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Associated British Cinemas

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Title: Associated British Cinemas  
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Subject: Peterborough, Camberwell, Butlins, Great Crosby, Oscar Deutsch, Regal Cinemas, Carry On Constable, Associated British Picture Corporation, ABC Muirend/Toledo, Look at Life (film series)
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Associated British Cinemas

ABC Cinemas
Cinema chain
Successor(s) Odeon Cinemas, Cineworld
Founded 1927
Defunct 2000

ABC Cinemas (Associated British Cinemas) was a cinema chain in the United Kingdom. A wholly owned subsidiary of Associated British Picture Corporation (ABPC), it operated between the 1930s and the late 1960s. The brand name was reused in the 1990s until 2000.


Early years

ABC Cinemas was established in 1927 by solicitor John Maxwell[1] by merging three smaller Scottish cinema circuits. It became a wholly owned cinema subsidiary of British International Pictures when it was merged with the production arm of British National Studios, which had been formed by Maxwell in 1926.[2]

During the thirties it grew rapidly by acquisitions and an ambitious building programme under the direction of chief architect W.R.Glen, who had been appointed in about 1929[3] and maintained a distinct house style. Existing cinemas which could not be re-modelled were usually operated as separate circuits. In 1937, the parent company, BIP was renamed Associated British Picture Corporation (ABPC).

After his death in 1940, his widow Catherine sold a large number of shares to Warner Brothers,[4] who eventually became the largest shareholders and able to exercise control, though ABPC was separately quoted on the London Stock Exchange. By 1945 it operated over 400 cinemas (usually called the Savoy or Regal) and was second only to Rank's Odeon chain. By the close of the 1950s ABC had started rebranding most cinemas as ABC and dropped names like Regal.

Television led to a sharp decline in cinema audiences after 1950 though with the coming of commercial television from 1955 ABPC had expanded into the new medium with the creation of ABC Television Limited, which gained the Independent Television contracts for the North of England and Midlands at the weekend. ABC-TV lost its franchises in 1968, and was merged with Reddifusion to become Thames Television.

As a result of the decline many suburban theatres closed. Most of those remaining lost their individual names and were simply ABCs. In 1967, Seven Arts, the new owners of Warner, decided to dispose of its holdings in ABPC and subsequently EMI launched a successful take-over bid for the company. Associated British Picture Corporation was later to be renamed Thorn-EMI Screen Entertainment Ltd and this was later divested by EMI to the Australian businessman Alan Bond who sold the chain a few days later in 1986 to the Golan & Globus "Cannon Cinemas" Group for a reported £50 million profit in seven days. EMI retained ABPC's lucrative television interests.

ABC Minors

In the 1940s, ABC set up the first major Saturday cinema club for children, "The ABC Minors". At the beginning of each Saturday morning session, the "ABC Minors Song" would be played to the tune of 'Blaze Away' by Abe Holzmann (1874–1939), whilst the lyrics were presented on the screen with a bouncing red ball above the words to help the audience keep the place.[5]

The challenge of the multiplex

In the early 1990s, on the verge of Bankruptcy, Cannon was taken over by Pathe Communications, a holding company which subsequently bought MGM. The new company began opening its own multiplexes as MGM Cinemas. The existing few Cannon multiplexes were also renamed as MGM Cinemas

MGM Continued to operate multiplex and non-multiplex cinemas, but under its two different brand identities, with the multiplexes being known as MGM Cinemas and the smaller non-multiplexes remaining as Cannon. MGM opened new multiplexes in towns & markets already served by their Cannon cinemas, and then closed the Cannon cinemas "due to the competition from the new multiplex" - examples of this happened in Northampton and Swindon.

MGM Cinemas subsequently changed hands many times, first becoming [3]

Virgin then divested itself of the cinema business to French-owned UGC. Subsequently UGC divested its UK operations to rival operator Cineworld.

While this was happening, the divested smaller ABC cinemas gained a stablemate under Cinven; in 2000 Cinven bought over the one time rival chain of Terra Firma Capital Partners.

On Glasgow's Sauchiehall Street the O2 ABC Glasgow is now a music venue. Furthermore, all of the Butlins holiday camps have an on-site ABC cinema. The only remaining High Street cinema still branded ABC is at Westover Road, Bournemouth, where there is an Odeon just up the road.

See also


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