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Rex History

Rex History

4 October 2023

A Potted History of The REX

Originally the Oddfellows Hall and built in 1889, it provided various entertainments such as travelling theatre shows, banquets and concerts. It is likely that visiting Bioscope shows were presented here at the turn of the 20th century.

During the Great War Wareham folk used the Garrison Cinema at Worgret, just west of Wareham, but later this venue closed and no local cinema existed until the Empire theatre opened in the Oddfellows Hall in 1920.

1927 - The "Talkies" arrived at the Empire. The Jazz Singer with Al Jolson was one of the first talkies to be shown. The resident piano player was a local pub pianist and would accompany the film with their limited repertoire playing the same song faster or slower depending the action on screen!

1931 - Mr. Harry Mears took over the running from Mr Charlie Fox who was also the local Fishmonger.

1934 - Mr. Elgar, a professional Musician (not related to the composer) took over running the Empire whilst also running the Palace, Isle of Wight.

1937 - Mr. Joe Merrick then ran the very popular business, due to the influx of military units - especially prior to D-Day.

1949 - Mr. Merrick was tragically killed in an aircraft accident and his wife Vi continued to manage The REX.

1963 - The cinema closed for one month for renovation, the arched ceiling was added, and a pair of 'Kalee' carbon-arc projectors were installed. The cinema re-opened on Boxing Day, was re-named The REX and featured the musical 'South Pacific'.

During the 60s, full houses and two feature films nightly were the norm. This was before the advent of television and later video in the home had a big impact on cinemas.

1969 - The REX was taken over by the Myles Byrne Group and managed by 'Rusty' Irons. ‘You got to have a dream’ was Rusty’s theme song.

1987 - 'Rusty' retired and the Rex was adopted by a group of enthusiastic local people who formed Rex Wareham Ltd.

2003- The Bar was added in the Oddfellows meeting room and the REX was among the few cinemas in the UK where it was possible to have an alcoholic refreshment while watching the film- as you still can today.

2009- The REX was acquired by the Purbeck Film Charitable Trust, and it became a not-for profit cinema run almost entirely by our dedicated volunteers.

Over the years with the help of the Purbeck District Council, the Friends of the Rex, and the Rex Players, much work has been done whilst still retaining the character of the cinema. The many improvements include a new fire escape, new toilets, redecoration, replaced and re-spaced seats, new curtains, and a stair lift. Also, a state of the art digital projector offering audiences cutting edge technology was added.