A history of Coventry cinemas
An undated picture showing Tommy Bolstridge, the Manager of the Coventry Alexandra Theatre, outside his cinema with props used to promote the film Jungle Hell. Picture courtesy of Brian Saunders. The only film we can find on the web with this title is dated 1956 and this looks a lot earlier. Are there any film buffs out there who can tell us more?
In 1940 there were twenty-three cinemas in Coventry, but Nazi bombing raids did for some of them and by the end of the Second World War in 1945, there were seventeen left. Forty years later there were just three cinemas in the city. Coventry Picture Palaces by Gil Robottom is 'the history of Coventry’s old cinemas — all the local flea-pits, picture palaces, and super cinemas. There are plans, photographs, and advertisements here to display the places where people queued to sit in the warm darkness and be conjured away from the industrial Midlands to their faraway dreamlands.'
Souvenir Programme from the opening night of the Rex Cinema in Coventry, February 1937.
The first films were shown in theatres and music halls in the late-1890s, some of which were later converted into cinemas. In 1911 five purpose-built cinemas opened in the city and in the 1930s came the 'super cinemas' . If this book makes anything clear, it is that cinemas and their owners fought hard to survive and were forever innovating in an effort to hold on to their customers, especially once television kept people at home. First, they began converting large cinemas into multi-screen venues, then came the 'multiplexes' of which Coventry now has two. All these changes are charted in Coventry Picture Palaces. Sadly, Gil Robottom died in October 2007, so members of the Mercia Cinema Society worked with his widow, Lynne, to complete his work by helping to gather together many of the archive photographs which illustrate the book and an 'Afterpiece' by cinema historian Ian Meyrick brings the book right up to date.
Coventry Picture Palaces by Gil Robottom, Mercia Cinema Society, 2009, 280pp, £14.95 post free from Mercia Sales, 29 Blackbrook Court, Durham Road, Loughborough, Leics LE11 5UA, web: http://merciacinema.org.
20 April 2009