Tring’s last purpose-built cinema, THE REGAL, demolished 1978/79.
The word “cinema” ― short for “cinematography”
often used to refer to filmmaking, the film industry and to the art
of filmmaking itself. For some four decades Tring’s citizens could enjoy
the film industry’s depictions of drama, romance, horror and science
fiction, which, judging from old programme advertisements included some of cinema’s
finest moments. Then, suddenly and unexpectedly, visits to the
“flicks” (or “flea pit” if you prefer) ceased. In February 1958 Tring’s
last cinema, THE REGAL, closed, bringing to an end over fifty years
of public film shows in the town ―
or was it the end?
The account that follows, which, for the most part comes from
contemporary newspaper reports, tells the history of public film shows in
the town. It begins with the earliest record of moving film
being shown and comes down to the present day, with a lengthy hiatus
between the closing of our last cinema, THE REGAL, and the recent
arrival of our pop-up cinema.
My thanks go to local historians
Wendy Austin, Jill Fowler and Mike Bass for the use of their papers on this subject. Some of the documents I
have used are unattributed, so my thanks also goes to those unknown authors.
TRING’S FIRST MOTION PICTURE SHOWS
OF THE EMPIRE’S PIANIST
TRING’S FIRST MOTION PICTURE SHOWS
When Tring acquired its first cinema over a century ago, many in the
town were already familiar with motion picture or “movie” shows as they
were later known. The
earliest report I have seen of motion pictures being shown at Tring was on the 22nd March
1899, when that week’s edition of the Bucks Herald informed
its readers that:
― Under the auspices of the New
Mill Baptist Sunday School, Mr. Andrew Dron gave an exhibition of
photographic transparencies and animated photographs, at the
Victoria Hall, on Wednesday. Part 1 consisted of
transparencies illustrating ‘From Greenland’s icy mountains.’ A
cinematograph exhibition formed the second part, amongst the
incidents reproduced being:― Negroes
taking morning dip, falling wall, Guards marching through Hyde Park,
cartoonist sketching (humorous), fire call (Southwark Bridge Road),
Dragoons crossing river on horseback, Launch of the ‘Albion’
(Blackwall disaster) [YouTube],
artillery practice, phantom ride in front of engine [YouTube],
high diving in swimming bath, sleeping groom (humorous), express
train traffic (London & North-Western), rough sea, arrival of train
in station [YouTube]
launch of an Italian ironclad, snowballing, Queen Victoria passing
through Hyde Park, and several others.”
In the following years cinematograph exhibitions took place occasionally.
November 1912, Mr. P. J. Darvell of Chesham, representing the
Enterprise Cinema Syndicate, opened Tring’s first cinema, the GEM.
This “picture palace”, as it was called, was located in the Unity Hall above what was then the Tring Co-operative
Society’s store at No. 60 High Street (now Olive
Limes Indian Restaurant). The Hall, which could accommodate 300
people, was often used for staging plays and concerts. The Bucks Herald informed
its readers that the
building had been altered to provide a
second staircase and additional exits, and that there were to be
twice nightly entertainments, know to later audiences as the “first
house” and “second house”. Writing in the November 1967 edition of Hertfordshire Countryside, Hayward Parrott had this to say about
was a great month for Tring. The GEM picture palace opened its
doors for the first time to the waiting crowd. The hall was
over the Co-operative stores in the High Street. Mr. J. Bearinstain, who now lives in Aylesbury, was manager and
projectionist  at one and the same time. Mrs. Jennings was the
pianist. At the other end of the scale was Frank Harrowell,
the chocolate boy. Mr. Harrowell and his wife still live at
Wingrave Road, New Mill. Mr. E. Brackley, of Tring, was also
on the payroll as a boy.
J. Bearinstain, Manager and Projectionist.
Moving films were not new to Tring people, for before the start of
the GEM they had watched travelling shows three days a week at the
Victoria Hall. The GEM charged from threepence to one shilling
for its seats at evening shows. On Saturday afternoons patrons
merely paid one penny. Most of the films were Vitagraph
with such stars as John Bunny, a comedian, Maurice
Costello, a detective, Flora Finch and Evelyn Turner. Charlie
Chaplin appeared as a policeman in Keystone comedies before his rise
to fame and fortune. ‘Quo Vadis’ [YouTube]
was seen at the GEM in 1913.
Mr. Bearinstain well remembers these pioneer days in Tring.
Technical hitches produced rude sallies from the audience.
Improvisations were made to keep the picture on the screen or
failing that to keep the audience in good humour! On Tring
Show day someone from the GEM was on location getting shots with a
movie camera. People flocked to see the film, hoping to catch
a glimpse of themselves as they flickered across the tiny screen.
Mr. Frank Harrowell was a boy of twelve when he walked the gangway
at the GEM with his tray of sweets and chocolates. He was paid
three shillings a week plus commission of a halfpenny in the
shilling. He also operated the sound effects to imitate the
noises of charging horses, rifle fire and cannons during the showing
of the epic The Battle of Waterloo and other war scenes. The late
Mr. Fred Budd, then a boy from the Church Lads’ Brigade, sounded the
The first GEM cinema was located on the upper floor of No.60, High Street.
Built in 1880 by the Tring Co-operative Society, the Co-op store
remained on the site until the 1980s.
The GEM prospered sufficiently to encourage its proprietor
to invest in larger, purpose-built premises, for on the 5th February
Bucks Herald announced that:
“NEW PICTURE HALL.
