This fire-damaged shell of a building sits in a prominent position in one of the most affluent areas of Birmingham. The Royalty Cinema was opened in 1930, operated by local company Selly Oak Pictures Ltd. It was taken over by Associated British Cinemas (ABC) in 1935. Its life as a cinema came to an end in 1963, becoming a bingo club up until 2010. In 2011 it was designated a Grade II Listed building by English Heritage. A local group had been campaigning to restore the listed ex-cinema to its former glory, when in 2018 a large fire devastated the building, leaving it in the condition it’s seen in today.
A local, who used to live opposite the cinema, takes us back to the cinema’s heyday-
“I could look through the window to see what was on. The Royalty was a somewhat posh cinema. If you had little money you went in the stalls through its own entrance and queued down the side. The better off entered through the front doors and paid at a separate box office. The stalls crowd went down little steps and entered in front of the screen. Projection was from under the balcony. A huge place with excellent sound and picture. When Cinemascope was installed two large boards at opposite ends of the building proclaimed ‘in the wonder of Cinemascope.’ It was actually quite impressive. They took the brown curtains down and replaced them with a frilly descending curtain that covered the wide curved screen. The place had an odd smell (Jeyes fluid?) but was always full until the advent of TV. Films ran Mon to Wed and Thurs to Sat with old and often abridged films on Sundays. I expected a three hour show. Two films, Pathe News, Adverts, trailers and sometimes a Pathe Pictorial. The show would finish with the National Anthem but folk would rush for the exit to avoid it!!”
Since being abandoned the building has experienced troubled times. Three fires have ravaged the building and in 2012 a police raid located a cannabis farm in the attic of the property. The most recent and most damaging of the fires was in 2018, with 50 firefighters and 8 fire engines tackling the blaze at its height. It is suspected the fire was caused by arson. In 2021 travellers set up camp on the grounds of the site.
Ever since the bingo hall was abandoned in 2010, locals have campaigned for regeneration. The art deco building stands in the middle of the high street of this community just outside of Birmingham city centre. In 2015 it was bought by developers True Pearl Limited for £1.5 million. The developer initially had plans to turn the site into apartments whilst maintaining its façade. Locals are campaigning for the site to be developed as a community centre, with a two-screen cinema (one screen being dedicated to art deco) as well as facilities for pre-school children, art groups and conferences.