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Cinema

Let’s go to a movie

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Come visit our Super Cinema and admire all the latest stars
1944 poem by servicemen stationed here

What could be better than a night out at the cinema?

This page is in indexes: Island History, Island Detail

Cinema [Saint Helena Island Info:Cinema]

Below: Early movie theatresThe ‘Talkies’Later DevelopmentsDecline and closure

If you’re lucky there may be an open-air movie screening while you’re here, but our last actual cinema closed in the 1980s so this page concentrates on the cinemas{1} we used to have.

Much of the information provided on this page is sourced from an article ‘A Brief History of Cinema on St Helena’ by Alexander Schulenburg, published in ‘Wirebird’, the magazine of Friends of St Helena{2}. #33, Autumn 2006{3}. The rest is from original research. You will note that there are fewer images on this page than is our norm; people don’t tend to take a camera when going to the cinema!

Early movie theatres

Cinema locations [Saint Helena Island Info:Cinema]
Cinema locations

It is thought that informal ‘Magic Lantern’ shows would have arrived on St Helena at the end of the 19th Century, and a ‘Cinematography Ordinance’ was enacted in 1912{4}, but it was not until July 1921{5} that the first cinema actually opened: the ‘Theatre Royal Bioscope’, launched by Thorpe’s, located on Grand Parade in the building now known as ‘Rickmers’. This ‘cinematograph’ was followed shortly afterwards by the ‘New Store Theatre’, opened by Solomon’s in January 1927. We believe this was located in what would later be the PWD Stores and soon to be the St Helena Cultural Centre{6}.

There was some debate at the time as to what influence the arrival of this ‘Foreign’ (i.e. American) entertainment would have on the islanders, with the Diocesan Magazine hoping that the films shown would be “chosen for the public good”. Their hopes were dashed, however, and the November 1927 edition reported that “the adventures of Buffalo Bill Jr. are a source of breathless wonder and joy to the youngsters, and to their fathers and mothers” describing such films as “full of sentimental trash”. Even Governor Harper commented that the “old world atmosphere of the Island has been broken into by the Cinema and its advertisements”.

Despite this the cinema thrived and attending the cinema became a great occasion. A writer to magazine ‘The Outspan’ in 1929 reports:

We sat upstairs in armchairs with cushions, on one side of the gallery, while the Governor with his party sat on the other. They were all in evening dress! The cinema did not start until the Governor had arrived, which was about 8:30 p.m.

The ‘Talkies’

Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?
Harry M. Warner, president of Warner Brothers Pictures, about talking pictures, 1927.

Early in 1940 the newspapers gleefully announced “The Talkies Are Coming”. In the following article the St Helena News Review expressed the hope that, despite the expected high American content, talking pictures might “do much to correct the more glaring faults of Island pronunciation” (fortunately ‘talkies’ seem to have had no such effect, and ‘Saint’ remains alive and well!)

Paramount [Saint Helena Island Info:Cinema]

‘Paramount Talkies’ building, behind Broadway House [Saint Helena Island Info:Cinema]
‘Paramount Talkies’ building, behind Broadway House

The ‘Paramount Talkies’ (later the ‘Paramount Theatrersquo;), a 600 seat auditorium located behind Broadway House in Main Street, Jamestown, opened on 5th April 1940, in the presence of Governor Pilling, managed by Mr Netto. The main feature was ‘Shipmates Forever’, a comedy starring Dick Powell, supported by a cartoon, a short feature and a newsreel. Talking pictures were an immediate success, attended by islanders and also the many servicemen stationed on St Helena for World War 2. Even the films’ music was noted to be influencing the younger patrons. The Cinema Age had reached St Helena and was doubtless of some comfort during the privations of war.

Special children’s showing were also arranged by the island’s Education Department, showing a popular film, specially selected from the features available to be suited for viewing by schoolchildren, plus a film of an ‘educational nature’ provided by the British Council and including “films of the fighting services, of various parts of the Empire and of the Home Country itself”. Cost was 1d per child.

When the film crew arrived in 1962{7}, they attended a cinema performance. In her diary of the visit Jean Johnston reports:

Cinema in the evening. To the amazement of ‘the quality’ we sit downstairs, feel a bit scratchy. Audience laughs uproariously.

Visitors tended to remark that the films shown were usually significantly out-of-date. The line from the 1944 poem by servicemen stationed hereCome visit our Super Cinema and admire all the latest stars” should certainly be read as sarcasm! Islanders, however, didn’t seem to mind. Cassablanca is still a good film, whether you see it for the first time shortly after its release, or ten months (or even ten years) later.

A programme of music by the Gettogethers Orchestra, entitled ‘Let the People Sing’, will be held in the Paramount Cinema Hall at 8.45 pm on Sunday 14th December 1980. Admission free but a collection will be taken in aid of the Orchestra’s funds. All are welcome.{a}

The Paramount Cinema was also used as a theatre and hosted plays, Pantomimes, musical events (right) and even public meetings. A dance was held there for visiting Prince Andrew in 1984.

Later Developments

Wide screen ‘Cinemascope’ pictures were introduced in 1961 and on 2nd May 1963 a cinema hall was opened in Longwood, at Apple Cottage{8}. Cinema performances at Apple Cottage replaced those formerly held at Alarm Cottage, where Mr Corker held shows from February 1960 to June 1962 and during that time provided the people of Longwood with 118 shows.