― Mr. P. J. Darvell, of the GEM
Picture Hall, has acquired a very fine site in the Western-road
― and is starting at once to build
an up-to-date picture and concert hall. The plans are now
before the Council, and it is hoped that the building will be
completed in five or six week’s time.”
Bucks Herald, 5th February, 1916
Construction of the new picture palace was financed by a company set
up for the purpose, The Tring Picture and Concert Hall Company Limited.
was registered on the 14th March 1916 with a capital of £2,250 in £1 shares,
its three directors being A. Hutchinson, P. Dyer and P. J. Darvell
(of 10 Akeman Street, Tring). War work appears not to have hindered
construction, for by the beginning of July the building was nearly
“THE PICTURE PALACE.―The
new Picture Hall in Western-road ― which has been erected by a
syndicate of which Mr. P. J. Darvell, who for three-and-a-half
years has conducted the GEM picture Hall in another part of the
town is resident proprietor ― is approaching completion. It is
hoped to open it during next week. The building occupies a
capital site on the Western-road, and will provide accommodation for
an audience of 400.
Special attention has been paid to the ventilation, which is of the
most up-to-date and effective character. The building is of
brickwork and every precaution in the way of fire exits and fire
curtains has been provided.
Sketch of the GEM (artist unknown).
The pay box is on one side of the entrance and the manager’s office
on the other. The entrance is of oak, on stone plinths, and
the front of the building will be finished in timber and half-cast,
a style which is so popular locally. The building will be
furnished throughout with tip-up chairs and the inclined floor will
give a good view of the screen to all parts of the house. The
plans were drawn by a local architect, and every effort has been
made to ensure the convenience and comfort of patrons.
Arrangements have been concluded for the supply of exclusive films
to the Hall.”
Bucks Herald 15th July 1916
It should be remembered that Tring did not have mains
electricity at the time
that came in 1926
so the interior of the building was probably lit by gas. It was also
an age when many smoked, hence the report’s emphasis on the
importance of ventilation of
“the most up-to-date and effective character”
and fire protection.
Life in the projection room  was potentially
dangerous, for the nitrate based film ―
essentially a solid form of nitro-glycerine ―
then in use, was highly flammable. If nitrate film combusts,
the resulting fire generates its own oxygen creating a flame that
cannot be extinguished. It can burn underwater; it can burn
beneath a fire blanket; it burns until the celluloid is gone and any
attempt to smother it creates toxic fumes.
Following numerous cinema fires caused by this unstable film, the
Cinematograph Act  was introduced in 1909 requiring movie
projectors to be placed in a projection room with wall coverings
made from asbestos and fire
shutters over the projection ports. A further Act in 1922
Act] required cinemas to take other safety precautions.
The GEM in its latter days serving as Chiltern Garage at No. 46 Western Road,
The building was demolished in the early 1930s when the
site became a bus depot.
The new GEM occupied a site in Western Road opposite Henry Street,
which today is the premises of Tring’s Royal Mail sorting office.
A report of the time (unattributed) had this to say about the new
enterprise, which had . . . .
“. . . . a frontage of 100 ft. to that main thoroughfare of
Tring. It will accommodate 500 persons in 3d, 4d, 6d and 9d.
seats, and has boxes at 7s. 6d., each, with continuous performances
from 6 till 10, equivalent to two houses nightly. In its
construction ample provision is being made for variety turns, which
would be a welcome feature. Mr. Darvell is no stranger in
Tring, nor to the cinema business in this town. He was the
first to start a place of this character here, and has successfully
run the Gem Cinema at the hall of the Co-operative Society for the
past three years, and during the last twelve months he has also
carried on the Halton Camp Cinema, 
specially erected for the
entertainment of the troops there stationed.
The new GEM opened on the 1st August 1916:
“Owing to one or two inevitable delays Mr. Darvell was unable to
open on Saturday as announced, but by Tuesday all obstacles had been
overcome, and a very encouraging start was made. Some work yet
remains to be done in the way of interior and exterior decoration,
but when completed the Hall will evidently by very comfortable and
star of Exploits of Elaine,
photographed in 1917
star of Lost and Won,
photographed in 1915.
The management have secured some splendid films, and the popular ‘Exploits
of Elaine’ [YouTube]
has been followed with great interest. Other attractions this
week have been ‘Lost and Won’, [YouTube]
a drama with strong supporting interest, and ‘Those College Girls’,
and an exclusive Keystone picture.
Mrs Jennings, who was so long with the old GEM, continues her work
at the new building, and her pianoforte performances were this week
effectively supplemented by a violinist.”
Bucks Herald 5th August 1916
In March 1917, Darvell’s name, as the cinema’s “proprietor”, is
replaced in GEM programme
advertisements by that
of it owners, The Tring Picture & Concert Hall Co. Ltd. This
may have been due to him having taken on the management of the nearby
military camp cinema at Halton (later to become R.A.F. Halton),
but there were several later references to him in the local
During March 1917, in his role as manager of the Halton Camp Cinema,
prosecuted by H. M. Customs & Excise for non-payment of
Entertainment Tax,  the Prosecution claiming that “the defendant
had given a considerable amount of trouble over the matter.”
A ruling was made against him in the sum of £12 8s 8d unpaid tax
with £1 6s 6d costs, but of more serious consequence was the injury he sustained around this time in a road traffic accident:
“On Friday evening Mr. P. J. Darvell, manager of the [Halton]
Camp Cinema, was the victim of a serious accident resulting in
severe contusions of the face and forehead, and concussion.
