rapidly expanding competition from the new television business
had advanced unchecked on the film industry since the Fifties
and, between the mid-50s and 1960, cinema admissions had been
reduced by half. This was particularly due to the introduction
of regional independent television companies which began to
acquire and broadcast many fairly new films compared to the
BBC's traditional studio-based variety entertainment output.
with almost 'instant' news available daily, the cinematic
newsreel programme slowly died out and this, along with a
shortage of American films, led to a major reduction in the
number of cinemas able to survive financially. By the mid-Sixties,
a significant proportion of the population owned television
sets and preferred to be entertained in the comfort of their
own homes. The failing cinemas were being mothballed, demolished
or converted into bingo halls, bowling alleys and dance hall/ballrooms.
The home market for British-made films was shrinking and the
industry had to learn the art of making their output more
acceptable to a wider variety of audiences, both British and
international, in order to survive. The success of these new
films such as 'Lawrence of Arabia' (1962), 'Tom Jones' (1963),
'Becket' and 'Zulu' (1964) and 'Those Magnificent Men in Their
Flying Machines' (1965), both encouraged and attracted a significant
American investment into British film production. (more)
Harry's Sixties - Comment on classic and cult
films, people, and other aspects of the 60s from the creator of
Cinema - (continued)
male actors such as Kenneth More, Richard Burton, Jack Hawkins,
Peter Finch, Laurence Harvey and Richard Todd maintained or increased
their international appeal but female actresses of the same stature
were few and far between during this period. American directors
such as Joseph Losey (blacklisted in America), Stanley Kubrick and
Richard Lester were regularly working in Britain throughout the
Sixties, producing cult and classic films such as 'The Knack', 'A
Hard Day's Night', 'Help!' and '2001 - A Space Odyssey'. The special
effects talent brought together by this particular 1968 production
was to significantly enhance the British film industry's importance
in this art over the following years.
Other foreign directors and producers such as Roman Polanski - 'Repulsion'
(1965) and 'Cul-de-Sac' (1966) - were also attracted to Britain at this
time. Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni made 'Blowup' with David
Hemmings and Vanessa Redgrave in 1966 and François Truffaut directed
the only film he made outside of France when he made the classic 'Fahrenheit
451' in 1966. Four
of the Sixties 'Academy Award' winners for 'Best Picture' were British
film productions. (see
Concurrently, Albert 'Cubby' Broccoli and Harry Saltzman spectacularly
combined the more relaxed attitude towards sex with exotic locations,
explosive violent action and a self-effacing style of humour in
the incredibly successful 'James Bond'
series of movies. 'Dr. No' - the first film (1962) - was really
only a British hit, initially. The following year 'From Russia With
Love' was received with much more international interest and 'Goldfinger'
(1964) was a worldwide smash hit, as were all the subsequent productions.
Their box office success led to a plethora of 'spy' films in various
guises including action ('Deadlier Than The Male'), spoof (Monica
Vitti's 'Modesty Blaise' and James Coburn's 'Flint' series) and
rather more serious interpretations such as Michael Caine's superb,
very British 'Harry Palmer' character in 'The Ipcress File', 'Funeral
In Berlin' and 'Billion Dollar Brain' films.
An upcoming, young generation of filmmakers and artists who would
appeal to the virtually untapped potential of 60s youth audiences
of the 60's were one of the 'brave new' hopes for the indigenous
industry and, coinciding with the change in youth culture, they
came into their own as film censorship
reduced its old 'hard line' blanket prohibitions, allowing the use
of increasingly free speech, more overt sexuality and innuendo and
previously 'forbidden' subjects such as homosexuality, abortion
This prompted an increase in studio output in many directions, but most
noticeably three: The 'Pop Movie' which
used the media as a vehicle to carry the British 'Beat Boom' explosion
to a much wider visual audience; the British 'farce' genre of innuendo
and postcard humour of the 'Carry
On' film series which took up the baton from the 'Doctor' films
of the Fifties, and a whole range of youth and working-class cultural
films that challenged the conventions of British society such as
'Saturday Night, Sunday Morning'; 'A Taste Of Honey'; 'Room at the Top';
'Up The Junction'; 'Look Back In Anger'; 'Georgy Girl'; 'Alfie' and
'Women in Love'.
cinemas were being built in 'New Towns' such as Hemel Hempstead
and Harlow, but many of the older, classic, giant single screen
picture houses were being sold off to be demolished and replaced
by petrol stations, shopping centres and office blocks (which
often contained a small, modern cinema somewhere in the complex
to help with the granting of planning permission). The more profitable
cinemas were extensively modernised but many were just abandoned
and boarded up to become increasingly derelict 'protected' buildings.
By the end of 1965 the number of British cinemas had declined
to 1,971 from the 3,050 at the end of 1960 and the 4,700 that
were flourishing just after the war. By the mid-1960s, there were
only enough major film productions being released to provide new
weekly showings for the two largest cinema chains: Rank (which
included all the old 'Gaumont' and 'Odeon' cinemas) and the ABC
group. Most of the 'independent' cinemas, starved of product by
this virtual 'closed shop', were either forced to become part
of the larger groups or close down.
Occasional attempts were made to play films for a fortnight or
longer on general release but audiences, keen to be among the
first to see new releases, tended to try and view them in the
first week. By the 1960s, many cinemas in city centres were principally
engaged in 'road show' or 'hard ticket' engagements. The particularly
big attractions, such as the James Bond films, were more suited
to a more short-term run before audience interest declined.
was a rapidly decreasing need for the large seating capacities and two-tier
structure of the leading cinemas. Many, like the Empire Leicester Square,
were replaced by a smaller cinema as part of a redevelopment scheme.
Substantial sums were invested
to remodel the interiors of other cinemas to create two or more auditoria
with a rather less grandiose, contemporary décor, beginning with the
Odeon, Nottingham, in 1965.
The usual method was to just blank off the 'balcony' section, creating
3 smaller cinemas. In the early 1970s the circuit cinemas in the smaller
towns and suburbs also began to be subdivided into three-screen 'film
Many Odeons were inexpensively converted into 'triples', without
closing, by blocking off the rear stalls and subdividing the space
into two small cinemas while continuing to use the balcony and
existing screen as the main auditorium while work progressed.
These conversions sometimes provided poor sightlines and tiny
screens downstairs and also had considerable problems with sound
penetration. Many ABC cinemas closed completely for more substantial
conversion into three auditoria, all with new screens, to create
greater capacities. There was a gradual move to separate performances
instead of the traditional continuous ones and, for safety reasons,to
the elimination of smoking.
Sittin' In The Back Row Of The Movies
. . . .
A few of my personal local memories:
London Road, St.Albans
Hatfield Road, St.Albans
The Harlow Odeon was converted into a 3-screen cinema. The St.Albans
Odeon has been closed since the Nineties after being converted
into a multi-screen cinema and later, a bingo hall. The prettiest cinema,
The Gaumont is, sadly, no longer with us......
Unfortunately I have no pictures of the Chequers cinema in Chequer
Street, St.Albans which closed in June 1962
or the Embassy cinema in Harpenden. Can
you help? Please mail me ...