed years ago of course. In 1983, another panto event entertained us with Esther Rantzen as Aladdin. Over the years, many top personalities have performed in the theatre.


In 1987, there were numerous events around the town to celebrate Bognor Regis’s 200th anniversary. One of these was A Knight’s Dream, presented by the Bognor Regis Post newspaper of the day. It was on for two evenings in October and was raising money for the coronary care unit at St Richard’s Hospital. It starred actors Khalid Aziz from the television and Jeremy Bullock from the stage.


It was quite an extensive programme, with scenes from various eras plus appearances by clowns. Sadly, that evening there was a bad storm and the theatre lost some of its roof.


A three-fold programme from, I think, 1992, shows events in the Alexandra Theatre and the Royal Concert Hall with events for adults, children and family groups, which has always been the case throughout the years.


The Bognor Regis Operatic Society presented its excellent Guys and Dolls, and it has continued with regular presentations. There have been a wide range of large groups and many smaller volunteer groups using the premises. We have had a Bognor Regis Festival, wrestling and the Antiques Roadshow held there.


Today, the building is still recognised as a 1980s architectural construction. The Alexandra Theatre has seating for 357 people, also a 60-seat studio theatre alongside the studio and gallery. The café has recently been opened up to be easily used by patrons. I am sure as you read this, many of you will say, ‘She did not mention that event’ and you will be correct because there has been so many uses of the premises. There are so many memories and history and views of these premises.

Posted in Lifestyle.