Mr. Darvell was cycling, and when near the Camp Post Office was
about to pass a transport standing on the side of the road.
The mules of this vehicle were somewhat restive, and made a sudden
turn towards the centre of the road. The driver jumped down
and ran to seize the animals’ heads, when most unfortunately
Mr. Darvell collided with him, and was thrown heavily to the ground.
Assistance was speedily forthcoming, and it was soon evident that he
was in a serious condition, being quite unconscious.”
Bucks Herald 17th March 1917
Darvell was taken to the Royal Bucks Infirmary where he made a
recovery. Later in the year he was called to appear before a
military tribunal to determine whether he should be exempt from
conscription into the armed forces. During the hearing Darvell, then employed as a munitions worker, explained that he had been
blinded in one eye, the result of a recent accident. And with
that Tring’s first cinema proprietor disappears from the scene.
Following the Great War, servicemen stationed in the locality
dispersed and the town returned to its peacetime population
of slightly over four thousand, which proved insufficient to sustain two cinemas.
On the 4th May 1922 the London Gazette announced that the
The Tring Picture and Concert Hall Company
Limited, owners of the GEM, had been voluntarily wound up.
However, it is likely that the
cinema had closed for business well before then, for a job advertisement
appearing in the Bucks Herald in January 1920 for a mechanic instructed applicants
to apply to the “late Gem Picture Hall, Tring.”
February 1924, by order of the mortgagees the building and site comprising
¾ acre of land was sold by auction.
The site (No. 46 Western Road) was then used, first, as a garage,
then as a bus depot (Chiltern Bus Services, later the London
Transport Passenger Board), then by United Dairies, and it presently
plays host to a Royal Mail sorting
The GEM would likely have been a commercial success had
it not been for the opening a few days earlier of a rival cinema . .
letter was read from Mr. James Honour, saying that he had sold four
cottages in Akeman-street to a Cinema Company. As the company
required the site, the tenants would have to get out. He asked if
the Council would allow them to move into the Council cottages. They
were good tenants and respectable.―The
Council regretted that they were unable to accede to his request.
The question had been raised before, but they could not do it. It
was contrary to the conditions under which they held the property.”
Bucks Herald 12th February 1916
The cottages were freed of their tenants, demolished, and building
pressed ahead on the vacant site. By July construction was
new Cinematograph Theatre in Akeman-street, now nearly completed,
will be opened in the course of the week. The building has an
imposing front designed in the Georgian style, and the interior has
been very tastefully decorated in the Adams period. The
ventilation is of the most modern principle, with Boyle’s patent
roof ventilators, and, in addition, an electric exhaust fan.
The heating will be by means of gas radiators, and other features,
such as tip-up seats, are included to add to the comfort of
Two dressing rooms are placed in conjunction to the stage, which is
designed for variety turns of a refined class.
No expense has been spared to make this theatre the last word in
Cinemas. The Building has been carried out by the well-known
firm of J. Honour and Son Ltd., for a local syndicate, from the
plans and under the personal supervision of Mr. Fred Taylor
A.R.I.B.A., architect, Aylesbury.”
Bucks Herald 22nd July 1916
The EMPIRE was a purpose-built cinema designed to seat 250 people
plus a small balcony with 64 seats. The architect designed the building to the requirements of William
Charles Taylor, who was determined to open before the new GEM in
Western Road; in that he succeeded, for the EMPIRE opened on Saturday
29th July 1916, two days before the GEM.
Front elevation of the EMPIRE, Tring, as built.
A local resident
recalls that at the EMPIRE’s opening the film kept fading on the
screen. This was because the projector was powered by a dynamo
driven by a gas engine and the belt drive
connecting the two kept slipping off the
(Tring had no mains electricity
until 1926, hence the need for a generator
set). If the film broke more than three times each
customer received a
free ticket to see it again the following night, although most people
used the complimentary tickets to see a new film.
“The EMPIRE, in Akeman-street, opened on Saturday afternoon with
a special performance in aid of the Red Cross Funds. This was
under the patronage of Mrs. J. G. Williams and other local ladies,
and was largely attended. The interior of the hall, decorated
in a scheme of red, presents a bright and comfortable appearance,
and every arrangement appears to have been made to secure the
comfort and convenience of patrons. A special feature of the
building is the spacious balcony, which is provided with an outside
staircase in case of emergency.
On Saturday afternoon Charles Reade’s Cloister and the Hearth
was presented, and in the evening the Drury Lane drama The Derby
Winner. A strong programme was provided for the first
week, including A Rose amongst Thorns, Masks and Faces
Protea III., and Warmakers.”
Bucks Herald 5th August 1916
Australian professional swimmer, vaudeville star,
film actress, and writer. She appeared in several
movies, usually with aquatic themes. As the star
of A Daughter of the Gods (film now lost) [YouTube]
she was the first major actress to appear nude in a
star of A Rose amongst Thorns. Viola [YouTube]
made her film debut in 1914, later appearing in over 100
films, but she was unable to make the transition to
talkies. She lived to be 100. [YouTube]
A few weeks later the Herald reported: “The
Empire.―Good business has been done during the week with Anthony
and Cleopatra, one of the most thrilling dramatic pictures ever
shown and which it is stated cost over £40,000 to produce”.
