This is the old Electric Theatre located in Horsham’s Carfax. The theatre was located behind ye Olde Stout House buildings and had the address of 29 Carfax. It was where Sir Michael Caine had his first professional acting role, see below.
The cinema known as the Electric Theatre first opened in 1911 and was run by two brothers. Charles Philip Bingham was the manager whilst Harry F Bingham was the projectionist. The brothers had a short journey to work because they stayed just over the road in the Crown Hotel.
At that time the entrance was to the right of ye Old Stout House until the shop on the left (now Heatwave) was purchased in 1916. In the ten years following the opening the theatre was twice enlarged from its original 40ft. By the end of its first year it was able to boast gas heating for the comfort of its patrons.
It has traded under a number of names since opening. In 1935 it became the Carfax Theatre, then later the Theatre Royal, Court Royal and finally Royal. Throughout the years the theatre had to compete with the nearby Odeon, King’s Head Assembly Rooms and the Capitol amongst others.
The theatre finally closed for business in 1956.
Over the years the frontage has changed to reflect the usage. The area above Heatwave has had various advertisements and signage in place.
The following is based on the chapter about Horsham in Sir Michael Caine’s autobiography ‘What’s it all about?’
Sir Michael Caine had his first walk on part whilst employed as the assistant stage manager for the Horsham based Westminster Repertory Company in 1952*. Sir Michael was working in a butter factory when he saw the vacancy ‘in the small country town called Horsham’ advertised in The Stage magazine. After getting a photograph done to accompany the application he applied in the name of Michael Scott. Caine was interviewed by the theatre owner Alwyn D Fox and his assistant Edgar Grey. Being suitable for playing ‘small butch parts like policeman’ secured him the position and he started two days later for £2 10/- [2006: £49.68], all of which was spent on his lodgings.
The assistant stage management role involved a lot of running around to deal with the detail of theatre life, including borrowing furniture from local stores to use a stage props. Caine’s first role was a policeman and his first line should have been ‘come along with me’ as he arrested the villain of the piece. Unfortunately Caine walked on with his flies undone and was greeted by the audience laughing so he forgot his line. A few weeks passed before Caine was allowed back on stage but soon he proved his worth as an actor and his pay was increased to £3 a week [2006: £59.61].
After two months Caine developed malaria stemming from his National Service in Korea. By the time he had fully recovered the theatre company in Horsham had ‘gone bust’ and Caine was unable to trace Fox and Grey. It was many years later that Caine was contacted by a social security inspector who said he had a ‘very sick old man who was absolutely destitute’ in hospital. It was Alwyn D Fox and no-one would believe his claims that he had discovered Sir Michael Caine. Caine replied with a letter of confirmation and a cheque for $5000 to make his last few weeks more comfortable. The cheque was returned uncashed within the month; Fox had shown the hospital staff his ‘proof’ and died in his sleep that night.
*The book says 1952 and the website says 1953.