This article came from the Chronicle published May 1983. Pages 50-51
THE CENTRAL CINEMA, YEOVIL
Authors: ‘Geriatricus’ and Mrs.R.Brice
News of the demolition of the Central Cinema in Church street brought memories of the original building which occupied the site.
In pre-1914 times it was known as ‘The Auction Rooms’, and was owned by Mr Archie Thring, who I remember as a short, plump man with the appearance and bearing of a country gentleman. I believe he lived on Hendford Hill, and was a member of the Thring family who owned the glove factory in Waterloo Lane. Regular auctions of surplus furniture, bankrupt stock, fire-damaged goods, etc., were held in this single-storey hall, and it was also let for those public whist drives, concerts, dances, and meetings whose promoters could not afford the charges for the Assembly Rooms or Town Hall. It was sometimes used by the Operatic Society as a rehearsal room, and generally played a useful role in the social life of the town.
The Palace Theatre in the Triangle, was opened in 1913 for showing ‘moving pictures’ and attracted such large audiences that Mr Thring decided to equip the ‘Auction Rooms’ also to show ‘movies’, and so the ‘Central Cinema’ came into being. Very little alteration was made to the original building, it was fitted with rather spartan seating, the more expensive ones on a raised platform at the rear, the screen being at the front. Entrance and escape was by a passageway at the side, which led also to rather primitive toilets at the rear, and the projection room. This was like a large box, made of sheet iron, and housed the projector and the highly inflammable films. The operator was Bert St.Clair, the teenage son of the manager of the ‘Palace’. As there was no public electricity supply in Yeovil at that time, the current for lighting and projection was supplied by a rather temperamental old gas engine driving a dynamo by pulleys and belt. Sometimes the engine would falter, and the picture on the screen fade, to the accompaniment of catcalls and booing from the audience. The doorman would then leave his post and clout the engine with a mallet kept for the purpose, which usually restored power, and the picture, to the cheers of the audience. Ventilation was very basic, and periodic spraying with disinfectant could never disguise the prevailing odours of stale tobacco smoke,wet clothing, and sweaty socks. A pianist worked hard to provide appropriate music throughout the programme, and the charge for admission varied from four to fifteen old pence, the nearer the screen the cheaper the seat.
About 1930 a fire badly damaged the old hall, fortunately without casualties, and with the advent of ‘talkies’, and stricter planning laws, it would have been impossible to rebuild the old place for use as a cinema. It was therefore demolished and an entirely new building with modern ‘Western Electric’ sound equipment and audience amenities built on the site. Had today’s planning laws been in force at that time the construction of a building with an ‘Art Deco’ type of facade, would not have been permitted in a street of Georgian and Victorian buildings.
The programme of films shown was generally good, and I always thought the quality of sound reproduction better than that of the Gaumont or Odeon. The level of audiences kept up well during the war years, due to the large floating population when Yeovil became a garrison town. When, however, the Army left Lufton and Houndstone Camps, and TV sets became general, audiences dropped to an uneconomic level, and after a brief spell as a Bingo Hall, the doors were finally closed.
(Demolition of the Central Cinema has revealed not only the outline of the end of the previous building, but also the tinged stonework on St John’s. Schoolrooms, as a result of the fire referred to by ‘Geriatricus’ – Editor)
I remember spending many a happy evening in the old Central Clnema, especially in its early days when I was a teenager when it then supplied a much-needed entertainment. Then, there was no foyer, the booking office was practically on the pavement, and for the cheaper seats we went down a narrow alleyway to a rear door. Inside we were all crammed together on hard wooden forms, and watched while the male attendant (no pretty usherettes) went around the hall turning out one by one the gas lights in the wall brackets, waiting for complete darkness and the silent films to commence.
As the years went by improvements were made – we now entered from the front sat on plush-covered chairs, the gas brackets disappeared, and the ‘talkies’ supplanted the silent film and tinkling piano.
A film which remains clear over the years was the war-time ‘talkie’ ‘Mrs Miniver’. My mother rarely went to the cinema, but having heard so much about this particular film, we went one evening leaving my aunt to ‘baby-sit’.
We left the cinema while an air-raid warning was wailing in the film, and it seemed as if the sound followed us out into the night of the real world. As we were walking past the church towards the town in bright moonlight, a warden came rushing towards us, telling us to take shelter as an air-raid was imminent. We realized then that the warning in the film had mingled with the dying wining of the real thing. With thoughts of the children we continued walking, much to the disgust of the warden. ‘Hitler must have known I was having a night out,’ I said, and vowed it would be the last visit to the ‘Central’ or any other cinema, until the final ‘wailing Winnie’ had died away.