Since cinema tickets at the time cost 3d, 6d and 1/- this must have
seemed to cinemagoers an immense sum of money.
Another film that created a stir was A Daughter of the Gods screened
in 1918. The Bucks Herald, June 15th, was most
“A Daughter of the Gods.―This
film was screened at the Empire on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to
large houses. The magnitude of the production can only be
realised by the fact that 25,000 people and 5,000 horses took part
in it and the magnificent city, which as a climax was destroyed by
fire, cost no less than £50,000 to build. The management is to
be congratulated on its success.”
The EMPIRE survived its technical teething troubles and for several
years Tring cinemagoers could if they
wished choose between the GEM and the EMPIRE for
their movie entertainment.
Pictures showing at the GEM and the EMPIRE, Bucks
Herald 12th August 1916.
Both cinemas advertised their programmes regularly in the Bucks Herald,
but after April 1917 the GEM ceased advertising while the EMPIRE
advertised less frequently, its adverts pretty much disappearing
during the 1920s. Why,
is a matter for speculation, but a possible reason was the
imposition of Entertainments Tax,  a very unpopular
tax introduced in
1916 to help fund the war effort and not withdrawn until 1960!
Under the tax, cinema proprietors were required to collect stamp duty on all
admissions thus increasing ticket prices, so dropping newspaper
advertising and relying on paper posters (example below) affixed to billboards
might have been a necessary economy.
Undated poster for the EMPIRE.
As for the EMPIRE, regular programme advertising did not return to the
pages of the
Bucks Herald until 1930, so it is impossible to say what its
programmes offered cinemagoers during the 1920s, the last decade of
the silent-film era.
However, that term
is a misnomer, for during the silent-film era (from the mid-1890s to
the late 1920s) films were almost always accompanied by
live sound. A pianist, theatre organist, [YouTube]
or even, in large
cities, a small orchestra, would often accompany the films.
Pianists and organists would either play from sheet music or
improvise. Sometimes a person would even narrate the intertitle
cards and, as previously mentioned, make sound effects such as
rattling, banging, clashing of swords, etc. Thus, even before there was technology to synchronize
sound and video, sound in some form was an essential element of the viewing experience.
Memoire of the EMPIRE’s Pianist
“It is quite some time since a seat at the cinema,
a bag of sweets with a fish and chip supper to follow, cost no more
than sixpence. Six old pennies, that is.
Alice Turner (née
pianist at the EMPIRE cinema.
It is also a few years since stars such as Tom Mix, Harold Lloyd and
Mary Pickford appeared on the silent screen at the Empire, Akeman
Street. One who remembers wistfully those far-off days is Mrs
Alice Turner of 88 Western Road. Few, if any of the younger
generation, would connect this pleasant, homely woman with the golden
years of the silent screen. Yet night after night Mrs Turner,
or Alice Seabrook as she was, pounded her keyboard as the cinema
pianist. She recalls that they were marathons, starting at 6
pm and running until 10.30, relieved only by a five-minute break at
8.15. There were frequent breakdowns in the film, which meant
extra playing. Mrs Turner believes these performances would
have qualified for the Guinness Book of Records for non-stop piano
American star of the silent movie era and later a film
producer, Mary found her career fading as talkies became
more popular and she retired from acting in 1933.
She was a co-founder of the United Artists film studio
and one of the original founders of the Academy of
Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, who present the annual
“Oscar” awards. Her career spanned 50 years.
She recalls that there were often staff shortages and in consequence
she had to issue tickets at the box office, racing from there to her
piano for curtain-up. She recalls, too, the horde of boys who
would slip into the cinema when queues formed at the box office.
Another recollection is the heating in the cinema, which was a coal
or coke stove at the front of the auditorium. Those sitting
nearby managed to keep warm and some patrons roasted a few
chestnuts. The manager frequently stoked it up and stirred it
with a poker. When this happened, those in the front stalls
were usually covered in ash dust. It was often so cold that
Mrs Turner wore Wellington boots and fingerless mitts at her piano.
Sometimes film-goers wore overcoats and all kinds of protective
There were other pianists who played at the EMPIRE.
Outstanding among them, in Mrs Turner’s view, was the late Stumpy
Cato, a handicapped genius who could swing it with the best, supply
music for the most tender love scene or indeed for any situation on
film. Born without feet, this versatile performer was assured
of generous applause wherever he played.”
Bucks Advertiser 22nd March 1974
In June 1930 the “talkies”
came to Tring . . . .
The Grand “Talkie” Season commences at the EMPIRE,
9th June 1930
“THE EMPIRE CINEMA, Akeman-street, Tring,
has gone over to ‘talkies’  without any interruption in the usual
programme. ‘The Kinevox’ All-British Sound System and two
first-class British projectors have been installed and patrons are
assured of an entertainment equal to West End presentations.
The auditorium has been reconditioned and equipped with electric
ventilation; the cinema is also under entirely new management.
The programme for next week will beat the summer sun for brilliance.
On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday Alice White appears in The Girl
from Woolworth’s and Louise Fazenda and Chester Conklin in the
House of Horror. On Thursday, Friday and Saturday
featuring Mary Nolan, will be presented, while Reginald Denny will
be seen in Embarrassing Moments.”