Paramount Cinema board, 1970s [Saint Helena Island Info:Cinema]
Paramount Cinema board, 1970s

In the 1970s the cinemas were offering three performances every week (photo, right) and on 31st March 1976 the island’s first (and, as far as we can tell, only) Drive-In was introduced at Ladder Hill. From January 1978 a weekly film show took place at the Jamestown Community Centre using a portable projector, and this was later extended to Blue Hill, Sandy Bay and Guinea Grass.

For Christmas 1980 the Paramount programme was:

Christmas Eve 

Stand Up Virgin Soldiers’ (1977, 5 reels featuring Leslie Thomas & Robin Askwith)

Christmas Night 

The Five Pennies’ (1959, 6 reels featuring Louis Armstrong & Danny Kaye)

Boxing Day Night 

A Star is Born’ (1976, 7 reels featuring Barbra Streisand & Kris Kristofferson)

Old Year’s Night 

‘My Sweet Lady{9}’ (1973, 5 reels featuring Cliff De Young & Elizabeth Cheshire)

New Year’s Night 

The Eiger Sanction’ (1975, 7 reels featuring George Kennedy & Clint Eastwood)

The last cinema on the scene was the Queen Mary Theatre in Napoleon Street{10}, which opened on 10th December 1981, with 500 seats, converted by John Cranfield from a residential building. Like the Paramount, it also doubled as a theatre. This from the St Helena News Review 15th August 1980:

Since December 1978 John Cranfield has been building his Theatre at the Queen Mary in Napoleon Street which he plans to open in December this year. The Queen Mary Theatre measures 120ft by 36ft but narrows to 29ft at the cliff side. It is built to accommodate an audience of 568. In addition to regular cinema shows held there three nights a week it is planned to have pantomimes and other stage productions in the building which will of course have a stage, balcony, dressing rooms, refreshment stalls, etc. The projection booth will be at the back towards the cliff wall. Films will continue to be screened at Ladder Hill Drive-In and at the Sandy Bay Community Centre.

John’s interest in cinemas started when he was projectionist for Pan Am at Ascension from 1966 to 1972. He launched out on his own at the Ladder Hill Drive-In on 31st March 1976. These weekly shows increased to two per week from October 1979. From January 1978 he held a weekly show at the Jamestown Community Centre. The fortnightly shows at the Sandy Bay Community Centre started about a year ago.

Using two Bell & Howell and two Kodak Pageant 16mm projectors with four speakers and a 100 watt amplifier, the films are well projected and normally enjoyed by all cinema goers. For the past year or so the regular projectionist has been Jeff Scipio who has had considerable experience with this type of work. No doubt in the not too distant future John, his wife Vilma and brother Colin will be able to sit back and watch the business being carried on by young Martin Cranfield who currently accompanies his parents at all the performances. At the moment he is five years old.

Obviously John and his family have worked hard with their private enterprise and we look forward with interest to their future efforts in providing regular entertainment for the public. We also wish them well with the Queen Mary Theatre.

Decline and closure

Public Information Film screenings, held around the island in community centres, ceased at the beginning of 1983 with the closure of the Overseas Film Library of the UK Central Office of Information.

Early in the 1980s the new Video technology made it possible to view films at home, using a Betamax or VHS tape player, and by 1982 cinema audiences were in decline.

John Cranfield offered the Queen Mary Theatre for sale in April 1986. It was bought by Horst Timmereck and converted into a store, which it remains today. The Paramount stopped showing films in 1988 and closed for other uses later that year, becoming a warehouse, which it remains today, though apparently still retaining the original features.

The loss of the Paramount Cinema and Queen Mary Theatre deprived the island both of its cinemas but also of its primary theatre venues, as both buildings served a dual purpose. And, apart from the occasional open-air event, which usually attracts a reasonable audience of mostly younger patrons, the cinema era on St Helena can fairly be said to have been over by the end of 1980s.

closinghumourimage [Saint Helena Island Info:Cinema]

Laugh at funny cinema humour - LOL [Saint Helena Island Info:Cinema]


Credits:

{a} St Helena News Review, 5th December 1980{3}



Footnotes:

{1} Yes, we had more than one!

{2} There are three ‘Wirebird’ publications that should not be confused: The Government Newspaper (1955-1966), the Tourist Office Blog (current) and the Magazine of Friends of St Helena (current).

{3} Reproduced for educational non-commercial use only; all copyrights are acknowledged.

{4} Ordinance No. 1, 1912: ‘Cinematograph and similar Exhibitions, to control.’.

{5} Some sources say August 1914. We believe the 1914 version used a much more basic technology, which was upgraded to a proper cinema in 1921.

{6} Prior to 1927 it had been a theatre since October 1924 and was a shop before that, and even earlier the Customs building.

{7} The 1962 Film Unit consisted of Charles Frater, Bob Johnston and Esdon Frost who came to the island and made a half hour film called “Island of Saint Helena”, many sound recordings and photographic stills. The full film is available on YouTube™ www.youtube.com/watch?v=YngeIbFUEVw.

{8} On the road down to Deadwood.

{9} This film is so obscure it does not appear on Wikipedia or the IMDb We found it here: greatestmoviethemes.blogspot.com/2010/02/my-sweet-lady-sunshine-1973_06.html!

{10} We understand that prior to Napoleon’s exile Napoleon Street was known as Cock Street. We do not know exactly when it was renamed. The moonbeamsforall.com: Moonbeams Shop • opens in a new window or tab [Saint Helena Island Info:Cinema]Moonbeams Shop is in Napoleon Street.



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