Early History

Burnham on Crouch has been lucky enough to have a cinema in town since 1910.

The Electric Cinema was opened in 1910 from an old public hall. This was a brave venture as it was one of the first towns to have a cinema in the county. The Electric Cinema was sited next to the building that is currently Burnham Constitutional Club. The Electric Cinema, which was owned by the Newman family, provided basic facilities for about 250 patrons.

In 1931 the Electric Cinema ran into difficulty when the purpose built Princes Cinema opened its doors. After a short period the Electric Cinema closed and the building was demolished to make way for shops.

Princes Cinema was twice the size of the Electric Cinema and provided comparative luxury. Princes continued through several owners until the late 1960s when it was renamed the Rio, a name it retains today. We have been informed that the first film shown was Gracie Fields in "Sing as we go", however this was released in 1932 so either the Cinema is not as old as we think or this information is wrong. It may have been that "Sing as we go" was the first film shown with audio.

Not Art Deco!

Because the cinema was built in 1931, some people (Vulgarians & Pseudo Intellectuals) assume that the building is Art Deco.

As a matter of fact in order to cut costs, plans for the Burnham Rio were taken from 1912-1914 music hall & Theater drawings. The small amount of Art Deco stuff you see in the Cinema has been put in by us and is fake. To illustrate this, look onto the Electric Palace Harwich website - you will notice how similar the interior is to the Burnham Rio. The Electric Palace opened in 1911!

The Great Depression

Burnham and the Dengie has not always been a town inhabited by fat merchant bankers, Hooray Henrys, Minor Celebs and eastern Europe nouveau rich. In the years of the depression things were very very different. The Dengie was the forgotten poor man of Essex. Where bare footed children would comb the river Crouch at low tide looking for whatever they might sell or barter.

During these harsh times the Cinema Management would take goods instead of money for admission payment. A Jam Jar would get you admission for the Saturday morning picture shows. Something as uncommon as an orange would admit a whole family midweek - hence the term Orange Wednesday.

Many people in Burnham had no shoes so the Manager had to lend out slippers to people to stop their feet getting splinters from the wooden floor.

World War II

1939 and those naughty Nazis are at it again. Is there anything that the Rio Cinema can do to help the war effort? Well yes there was! During the war the fixed seating was removed to billet the various servicemen seconded to the area. Films were still shown though, patrons would pick up their own folding wooden seats from the back of the Auditorium and take them back at the end of the show. Take that Adolf!

If anybody does have interesting snippets about the Rio Cinema or its history, we would love to hear from you.

Gas Lighting

Many of you will remember the emergency lighting illumination was by gas - the Burnham Rio was the last cinema in the country to change to electric.

Rival Cinemas

The Flicks South Woodham-Ferrers. Operated for a short time - by all accounts no information can be found on the internet about it. Probably closed down due to the ludicrously high rents charged in South Woodham-Ferrers.

The Empire Maldon. A magnificent example of a market down Art-deco cinema. Demolished to build old peoples accommodation, architectural vandalism at its worst. During the 80s and 90s the Burnham Rio and Embassy entered into a childish good natured tirade in the Burnham and Maldon Standards classified adverts. For example the Embassy would say "Largest Screen in the area!" - The Burnham Rio Advert would say "Smallest Screen in the area - Sit nearer, looks bigger!".

We have procured the original opening programme for the Embassy Maldon - which can be found in the MemRIObillia section. If anyone has any other pictures of this wonderful Cinema, we would be pleased to print them!