Bucks Herald 6th June 1930
Alice White (left) starred in The Girl from
and Mary Nolan (right) in Undertow
The EMPIRE Cinema was packed to excess on Thursday evening week,
when the ‘talkies’ were formally inaugurated . . . . The actual
ceremony of ‘switching-in’ the talkies was performed by Mr. J. Bly,
Chairman of the Urban District Council. Capt. Collins, the
licensee of the cinema, welcomed Mr. Bly and thanked those present
for their patronage.
Mr. Bly said the talkies were a new era in films. Although
they had them for some time, they had not been quite the success
they wished. Now, however, success was achieved. The
public would be glad to know that the greater part of the films and
the of the machinery used at that cinema was British. (Applause)
They were proud to know that Britain could turn out such machinery
as was used there. Not many years ago we used to be very
pleased with a magic lantern show. The pictures had become
very great since then and had a great future before them, both from
a moral and entertainment standpoint. He congratulated the
management on what they had achieved and wished them continued
success, expressing the hope that the tone of the pictures would be
of a high standard. He then pressed the switch controlling the
apparatus, the lights disappeared, and with a plain ‘Universal News
calling’ the talkies commenced with current news items.
Following the news, an all-talking comedy, A Hint to Brides,
caused much amusement.
Bucks Herald 1st August 1930
By August 1931 the EMPIRE had been renamed THE GAIETY, and as such the cinema continued in
business until 1937, its last advertised film programme appearing in
the 23rd April edition of the Bucks Herald. Despite the
lack of programme advertising the cinema appears to have continued
in some form, for positions for a cashier and two
attendants were advertised in August. There followed a couple of charity
functions held on the premises following which the GAIETY disappears from view without, so
far as I can trace, an obituary. I presume it suffered the
fate that befell its former
competitor the GEM, that the town
could not support two picture houses. Thus, it became a matter
of the survival of the fittest, a contest from which the newly built REGAL
One of the GAIETY’s last advertised
programmes: Bucks Herald 9th April 1937
H. G. Wells on set in Things to Come, with Margaretta Scott and
In later years Margaretta Scott ― together with
her Pekingese, Tricki Woo ―
became know to millions of television viewers in her
role as Mrs. Pumphrey in the long-running BBC series
All Creatures Great and Small.
That said, the GAIETY’s last years are not without interest.
During this period the cinema changed hands several times, the first being in
1929 when, in a somewhat inflated announcement, the Herald’s
readers were advised that the
EMPIRE (as it then was) was under new management . . . .
“. . . . the EMPIRE CINEMA at Tring, is meeting the public taste
and demands in every possible way. Daily performances from
6-10 p.m., with a Saturday matinee, are being attended in ever
increasing numbers. Considerable discrimination is being shown
in the choice of weekly programmes and the amenities of the cinema
are now such as to make a much wider appeal than before.
Weekly programmes regularly appear on our Tring page and are being
followed with interest.”
Bucks Herald 13th December 1929
1936 the now renamed GAIETY was again taken over, on this occasion by Smith’s Cinemas of
Southampton Row, London. Shortly after the town cuncil approved plans
for dressing-rooms and an extension to the stage, which suggests
that the new owners intended to branch into theatre production:
“The GAIETY was taken over by Smith’s Cinemas, of London, last
week and was gaily decorated for the re-opening with bunting and
coloured lights. The audience was most enthusiastic and seemed
to approve thoroughly the programme that was presented to them.
Work is now under weigh of adding a large stage, fire-proof curtain
and dressing rooms, in order that reviews might be staged.
This is being carried out by Messrs Noakes and Palmer of Chesham.
Other alterations include the reseating of the balcony, and it might
be added that all this work is proceeding without any interference
to the business or comfort for the audiences.”
Bucks Herald 31st July 1936
Smith’s Cinemas also announced their business policy:
“It is the
policy of the GAIETY THEATRE to show entirely exclusive programmes,
none of the pictures have been shown previously in any part of the
district. New equipment is being installed by Sound
Installation Services Ltd., and the pictures will then be the most
life-like possible, for the new talkie set is the very last word in
modern efficiency . . . . Messrs. Smiths Cinemas, who now control
the GAIETY, beg to thank those who have sent messages of goodwill
and approval, and assure all that the popular Mr. Alan Smith will
continue as manager, so that continuous improvement is assured.
The Company’s slogan ‘always a good programme at the GAIETY,’ is
daily exemplified. Messrs Smith’s Cinemas are contemplating the
erection of two new cinemas in adjacent areas, for the better
displaying of pictures for which they have exclusive rights.”
Bucks Herald 14th August 1936
The installation of
the new ‘Synchosound’ talkie set at the GAIETY CINEMA has been
completed, and patrons are now assured of getting the best possible
projection and reproduction of the films shown. The additions
to the cinema are nearly complete, and when they are finished the
GAIETY will be one of the best halls in the county.”
Bucks Herald 21st August 1936
The first GAIETY programme under Smith’s Cinemas, Bucks Herald,
24th July 1936.
star of Are We Civilized? The film made a veiled attack on Adolf Hitler,
but the story did not make for a good movie.
Often described as one of the cinema’s
most fashionable and stylish women, Louise had delicate
features and blonde hair, with ageless grace, which saw
her through 30 years in film acting.
Plans for the GAIETY to move into theatre production led to negotiations with a local amateur dramatic
group, the Vale Players . . . .
