Off to the Bioscope

by Walton Gale
Published March 2012

To those who sought their entertainment in the cinema, Plymothians were well served. Ignoring such establishments as “Twopenny Rush” in St John’s Bridge Road, in Ebrington Street there were two cinemas the Cinedrome now Goulds – and the Palladium.

The latter cinema had been a skating rink equipped with a pipe organ to cater for us Patineurs of a more graceful age. It was reputed to be one of the largest cinemas in the country and had a perfectly level, non raked, floor. At the rear of the house were seats in pairs within small curtained cabinets, when, if the film proved boring, couples could engage in some other form of entertainment ludo perhaps or lotto now known as bingo!

Further into town we had the Criterion where I saw (and heard!) my first talkie still upon coarse grained film stock (“Mum is it raining?”comes to mind) and with a sound track producing what was later called canned music. I wasn’t excited. I didn’t think the talking pictures would catch on!

Down into Union Street to the Empire. This one was managed by its owner who walked up and down the aisle and when he found his youthful audience throwing orange peel or sweet papers at each other, would blow a whistle, bring up the house lights and manage the audience whilst the almost invisible epic proceeded behind the lights. It was there that I learned t( count aloud the number of rounds which could be fired from a cowboy’s six chambered revolver.

Further along Union Street was the Andrews cinema, later to become the Gaumont a splendid “palace” equipped with a wonderful Compton organ which we enjoyed.

I cannot recall any cinemas in Stonehouse but Devonport was well provided for. Fore Street boasted the Savoy, the Electric just beyond the Hippodrome and the Alhambra a theatre principally but I have seen films there. Later came the Forum, now a Bingo Hall.

St Budeaux had its State cinema, St Levan’s Road had The Palladium, a much smaller place. At one time there were two cinemas on Mutley Plain, the Belgrave, just off the Plain in Belgrave Road and the Mutley Plain Cinedrome, where the Ford Park Road junction is today. Here the films were accompanied by a pianist who improvised to keep up with the story of the silent film. The cinema changed its name three times in its short history, becoming known as the Roseville and then the Argyll.

The other notable cinema in Plymouth was the Regent – a splendid building. Its rivalry with The Gaumont ensured that Plymouth promptly received all the best films of the day.

Those films, what stars we were introduced to. They included such famous names as
Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd and the wonderful Buster Keaton. We met Mitch McGuire and his gang still entertaining us today in the name of Mickey Rooney. What a parade of handsome and beautiful we saw! Back in 2005 I went to the pictures for the first time in more than thirty years. The cinema had ten screens each showing a different film.

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