YORK’S oldest surviving cinema celebrates its 75th birthday on Wednesday – with its owners confident it will continue as a success story for the next 75 years.

Reel Cinema, in Blossom Street, opened as The Odeon on February 1, 1937, when a stream of expensive cars delivered VIP guests to its doors, among them a Viscount and Viscountess, and also the chain’s founder, Oscar Deutsch.

All of the 1,484 seats were sold out within 90 minutes of the box office opening, and the first person in the queue to buy a ticket was also presented with a bottle of champagne by the cinema’s management.

The first films to be shown were The Man Who Could Work Miracles, starring Roland Young, and They Met In A Taxi, starring Fay Wray and Chester Morris. Prices began at sixpence for the cheapest stalls seat and went up to two shillings for the dearest circle seat.

The cinema shut down in 2006, despite a campaign by The Press, backed by 13,000 readers, calling for it to be saved and refurbished, and it remained closed and boarded up for so long that most people feared it would never reopen as a picturehouse.

But then in 2009, independent cinema chain Reel bought and reopened the complex, and embarked on a major refurbishment project.

Improvements have included the installation of two additional screens to ensure a greater variety of films, and the introduction of digital projection equipment in all five screens and of 3-D technology in three.

Seating has also been improved in the giant auditorium of Screen One to provide more legroom for customers.

Reel boss Kailash Suri said the improvements had been coupled with the introduction of discounted entry on Reel Monday and Reel Wednesday, and the launch of a Kids Club with tickets costing only £1 and an OAP Club on Tuesdays, when customers were given a free hot drink.

The cinema atttracted total audiences of more than 150,000 last year, and Mr Suri said he hoped numbers would grow to 250,000 in the next year following further planned improvements, which included opening up the bar and cafe on the first floor. He said he was also considering replacing the seating in Screens One, Two and Three.

He said some of the biggest audiences since the cinema reopened had been for the Harry Potter movies, although there had also been good numbers for recent films such as Sherlock Holmes, the Iron Lady and War Horse.

Mr Suri said he would mark the anniversary by offering free entry to the cinema on Wednesday to the first 75 Press readers to turn up with the voucher published in today's newspaper.