“Messrs Smith’s Cinemas announce that simultaneously with the
completion of the new stage and dressing rooms, some interesting
stage items will be included with the first class picture
programmes. The Vale Players, Tring’s own excellent amateur
dramatic society, have joined forces with the GAIETY management and
their new production Once a Gentleman, which is now in rehearsal,
will shortly be presented at the GAIETY. Great local interest
centres around this important entertainment and special credit is
due to the energetic and enterprising secretary, Mr. Francis L.
Angell, and to the Society's popular producer, Mr. Oswald E. Bussell.”
Bucks Herald 4th September 1936
. . . . but nothing came of their discussions, for Once a Gentleman was
performed at the Victoria Hall, as was the
group’s following production, The Two Mrs Carrolls.
It seems that at some time between September 1936 and February 1937
ownership of the GAIETY changed hands again, for the
1937 season began with a
“Grand Re-opening” and an announcement that the cinema was
“entirely new management”.
William Boyd and Claudia Dell, stars of The Lost
Boyd became known to many
through the 52 episodes of the
western television series.
Claudia Dell was an American showgirl and actress, whose
promising film career faded during the 1930s when she was
reduced to playing minor roles. Her later career was
spent in radio and television, and as a modelling
But the new owners were no more successful than
their predecessors, for the final reference to the GAIETY as a cinema
appeared in the 19th
November 1937 edition of the Bucks Herald, where it was
reported that a Remembrance Festival had taken place on Armistice
Night comprising community singing, accompanied by a band,
followed by a newsreel and a feature film, Men of Yesterday.
There is no further reference to the GAIETY in the press until
December 1939 when the building
was advertised to let, as being “suitable for factory or storage
purposes”. In January 1947 the Bucks
Herald announced that the cinema building was to become “a
small factory for turning out high grade
The GAIETY, somewhat altered, still
stands in Akeman Street, it having the distinction of being the only one of Tring’s
three purpose-built cinemas to have escaped the demolition
ball. The building now houses offices to let.
The GAIETY today - the mansard roof above the gables
and the steps leading up to the pay kiosk and cinema entrance
when the premises became William Batey’s
When Smith’s Cinemas appeared on the scene in June/July 1936, the
new REGAL must have been well in the course of construction, so it is difficult to believe that Smith’s were
unaware of this emerging competitor. Just as the GEM had been put out of business some
years earlier by a better-appointed competitor, it was now the turn
of the GAIETY to become the underdog and the REGAL soon became
Tring’s sole picture house. Indeed, looking back at events, it is
surprising that Smith’s Cinemas and later owners saw sufficient
potential to invest in improving an older, smaller building in a
town insufficiently large to support two cinemas; money was probably
lost in the venture.
The building that was to become the REGAL first appears in a report
of a town council meeting held in December 1935, when the Surveyor submitted plans
for a cinema that had already been
considered by the Building Committee. He informed
the Council that the proposed cinema was to be erected on an
empty site on the Aylesbury side of the Church House in Western
Road. By August, construction of the new building was
sufficiently advanced for its owners to
announce that the cinema would open in October.
was a Canadian-American actress whose acting career spanned
nearly six decades. She attained international recognition as
an actress in horror films ― most
notably as Ann Darrow in the 1933 film King Kong
― and as such was dubbed one of the
first “scream queens”.
was a Scottish theatre and film actor, singer, dancer,
producer and director. His Hollywood films include the 1953 musical
The Band Wagon in which he appeared with Fred Astaire and Cyd
Charisse. Buchanan frequently produced his own shows and was also
heavily involved in the more commercial side of British
The REGAL was one of a number of cinemas of that name, all built to
similar designs drawn up by the Birmingham-based architect Harold Seymour
Scott. They had wide, plain brick frontages with attractive
single-floor auditoria behind. The Tring REGAL was built using
local labour by G. Elvin and Sons of Birmingham at a cost of
£12,000. With 514 seats it was one of the smallest cinemas in the
The REGAL shortly before closure in 1958.
“Tring’s new, ultra-modern, luxury cinema, THE REGAL, in the Western
Road, will be formally opened to the public next Thursday, with a
matinee at 2.15 p.m.
Capable of seating 500 people, spaciously and in the comfort usually
experienced in a well-appointed lounge, it represents in its
architecture, equipment and appointments the very best that is being
offered to the public in the world of popular entertainment. The
cinema is absolutely fire-proof.
Constructed in brick, its imposing appearance is enhanced by the
magnificent foyer, 24 feet by 35 feet, with its panelling and
fittings of mahogany. The auditorium, 80 feet in length and 54
feet in width, in modern style, is equally striking in its design,
colour scheme and general arrangements for the reception and
accommodation of the public. The colour scheme is carried out
in peach and gold, the upholstery being of harmonising colour, and
the concealed lighting in roof and wall is ingenious, artistic and
extremely effective. Heating is by a central hot water system,
and the ventilation on the most approved lines. Car parking
accommodation has been provided.
The entertainment value offered by this new addition to the social
life of Tring promises to be unsurpassingly good, as good as the
building itself. The latest types of Simplex projector and the
British Talking Pictures Sound System have been installed.
There will be continuous performances each day, from 5.15 p.m.,
enabling the full programme to be given twice; and matinees in
addition on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons.
The undertaking has the obvious advantage of Mr. R. Fort, of
Reading, as managing director. Mr. Fort is well known in the
cinema world as the builder and promoter of REGAL cinemas in various
parts of the country. He was responsible for the REGALs at
Bicester and Abington, and is erecting another cinema of the same
name at Princes Risborough.
