Painting © Ann Marie Whitton
More and more Chorleywood cinema goers are heading for The Rex at Berkhamsted. We went to check out the appeal .
There’s a lot to be said for sitting comfortably while watching a movie. And nowhere does the comfort factor better than The Rex, Berkhamsted.
Opened in 2004 after a major renovation to bring it back to its former Art Deco glory, The Rex cinema is one of the nicest environments for miles around and is still improving. Owner James Hannaway admits that he is still learning and is never averse to changing some aspects for the better. The bar has been redesigned three times, and the system has switched from being a membership club to an advanced booking system.
“ People pay a fee for the benefit of advance booking. We always have some tickets released on the night and if the crowds exceed seat numbers we raffle them to be fair to everybody.”
The big screen is one of the few things that The Rex has in common with the multiplexes. Don’t expect buckets of popcorn, bags of sweets and Coca Cola though. Instead crisps and sweets come in crackle free containers and Coke in bottles. .
* Leg room
* Sociable – Good atmosphere , you feel you are among friends
* Warm Welcome – You feel like a guest and James or one of the team will give a personal introduction to the movie you are about to watch.
* Drinks and nibbles – if you’re coming straight from work you can grab some cheese and biscuits with your wine. Get in the drinks before the start – bar closed during the screening.
* Amazing loos – A visual experience in themselves with hand painted movie star tiles
* Personal service – somebody shows you to your seat so there’s no scrabbling around in the dark
* Good value – you don’t get ripped off. Two Cokes for £2.50 – half the price of many bars. Wines are decent and fairly priced.
* Civilised environment – no sticky carpets
* Controlled temperature – not chilly like the multiplexes tend to be
* Great choice of movies. Different film every night for 362 days a year
James took on the revamp project of The Rex after extreme frustration over the way buildings were being neglected or wrecked all over the country in the late 80s.
“Politics was such at the time that the Mafia were building dreadful out of town retail complexes in the middle of nowhere with car parks the size of Manche
ster including multiplex cinemas, the whole American thing. At the same time classic buildings were being shut down. The Rex had become a Bingo Hall then closed down completely. We set on a mission to rescue it. The building was saveable as there was a Grade 2 listing inside and out which meant you couldn’t touch it. Early planning applications failed but we managed to convince the Council in the end.”
James’ main aim was to retain as much of the Art Deco structure as possible while turning cinema into a pleasant experience.
“ My main thinking was that I didn’t want anyone treated like cattle.
My notion on the renovation was simple .. Don’t do anything to the building.. so we changed nothing except the inside to make it a place worth coming to. There were 1100 seats in it, we now have 300 and we kept one screen.”
Refurbishment was long and costly and The Business said it wouldn’t work. The were wrong and more new customers come every month to watch a film from soft armchairs with maximum leg room and enjoy the bonus of being able to enjoy a snack and a glass of decent wine at the same time .
James Hanaway opened his second cinema, The Odyssey, in St Abans ( formerly The Odeon) in December 2014. The site was left derelict for 19 years and reopened after a community campaign to save it from demolition led by James raised about £1m in three months.
Painting © Anne Marie Whitton www.annmariewhitton.co.uk
The Rex Cinema, High Street, Three Closes Lane, Berkhamsted, HP4 2FG Box Office Tel 01442 877759
www.therexberkhamsted.com Prices from £8 by phone or in person
35 minutes drive from Chorleywood,
Mon to Sat 10.30am – 6.00 pm, Sun 4.30 pm – 5.30pm