The first cinema to show ‘talkies’ in Birmingham has become a gentlemen’s club

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What do you think should be the fate of the first cinema to introduce Brummies to the wonder of films with words? Today’s action-packed blockbusters, heartbreaking dramas and smart comedies simply wouldn’t be possible without sound.

We’re guessing “the gentlemen’s club” wasn’t high on your list of answers to this question. But that was what was waiting at the end of The Futurist Road, on John Bright Street, in the city centre.

This cinema began to be built in 1914, the early years of commercial cinema in the UK, but the First World War meant it would not be completed until 1919. The Kinematograph Weekly, a trade publication for the emerging industry, was very impressed. with the place during a preview visit.

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“The theatre, which has a seating capacity of 1,400, will be one of the most magnificent in Britain.” It would have “an offering of new features guaranteed to make even the most jaded of photo enthusiasts ‘sit up and take notice'”.

High praise. You can definitely tell the difference between attitudes then versus now, in their full review.



One of the first images of a full futurist in the Kinematograph Weekly, 1919.

Now you would be concerned about comfortable seats, prices and parking. Go back to 1919 though, and people are absolutely fascinated by this new technology and its possibilities.

A Reverend at the opening said: “The house of the picture was going to have an enormous influence on the moral life of a nation. It was therefore imperative that the destiny of the art of cinema be controlled by men who.. .are aware of the enormous power for good or evil they held in their hands.”

The first films released on its opening day were The Marvels Of The Universe, a short travel film about beautiful landscapes, and the romantic The Great Love. Ghostbusters and Alien were far, far away.

The first “talkie” would come to Brum ten years after The Futurist opened – and it would be a huge attraction. The Singing Fool has brought people from as far away as Derby and Rugby to see the new wonder.

All roads led to the Futurist for a few weeks in the spring of 1929. Sixteen days after its first screening, the cinema estimated that more than 92,000 people had come to see a speech in film for the first time in their lives – imagine having an experience like that, as a mature adult?

More war would come to The Futurist in 1940. Heavy bombardment in the area was damaging the building, and it could not reopen until 1943, when the air raids on Birmingham were largely over.

It would continue to be a hit, sandwiched between clubs and theaters in the area. Gone with the Wind ran for 16 weeks, thousands were turned down for Bruce Lee’s Enter The Dragon, and a baby was born at the movies.

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Footage from inside the futurist, collected by former city projectionist Tom Watkins.
Footage from inside the futurist, collected by former city projectionist Tom Watkins.

The next major change came when it was acquired by the Cannon Cinema chain. Although it was acquired by a large multinational and bought a second screen in the 80s, it began to fight against multiplexes with more screens and a wider choice.

It last closed in 1991, 2 years after dropping its futuristic name – joining old names like Gaumont, ABC and Queensway Odeon. The building will remain, however.

Since then it has been a nightclub, a Spearmint Rhino gentlemen’s club and a restaurant. Today it’s the Babylon Shisha Bar, bathed in silver panels and blue lighting.

However, none would have quite The Futurist’s spirit of innovation.

What’s the best cinematic experience you’ve ever had in Birmingham? Comment below and talk to us in our Facebook nostalgia group.

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