15 fascinating things you might not know about Southwold Cinema
- Credit: Archant
The story of this indepedent film house is very interesting indeed - filled with tales of pioneering spirit, romance and some real ‘characters’.
Did you know that...
1. Public meetings, plays and other events were held in the Assembly Rooms in York Road, Southwold, at the start of the 1900s. The building was owned by local man Stanley Ransome.
2. In August, 1912, a screen with rounded corners was painted on the back wall and projection apparatus put in. Southwold had a cinema.
3. Motion picture films had appeared in 1896. The first recorded show in Suffolk was at the Tivoli Theatre of Varieties in Tower Street, Ipswich, that September.
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The variety bill included Mademoiselle Zeba, giving “a graceful and clever performance on a revolving table”, and star turn Charles Coborn, famous for song The Man Who Broke The Bank at Monte Carlo. Short films were shown on the “Marvellous Cinematograph”.
4. An advert in The Halesworth Times in October, 1912 – for the Southwold Electric Picture Palace, as Stanley Ransome called it – publicised ‘Enoch Arden’, a 17-minute drama about a man marooned on a desert island who comes home to find his wife has married her first love. Tickets were one shilling, 6d (half a shilling) or 3d.
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5. In 1921, the Electric Picture Palace was taken over by Lily Crick. James Blythe, her 20-year-old son from a previous marriage, became manager. Her husband, George Crick, was chief engineer at Southwold Gas Works.
6. Mrs Crick took on pianist Madame J Kenyon as musical director, and a violinist. Patrons could look forward to “a musical treat”, as well as “tip-top films”, for no extra charge.
7. The Southwold Cinema, as it later became known, was also used for events such as dinners. Hirers included Southwold Homeknit and Hosiery Company.
8. The cinema was made bigger in 1927. There was a new hall with sprung dance floor, a larger screen and raked seating for about 500.
9. That November, the cinema showed what “we believe the greatest film ever produced (at any rate the most costly film ever booked by us)” – Ben Hur. Because it was so long (140 minutes) a special Thursday-night train was laid on. It left for Halesworth at about 10.30pm.
10. “Talking films” arrived at the end of summer in 1930. The cinema said “At enormous cost, the Western Electric System of Sound Reproduction has been installed…” It showed the revue Elstree Calling, and said “children in arms will not be admitted, as SILENCE MUST BE ENFORCED when the programme is being shown”.
11. Between 1931 and 1938 the Duke of York (he became King George VI in 1936) spent a day at a camp for 400-odd boys at Southwold every August bank holiday. The visits were covered by the newsreels, including Pathe’s Super Sound Gazette.
David Cleveland writes: “In 1936 the King planted an elm tree at the end of York Road, almost opposite the cinema. Local historian Barrett Jenkins remembered that ‘a year later the King presented the town council with a gardening book, as the tree he had planted the year before had been eaten by a horse’.”
12. A 1937 letter from Mrs Crick cited some of the annual overheads. Rates were £60. Electric light, gas and coke were £182. Advertising, posters and printing came to £200. Wages totalled £1,000. Average net weekly takings were between £80 and £90.
13. After Lily Crick died in 1942, son James ran the cinema for the next 17 years. It was then leased to cinema firm managing director Norman Hope-Bell (an ex-assistant director at Twickenham Film Studios and producer of films such as 1937’s Old Mother Riley).
But, says David, “times were changing. Regional television came to East Anglia in late 1959, and audiences fell away and many small-town cinemas closed. Hope-Bell gave up in 1960”.
14. A Mr Burgess arrived, rechristened it The Ritz and put in CinemaScope (a form of widescreen presentation). But there was no miracle. The last film shown was comedy The Dock Brief, with Peter Sellers. The business plugged away, with dances and bingo, but in October, 1963, Mr Burgess called it a day.
15. The cinema became a furniture warehouse, then home for a building firm, before it was knocked down in the early 1980s. A doctors’ surgery went up, later replaced by flats.
PS: All was not lost. In the late 1990s Southwold Film Society started, holding shows at the old Eversley boys’ school in nearby Blackmill Road (and using 60 green patio chairs from B&Q).
In 2000 permission was won to turn a Victorian cart shed and stables, also in Blackmill Road, into a cinema. The Electric Picture Palace was opened in 2002 by long-time Southwold fan Michael Palin.
It can seat 70. The philosophy seeks to recreate the glory days of cinema-going: think commissionaire, usherettes and a rising cinema organ to complement the films.
David Cleveland’s book ‘Southwold Electric Picture Palace’ (37 pages and nearly 40 pictures) is £4.50. It’s available from Electric Picture Palace, Blackmill Road, Southwold; Southwold Museum, Victoria Street; Southwold Books, 69 High Street; or (£5.50 including postage) from www.localeastanglianbooks.com
David lives near Harwich, has been a film-maker, appeared on children’s TV show Vision On, and was curator of the East Anglian Film Archive.