Gallery: Leiston cinema marks 100th anniversary by offering tickets for Dirty Dancing at just 100 pennies

Leiston  Film Theatre manager Wayne Burns in front of the original film screen from 1914. Leiston Film Theatre manager Wayne Burns in front of the original film screen from 1914.

Monday, February 10, 2014
12:16 PM

It has entertained generations of cinema goers – lifting spirits through two world wars and keeping up with recent revolutions in big screen technology.

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Leiston  Film Theatre manager Wayne Burns in front of the original film screen from 1914.Leiston Film Theatre manager Wayne Burns in front of the original film screen from 1914.

Now, Leiston Film Theatre is marking its centenary in appropriate style by putting on a programme of pictures for a humble pound.

The county’s oldest purpose-built independent cinema will be charging just 100 pennies for tickets to a selection of upcoming screenings as part of ongoing celebrations marking its 100th year.

One of the highlights is set to be a presentation of Charlie Chaplin’s 1921 silent classic The Kid on Sunday, March 16 – a nostalgic tribute to the early days of Leiston Picture House, which opened its doors in October 1914 against the backdrop of the First World War.

The Kid was Chaplin’s first full-length feature film – written, produced, directed by and starring the silent movie icon, whose grandparents lived in Ipswich before the family moved to London during the middle of the 19th century. Chaplin also has family links with Great Finborough, near Stowmarket.

To add to the nostalgia, the theatre has enlisted the services of Suffolk concert organist Tom Horton, providing live musical accompaniment throughout the film, which will be projected on to the original 1914 Leiston Picture House screen.

Manager Wayne Burns, who has written a book on the history of the theatre, entitled Spilling the Popcorn, said: “This is an opportunity for film fans of all ages to not only enjoy this wonderful cinematic experience, but also to appreciate the venue’s history – that Leiston Picture House opened in the very same year that Charlie Chaplin made his big screen debut.”

The event, sponsored by Leiston Press, is just one of 100 special events and promotions to celebrate 100 years of entertainment.

The ‘100 pennies for 100 years’ season starts on Valentine’s night with a screening of Dirty Dancing, followed by half-term Matinee Madness from February 14-21, with Wayne Burns’ Magical Funtime Show on the Wednesday, between 11am and 1pm.

On Tuesday, March 4, cinema-goers can enjoy a cup of tea or coffee and a pancake for £1 from 10am-1pm, with proceeds going to the Leiston Film Theatre Support Club.

The Last Projectionist will be screened on Sunday, March 23, with Britain’s ‘oldest’ projectionist, Aldeburgh cinema’s Neville Parry, conducting an informal question and answer session after the 3pm showing. Again, all seats are £1.

Among the events planned for April are a live dance extravaganza, and the unveiling of new premier and authentic ‘cuddle seats’.

Full centenary programme details are available on leistonfilmtheatre.co.uk. Tickets available online or via the box office on 01728 830549.

Leiston Picture House’s 100 years

Leiston Picture House was the brainchild of Frank Walker, a senior engineer at Richard Garrett and Sons, who wanted to build “an entertainment centre for east Suffolk.”

It opened on Tuesday, October 27, 1914 – two weeks later than originally planned – at a total cost of £3,057.8s.

In 1914, the cinema had seating for 700, including luxurious seats at the rear, standard seating in the centre and wooden benches, known as the ‘cheap seats’, at the front. At present, the venue has 300 seats.

The first film screened was Wanted a House, a Keystone film accompanied by resident pianist Mr Leslie Tolhurst.

Manager William S Hammick ran the Picture House from 1915 until 1945. During the First World War, company directors applied to the local tribunal for Hammick to be exempt from military service, as the cinema was considered vital for boosting public morale.

During the Second World War, soldiers were permitted to perch on sandbags in the aisles when all the seats had been sold.

In 1974, following a national decline in attendances, the cinema was offered for sale. Facing closure, it was only saved when Leiston Town Council bought the building two years later for £12,500.

In 1983, the town council renamed the cinema as Leiston Film Theatre, to reflect its versatility in presenting films and live shows.

In 1988, it received a grant of £50,000 from the Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB) for a 35mm projector and Dolby sound equipment.

Wayne Burns took over as manager in 1994, following the retirement of Peter Free, whose father was the cinema’s projectionist from 1916-1957.

Leiston Film Theatre Support Club was formed in 1992. In the past 10 years, supporters have raised in excess of £140,000 to keep the cinema open.

In 2001, the auditorium underwent a major transformation. In 2010, the theatre was installed with the latest digital projection equipment and 3D technology. See our gallery top right for images of the Picture House in days gone by.

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