Associated British Cinemas

Associated British Cinemas

Associated British Cinemas (ABC) 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 resurrected briefly in the 1990s.


Associated British Cinemas was established in 1927 by solicitor John Maxwell by merging three smaller Scottish cinema circuits. It became a wholly-owned cinema subsidiary of British International Pictures when it was merged with Maxwell’s British National Studios production arm.

During the thirties it grew rapidly by acquisitions and an ambitious building programme under the direction of chief architect W.R.Glen who 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, who eventually became the largest shareholders and able to exercise control.By 1945 it operated over 400 cinemas (usually called the Savoy or Regal) and was second only to Rank's Odeon chain.

Television led to a sharp decline in cinema attendances during the 1960s although ten years previous the ABPC expanded into the new medium with the creation of "Associated British Cinemas (Television) Limited", which as ABC Weekend Television won the Independent Television contracts for the North of England and Midlands at the weekend (and would eventually 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 it was subsequently bought by EMI, who then sold on the cinemas to the Golan & Globus "Cannon Cinemas" Group, having retained the ABPC's lucrative television interests. The chain was sold again in 1993 to MGM and became known as MGM Cinemas. Due to the challenge inflicted by the growth of multiplex cinemas, the chain's finances continued to suffer and it was sold yet again, this time to the venture capital group Cinven who reverted those cinemas remaining to the ABC name in 1998.

In 2000 Cinven bought over the one time rival chain of Odeon Cinemas for £280 million from Rank Group plc [] and all ABC Cinemas were rebranded as Odeon or were closed. In 2004 the Odeon chain was sold to Terra Firma Capital Partners.

Whilst the majority of the those former ABC cinema which remain open are now branded as Odeon one member of the chain had retained the ABC brand located in Bournemouth, and on Glasgow's Sauchiehall Street the ABC Glasgow is now a music venue. However, all of the Butlins holiday camps have an on-site ABC cinema.

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