In Mr. A. C. Powell, the resident manager of the new REGAL Cinema at
Tring, the promoters have made a wise and happy selection. By
virtue of his previous residence in Tring, Mr. Powell is well known
and deservedly popular with local audiences, and he has a wide
experience of cinema organisation and management. Mr. Powell
was formerly a scenic artist, and the Vale Players have enjoyed the
advantage of his talent in that direction.”
Bucks Herald 18th September 1936
In common with many other cinemas, thanks to the thousands of evacuated children and
the American forces stationed at Marsworth, the REGAL did superb
business during the war. It became part of the Mayfair circuit
when that was formed in the early 1940s and passed to the large ABC
circuit along with all the other Mayfair cinemas around 1943, making
it the first ABC outlet in Hertfordshire. The REGAL was not,
however, regarded with any great pride by its new owners.
Barring took away the best films until three weeks after they had
played Aylesbury and Hemel Hempstead and by 1958, when all matinées
had been cut (it opened daily around 4.30pm), it was a long-standing
loss-maker overdue for closure.
Bucks Examiner, 14th February 1958.
Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster
in the 1955 Western Gunfight at the OK Coral.
The REGAL closed at very short notice on Saturday the 15th February
1958 after concluding a three-day run of Gunfight at the OK
Corral supported by At the Stroke of Nine. The high
rate of Entertainment Tax  was blamed.
This did not deter an independent operator from taking a lease and
re-opening the cinema on the 6th April 1958 but this was in vain and
the REGAL was forced to close again on the 19th March 1960.
ABC disposed of the property on the 20th September 1961.
The REGAL came to life once more on the 20th November 1965 as the Masque
Theatre with a brand-new musical production of Heidi, but its
career as a live theatre terminated after a few shows with the
scenery of the last production left in situ. Seventeen
different planning applications were made for the site before the
building was demolished in late 1978/early 1979 — permissions had
sometimes been granted but not put into effect. In the end,
ten flats were built on the site and given the name of Regal Court
(the REGAL at Bicester was likewise replaced by a block of flats
named Regal Court).
TRING’S POP-UP CINEMA
Since August 2015, Tring and the surrounding villages have been
served a community pop-up cinema. The Cinema was established as a
venture between Tring Together and Tring Design with the aim of
returning ― after a long absence
― a cinema to Tring, thereby
enriching the cultural life of the town.
Tring Cinema’s first event was an open air showing of Grease
on a fantastic, self-built 5m x 2.5m wide screen. Epson
provided a projector and Tring Brewery a 200W sound system so that
the Cinema is able to offer the full movie experience. Due to
the generous sponsorship received from local businesses and the
Tring Arts Trust, Tring Cinema has been able to transform the Nora
Grace Community Hall into a cinema in which films are shown once a
month during the colder weather, while the Cinema is moved under the
stars in the summer. Films are a mix of well-loved classics and
1. The Projectionist. Between
approximately 1905 and 1915, two factors combined to transform the
role of the projectionist into a separate job with a specific
profile of skills and training. Concerns over the flammability
of nitrate film, following several major fires during the cinema’s
first decade resulted in the increasing regulation of the film
exhibition industry, including the requirement that projectors be
housed in fireproof booths, segregated from the auditorium. In
the United Kingdom, for example, this requirement was introduced in
the Cinematograph Act 1909, and effectively prevented the
projectionist from also carrying out a public-facing role. The
legal right to act as a projectionist in a public movie theatre was,
and to some extent still is, regulated, to varying degrees in
different jurisdictions. Some required projectionists to be
licensed by local or central government, and this process sometimes
required projectionists to undergo assessments or sit exams.
Trade union-based regulation of the profession was also widespread
in some jurisdictions, in which the licensing of projectionists was
incorporated into collective bargaining agreements between employers
and unions. In the United States, projectionists were
sometimes ‘pooled out’ to theatre companies via their union.
Closed shop working by projectionists was common in British cinema
chains until the early 1980s. The original reason for this
regulation was the necessity for safety precautions for the use of
nitrate prints, and hence the requirement that projectionists should
be formally trained to handle them in order to ensure public safety.
But the formal training and licensing of projectionists continued in
most of the US and Europe well after nitrate had been superseded in
the 1950s, and in a minority of jurisdictions it continues to this
day. Source Wikipedia.
2. Vitagraph Studios, also known as the Vitagraph Company of
America, was a United States motion picture studio. By 1907 it
was the most prolific American film production company, producing
many famous silent films. It was bought by Warner Bros. in
1925. Source Wikipedia.
3. Early film projectors. In
order show a feature-length film without interruption while the
following reel is laced up, two projectors focused on the same
screen were used, with the projectionist ‘changing over’ from one to
the other at the end of each reel.
Two projectors installed in a changeover configuration.
The machine in the background will show the first reel,
at the end of which the projectionist will ‘change over’
to reel 2, which is threaded on the projector in the
foreground. If the procedure is performed correctly, the
audience will be unaware that it has happened.
2,000 foot ‘double’ reels
were gradually introduced from the early 1930s onwards
(approximately 20 minutes at the standardized sound speed of 24fps).
Until the conversion to sound, electric motors were relatively
uncommon on 35mm theatre projectors: most were hand-cranked by the
projectionist. Contemporary accounts suggest that hand
cranking at a consistent speed took a considerable amount of skill.
