Guildford Picture Palace, the proposed independent cinema for our county town's High Street, missed out on its long hoped for home last week, with a national chain taking the spoils

Guildford Picture Palace, the proposed independent cinema for our county town’s High Street, missed out on its long hoped for home last week, with a national chain taking the spoils.

For those not so familiar with the tale of Farnham businessman Mark Gudgin’s campaign to bring world, art house and independent cinema to a permanent home in Guildford, he had hoped that 170 High Street would provide the bricks and mortar for the project.

While the proposal has got those interested in the alternative excited (I’m in that number, having had a fantastic time at the film evening he hosts at the palace’s temporary home, Guildford Institute), it is perhaps understandable that a national chain‘s financial clout would appeal to a council, especially in these economically uncertain times – although frankly the method they use to weight importance and desirability of project proposals confused me so much I’m considering applying to the Open University for a degree in Further Mathematics (or heading back to middle school).

People in the know maintain that it will take a considerable amount of structural work (not cheap) to make the dilapidated building even remotely hospitable. If true, then perhaps Mark and co will have dodged a bullet that would have seen the picture palace shutting its doors before the gold leaf had dried.

Perhaps it is the idealistic dreamer in me but I can’t help but wonder about the long term view…  

With rather apt timing, the failure of Guildford Picture Palace’s bid came just days after the latest Clone Town Britain Survey - a rallying cry against High Street homogenisation. It found that 41 per cent of the nation’s towns were ‘clones’ (i.e. same high street brands and a lack of independents).

While Guildford didn’t feature on this occasion, the argument is that the continued homogenisation of Britain is a disease that makes town centres more susceptible to ill health when events turn sour (a bit like inbreeding at Crufts, I suppose).

Years back, Haslemere took the alternative path when it launched its localised and still successful rewards scheme rather than opening itself up to the chain gang.

A number of other Surrey towns and villages have since followed suit and hopefully the prevailing winds of change will see importance placed on individual identity rather than the short term gain of bland conformity.

Surrey has been accused of being dull commutersville by the national press in the past and surely no one, especially the power brokers, wants to see the doubters proven right?

Fortunately, there’s no sign of the battle ending just yet for Mark Gudgin’s vision, although he may need more than a little help from his friends.

“We are still determined to bring the Picture Palace to Guildford, we just don’t know where yet,” he says.

Ideas on a postcard…


P.S. I’d love to know what importance you place on independent business and thinking in Surrey, as well as your views on Guildford Picture Palace, so please get in contact at or comment below. Also, there have been a couple of independent entertainment suggestions on the Just Others tab of recently, so please add your two pence.

P.P.S. The attached artwork, Mark Kermode’s picture, just happens to be something I really liked by Guildford artist Paul Kercal, rather than having any more significance at this point. To date, the film critic hasn’t got involved in the campaign but I’m sure an open invitation exists if he fancies popping down to share his thoughts…