The Publix Cinema. 1961

By Simon Mortimer

The Publix Cinema. 1961
Stevenage Museum. PP607

Listed in 1922 Kelly’s Directory as a ‘cinema picture house’ in Bowling Green, Stevenage. The proprietor was listed as Robert Towser, who came from a family of coal merchants with business in London, although they lived locally. However the building is known to be built in 1912 and eventually closed in 1961.

It remained at the top of the Stevenage high street for four years before it was eventually pulled down in October 1965. It was recognisable from its mock Tudor façade which dated back to the times when its name was ‘the Tudor Cinema’. Before then the building was simply known as ‘The Cinema’ and originally seated around 300 people. ‘The Cinema’ closed during the First World War due to a lack of projectionists and afterwards it took the name ‘The Tudor Cinema’ and eventually reopened again officially as ‘Publix’ at 1935.


The re-opening was in response to the Astonia cinema which had greater facilities, and so the ‘Publix’ needed the extra publicity to stay open. The ‘Publix’ earned the nickname the ‘flea pit’ after the reports of rats scurrying around the cinema floor and old out-dated wooden benches that could easily be tipped over. In its later years it started showing ‘X’ rated films to attract a dwindling audience, and the last film it showed was an Italian ‘X’ rated film appropriately titled ‘The Last Meeting’

This page was added on 07/01/2011.

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  • Watching the modern ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ reminded me of seeing the original black and white version at the Publix,!! I’m now 86 so how old was I then??
    Went there fairly often with my parents, comments about the general state were well justified, also a fairly regular visitor to the Astonia; sometimes via the Fire door.

    By Richard Jesse (25/02/2023)
  • I can remember going into the café next to the puplix cinema with my mother. As for the cinema some friends and I “dared ” to go there in the hope to watch a x rated film, we would have been 14 or 15 years old, guess what, they let us in!!! o yes the place was just as bad as indicated by all those other comments made. The seats were lumpy and loose, the floorboards creaked, the film didn’t remain central to the screen. The audience jeered and laughed . Well one cant say the place lacked atmosphere!!! {what a laugh}
    mike gorham {aged 73}

    By michael gorham (23/11/2019)
  • Fond memories of naughtily playing in the then derelict cinema building back in the 60’s, even scaling the outside ladder to the old projection room.

    By NOEL KITSON (30/04/2018)
  • I lived in Brox Dell between 1950 and 1963, went to Letchmore Road, Fairlands Junior & Barclays SM. Tony Brown, son of George, the famous Super Nero sprint bike and owner of the motorbike shop opposite the Cromwell Hotel, went to Barclays too. Tony was recently Chairman of the Vincent Owners Club. Sadly my parents split during the late 50’s and Dad used to seek sanctuary at The Publix. Dad moved to Australia, my Mum and I moved to Birmingham, and I’m still here.

    By Andrew Robson (07/12/2017)
  • Ah yes the Publix Cinema – more commonly referred to as the flea pit.
    Went there a number of times in the late 50’s and very early 60’s always on a Sunday afternoon. Remember one film “And God Created Woman” starring Brigitte Bardot, considered to be raunchy at the time and was given an age restricted X rating. But the rating didn’t matter everyone got in!
    As I remember the only heating was one of those circular paraffin heaters in the ticket office, Sometimes it was that cold in the cinema itself you could see your breath throughout the film. You’d never catch a cold in there the germs couldn’t survive. By contrast with that old tin roof, which sounded like a machine gun when it rained hard, it made things like a green-house in the summer.
    The projector would pack up on a regular basis and that’s when the booing, shouting and stamping started until the old chap got it going again. There was one occasion when we all got our money back – then shot off to the Astonia cinema down the other end of the High Street.
    The best crack was the seating, stalls (downstairs) and the circle (upstairs) and at the back of the circle were double seats, they were the first to be taken!!!
    If you were going up to the circle you needed to duck down to avoid the projector. It was far too much of a temptation and of course halfway through the film, thanks to some wag, the shadow of a dog or cat would appear on the screen amid much cheering.
    Happy days!

    By Martin B (07/07/2017)
  • We use to go to the Publix think we use to get in thru toilet window. Astonia, seat ripping was them teddy boys. I cant see anything on here about Ivy House antiques, what about George Browns motor bike shop,

    By Paul Johnson (30/06/2015)
  • The Bedford van out side the café next door was my dads, he would come to my school and pick me up. If it was warm the side doors would slide back and stay open (no seat belts !!) or if cold they was keep shut and the engine cove in the cab would be taken off for heat. Later it was turned into a camper van with a sink and beds and we went all the way up to Scotland towing a small caravan, some of best day of my life. My Auntie met and married my Uncle who I think work in Publix. My Mum, Dad, sister and me moved into the cafe next door after my Grand-dad who owned it died in the early 1960’s. My Dad shut down the café after the motorway was open and all the traffic stop coming by. After my Dad died in 1999 my Mum sold and move near to my sister. Our family had a lot Good times at number 4 Bowling Green and one of my Auntie still lives in the house to the left of the café behind the white picket fence. After they pulled down the Publix and the houses to it right my cousin and I played football and learnt to ride my moped in the field that was left. Later they put up more houses that are still there. Great Days.

    By paul tooley (18/11/2013)
  • Absolutely concur with Ian’s comments. A wet night outside was always a wet night inside the Publix. The balcony, such as it was, consisted of around a dozen seats and the projector beam would pass by at one’s ear level. This meant frequent obstruction of the beam by people getting up to go to the toilet, or even opening an umbrella. Then, of course, the various shadow puppets authored in the row seats and displayed for all to see on the screen. I always regarded the projectionist as a bit of a hero as his only access to the projection room, which could scarcely have been much bigger than the average dog kennel, was up a metal fire escape ladder up the outside of the building. Must have been a challenge with an armful of reels on an inclement night. The lady in the box office, for want of a better term, always wore an old plain grey overcoat, and had an expression to match. Once in on the main floor, it was prudent to check your seat very carefully. There was a good chance that either the cushion or the seatback would be missing. Usually the result of a mini-riot during one of the early rock’n’roll films like Concrete Jungle, Don’t Knock the Rock or The Girl Can’t Help It. Sitting on a front row bench had its hazards, too. To see the screen involved craning one’s neck into an almost vertical position. Why is it we reminisce about these sort of places with such fondness, even if we don’t always admit to doing so.

    By Howard Roberts (18/01/2012)
  • I went to the Publix a few times. There was more action with the dirty old men in raincoats and the rats. Oh! those were the days. I never did see a Ki ora or a mivi?? for sale. As with the Astonia when the film run out we used to stamp our feet until it came back. What do young people do now? Go looting. Love the site

    By john cochlan (26/11/2011)
  • My mother was a great cinema goer in the 50s and if it looked like rain,she would take an umbrella– to be used inside the Publix !

    By iain moncrieff (01/06/2011)
  • I still remember the old cinemas in Stevenage, the Astonia at the bottom of Pound ave in the Old Town, once famed for people slashing the seats. And the old Publix that stood at the end of the old town green, when as a kid I went to see the Wizard of Oz you walked down one walkway then crossed to the other where a couple of rows of seats had been removed due to the floor rotting out.

    By Roy (10/02/2011)