When the Movies came to Tring

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Tring’s last purpose-built cinema, THE REGAL, demolished 1978/79



The word “cinema short for “cinematography is often used to refer to filmmaking, the film industry, to the art of filmmaking and to the place in which films are shown, the cinema.  Tring’s citizens were once able visit a purpose-built cinema in the town to 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 in February 1958 visits to the “flicks” (or “flea pit” if you prefer) ceased when Tring’s last cinema, THE REGAL, closed suddenly and unexpectedly bringing to an end over fifty years of public film shows in the town or was it the end?

The account that follows, which comes for the most part from contemporary newspaper reports, tells the history of Tring’s cinemas.  It begins with the earliest, the GEM, then comes down to the present day with a lengthy hiatus between the closing of THE REGAL and the recent opening of the TRING CINEMA, a pop-up community cinema based in the Nora Grace Hall.

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.

Ian Petticrew

June 2019














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:

HE CINEMATOGRAPH. 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.  Then, in 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 the GEM:

1912 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 [1] 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 productions,
[2] 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 bugle

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 1916 the Bucks Herald announced that:

EW PICTURE HALL. Mr. P. J. Darvell, of the GEM Picture Hall, has acquired a very fine site in the Western-road ‘Fairfield’ 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.  The company 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 complete:

HE 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.


A sketch of the front of the GEM.

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 [3] 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 [4] 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 [the Act] required cinemas to take other safety precautions.


The GEM in its latter days serving as the 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, [5] 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 attractive.

Pearl White
star of Exploits of Elaine, photographed in 1917

Mabel Normand
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 newspaper.

During March 1917, in his role as manager of the Halton Camp Cinema, Darvell was prosecuted by H. M. Customs & Excise for non-payment of Entertainment Tax, [6] 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.”

In 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 office.



The GEM would likely have been a commercial success had it not been for the opening a few days earlier of a rival cinema . . . .

HE COUNCILS COTTAGES.A 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 almost complete:

“THE NEW CINEMA.The 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 theatre-goers.

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 EMPIREs 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 dynamo (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
[YouTube], Protea III., and Warmakers.”

Bucks Herald 5th August 1916


Annette Kellerman

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 Hollywood production.

Viola Dana

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 enthusiastic:

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, [6] 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.

Mary Pickford

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.

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 playing.

Alice Turner (née Seabrook),
pianist at the EMPIRE cinema.



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 clothing.

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’ [7] 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 Undertow
[Youtube], 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 Woolworth’s,
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 emerged victorious.

One of the GAIETYs last advertised programmes: Bucks Herald 9th April 1937

H. G. Wells on set in Things to Come, with Margaretta Scott and Raymond Massey.

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

In July 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.

Anita Louise

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 cinemas 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 groups 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 again under “entirely new management”.


William Boyd and Claudia Dell, stars of The Lost City.

Boyd became known to many through the 52 episodes of the Hopalong Cassidy 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 instructor.

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 toys.

The GAIETY, somewhat altered, still stands in Akeman Street, it having the distinction of being the only one of Trings 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 was added
and the steps leading up to the pay kiosk and cinema entrance removed
when the premises became William Batey
s engineering works.



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.


Fay Wray

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”.

Jack Buchanan

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 show-business.

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 group:

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 [6] 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).




Since August 2015, Tring and the surrounding villages have been served by a pop-up community 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.

Above, new seating installed in the auditorium together with the drop-down projector.
Below, the new drop-down screen and some of the surround-sound speakers.

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 newer releases.



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 works rated.
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 fit.

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 admitted.

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, [8] 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.
8. 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.           Source Wikipedia.


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