Remembering the old days of cinemas in Falkirk

Falkirk Community Trust's Jennifer Thomson will be an usherette at the event in October. Picture: Alan Murray
Falkirk Community Trust's Jennifer Thomson will be an usherette at the event in October. Picture: Alan Murray

Cinemas are the places you had your first date, where you first saw a classic film up on the big screen, an Oscar-winning performance or that gorgeous Hollywood star you fell in love with.

Whatever you call it – the pictures, the movies – everyone has a memory of going along to the local cinema and the district has had its fair share of picture houses over the generations, places like the Odeon, the Regal, the Roxy, ABC, Pavillion – later the Gaumont – the Picture House or the Hippodrome.

The old Regal cinema, now City nightclub in Princes Street

The old Regal cinema, now City nightclub in Princes Street

Gone are the days when ushers and usherettes would walk round the seats offering ice creams and even Wild Woodbine and Player’s Navy Cut cigarettes back in the days when clouds of smoke obscured the screen, or shine the torch in your face if you were misbehaving – especially in the back row.

Falkirk Community Trust is revisiting those heady days of cinema from the early 20th century in the aptly named Green Room in Callendar House next month.

The nostalgic journey into some of the most iconic films in history and the cinemas which furnished Falkirk’s streets will feature film extracts including the famous Pearl and Dean advertisement and newsreels from the Scottish Screen Archive.

The audience will be able to share their memories of the Saturday Kid’s Club, favourite movie scenes and songs, screen icons such as Humphrey Bogart, Marlon Brando, John Wayne or Audrey Hepburn and eating choc ices.

The Callendar House archives also has a selection of memorabilia from old Falkirk cinemas, including one of the dreaded torches from around 1939.

One of the trust’s learning assistants, Jennifer Thomson, said the idea for the Memories of ... Cinemas in the Falkirk Area came from feedback from residents who took part in a previous memories project.

Jennifer said: “There isn’t really a bad memory of the cinema from what I’ve heard from a lot of people. They went on first dates there, got all dressed up, watched all the iconic films on the big screen.

“Just the whole experience was so different than it is nowadays, it was a real social occasion. Kids going along on a Saturday morning to the Kids Club, a lot of people remember doing that as very young children, and then in their teenage years going with their boyfriends, girlfriends and best pals and there have been so many cinemas in the Falkirk area over the years.

“Some of the stuff we will be screening on the day we’ve got from Scottish Screen Archives, we’ve been working closely with them and we have a few items here that will be on display on the day as well.

“We’ll be showing Meals On Wheels, I think it was an independent cinema that created it and we’re hiring it from Scottish Screen Archives. It was shown at The Hippodrome at some a couple of years ago.

“It’s designed a bit like a menu that’s got a lot of old cinema adverts that go in the form of starters, mains and desserts and there will be an old newsreel as well.

“One of the other aims is just to really get people chatting about their experiences at the cinema. I think there will be some local stuff in there too.

“We’ll have the National Anthem played at the end as well, apparently that’s what they used to do at the end of films.”

Jennifer was especially keen for more information on the old cinema which used to be in Melville Street where Behind The Wall’s beer garden is now. Falkirk Herald nostalgia columnist Ian Scott can shed some light on that.

The Picturedome opened in 1910 in the old Baptist Church building and changed its name to the Cinema by the 1920s. It was also known as the ‘Tin Kirk’ because it had a corrugated iron roof.

It survived until September 1960 when the whole structure was shipped down to the borders where it is still in use as a farmer’s barn.

Bainsford resident Margaret Meek (86) remembers it fondly for its noise.

She said: “The one where Behind The Wall is had a tin roof and when it rained you could hear it pelting the roof and you couldn’t hear the film for it.

“I remember quite a few cinemas that were in Falkirk. There was The Salon in Vicar Street, that had two seats on a balcony that everyone wanted to sit in. The Pavilion which was across from where Asda is now. It changed its name to the Gaumont. There was the Bank Street Picture House and The Roxy in Silver Row and there were queues at them all.”

The community trust will also offer a ‘Cinema and Theatre’ loan box which is filled with memorabilia for people to borrow. For more information visit the heritage section on Falkirk Community Trust’s website.

The Memories of ... Cinemas in the Falkirk Area event is being held on Thursday, October 15 in Callendar House with screenings at 11am and 2pm. Tickets are £3.50 and can be booked at The Steeple box office on (01324) 506850.