Presentation technique also began to include tasks such as operating
auditorium lighting systems (dimmers), curtains (side-tabs) and
masking systems and lantern slide projectors. During the
1920s, movie theatres became larger and projection equipment had to
adapt to this. Limelight illumination was replaced by the
electrically-powered carbon arc lamp, and with the arrival of sound
electric motors were installed to drive projectors (a more constant
speed was required for sound playback than could be achieved by hand
cranking). The operation and basic maintenance of audio
equipment also became part of the projectionist's job following the
introduction of sound. Source Wikipedia.
4. The Cinematograph Act 1909. Was a British Act of
Parliament (repealed in 1985), the first primary legislation
designed specifically to regulate the film industry. The Act
was a consequence of highly unstable nitrate film stock, which had
caused several serious fires. It was intended to ensure that
cinemas were in a suitable physical state to screen films safely by
bringing them under local authority control and requiring them to be
licensed. However, the Act had unforeseen consequences in that
many local authorities stretched the definition of “inflammable
films” to cover not just their physical nature but also the
images they contained, although there is nothing in the Act that
specifically requires this.
The outcome was a crackdown on
controversial films with local authorities threatening cinema owners
with the loss of their licenses even if they had otherwise fully
complied with the Act. The industry reaction led in 1912 to
the establishment of the British Board of Film Censors, an
independent non-government body set up to give uniform film
classification to all films shown in the UK. The BBFC is
funded through the fees paid by film distributors to have their
5. Halton Camp Cinema. Very little is known
about the Halton Camp Cinema. According to the Bucks Herald,
“the Government had licensed Darvell to erect a theatre and to
provide amusement for the troops”, although the general public
was also admitted. Besides film shows, the theatre was used by
the military for both Sunday services and lectures - according to
Darvell, “the military authorities used it whenever they thought
The cinema bears a striking architectural resemblance to Darvell’s
other cinema, THE GEM, at Tring, and might
therefore have been by the same architect. It is known to have
been in operation in May 1915, but when it closed is not known.
Advertisements appeared in May 1925 for bricklayers to work on a new
cinema at Halton Camp, presumably to replace the earlier building.
6. Entertainment Tax. Usually referred to as ‘Entertainment
Tax’ and officially as ‘Excise Revenue’, it was a tax on all forms
of entertainment created in 1916 to fund the war effort but
― despite much protest
― not removed until 1960. On
cheaper cinema seats the flat rate of tax represented a high
proportion of the ticket price. Vigorous protests by the
industry led in 1920 to a reduction in the flat rates, nonetheless
the proportion of tax remained high: on a 4½d ticket, the tax was
2d. Because of its stepped rates, by the 1940s the tax on some
popular ticket prices was greater than the net price of the ticket
(e.g., 2s tax on a 1s 10d admission charge). Penalties for
non-payment were hefty: £50 for the exhibitor and £5 for the person
The tax ― which applied to
cinemas, theatres, dance halls, sporting events and circuses
― was collected using tax stamps.
These were bought at a Post Office, meaning, in effect, that tax was
paid before revenue was earned, which to cinema managements running
on a shoestring could prove a strain. A stamp was then stuck
to the back of the each admission ticket. When a ticket was
handed to the customer, he or she was shown to their seat and the
ticket torn in half, which cancelled the stamp preventing its reuse.
7. Talkies. Until the late 1920’s, motion pictures were
silent except for the music provided by accompanying musicians with,
perhaps, sound effects (rattling, banging, clashing of swords, etc.)
provided by other cinema staff. The Jazz Singer,
released by Warner Brothers in October 1927, was not the first sound
film in the strictest sense ― in
1926 they released Don Juan, their first feature length film to
include music and various sound effects employing the Vitaphone
system,  but no spoken dialogue. The
Jazz Singer, however, is the first feature-length motion picture
to have both a synchronized recorded music score and also
lip-synchronous singing and speech, but in several isolated
sequences. Its release heralded the commercial ascendance of
talkies and ended the silent film era.
While the introduction of sound greatly benefitted the motion
picture industry, talking pictures proved a disaster to others.
They damaged the careers of the many musicians who accompanied
silent movies, while the voices of certain actors proved a difficult
hurdle for many to overcome (an example is parodied in the musical
Singing In The Rain, in which silent film star Lina Lamont is
afflicted by a heavy New York accent and a high-pitched voice).
A heavy accent was a particular problem for some foreign actors.
Sound also influenced audience behaviour. During the silent film
era, it was considered acceptable to talk during a film. Because
people were allowed to voice their responses to the film, a common
bond was forged among the audience with many expressing a common
reply. With talkies, however, audiences concentrated on hearing the
sound, rather than those seated around them.
Within a few years of The Jazz Singer’s release it had become
unthinkable to produce a film without spoken dialogue. For
this reason many silent films were destroyed
― estimates are around 75 percent
― because they were thought to have
little or no value.
Vitaphone. Was a sound film system used for feature films
and nearly 1,000 short subjects made by Warner Bros. and its sister
studio First National from 1926 to 1931. Vitaphone was the
last major analogue sound-on-disc system and the only one which was
widely used and commercially successful. The soundtrack was
not printed on the film itself, but issued separately on gramophone
records. The discs, recorded at 33⅓ rpm (a speed first used
for this system) and typically 16 inches (41 cm) in diameter, would
be played on a turntable physically coupled to the projector motor
while the film was being projected, achieving a frequency response
of 4300 Hz. Many early talkies, such as The Jazz Singer
(1927), used the Vitaphone system.