CECIL OPENING CEREMONY (1955) film no: 3835

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This is a short film which captures the celebrations of the opening of Cecil Cinema in Hull, 1955.

Commentary - Once again the good citizens of Kingston-upon-Hull are able to go for an evening's entertainment to the Cecil Theatre. This magnificent building has come to take the place of the old Cecil, which was destroyed by enemy action on that terrible night of May 1941.

An exterior of the Cecil Theatre shows advertisements for: Marilyn Monroe The Seven Year Itch & Tom Ewell, Cafe open to the public on Monday 28th November from 4:30pm to 9pm Daily from 10am to 9pm, Grand Opening Picture Monday Nov 28th & all the week Marilyn Monroe & Tom Ewell in 'The Seven Year Itch', This theatre will be open to the public on Monday 28th November Doors open 5:30pm.

Commentary - The foundation stone for the new building was laid in April 1955, and in the new building many patrons will recognise these features from the old one. On the promised date of opening, 28th November, the Lord Mayor Alderman Fox arrived with the Lady Mayoress to be welcomed by a director of the company Mr Wallace Rocket. Another celebrity to be welcomed on this gala evening was the Sheriff Counsellor Good. Mr John Davis, the managing director of the J Arthur Rank organisation, had been invited to perform the opening ceremony. And on arrival with Mrs Davis, he was welcomed by Mr Brinley Evans the chairman and managing director of the company responsible for this splendid new addition to the entertainment world in Hull. Before her marriage of course, Mrs Davis was Dinah Sheridan the lovely star of British films and particularly of that outstanding comedy Genevieve.

Plaque - This foundation stone was laid by the Lord Mayor of Kingston upon Hull councillor H.W. Jackson J.P. on Thursday the 28th day of April 1955. This building replaces the Cecil theatre destroyed by enemy action on the night of 7th May 1941. Hull Cinemas Ltd, Architects Gelder & Kitchen, Chairman & Managing Director Brinley Evans, General Contractors Spooners Hull Ltd. Three gold lion heads hang on the wall with plaque. These lion heads were part of the original Cecil cinema which was destroyed by enemy action on May 8th 1941.

The Lord Mayor and Mayoress are welcomed by Mr Rocket. Mr and Mrs Davis welcomed by Mr Brinley. All the visitors enter the theatre foyer and enter the lift.

Commentary - To mark the occasion, the host gave a cocktail party. Catering is part of their business because, like all modern well equipped film theatres, the Cecil has a luxurious cafe. It's good to see audiences going into the Cecil once again. On their way to the stage, Mr and Mrs Davis stop to inspect a crush passage. The Cecil's auditorium is built to hold over two thousand people, and no expense or thought had been spared to deal with the problems of getting them easily in and out of the theatre and of tending to their comfort while they are there.

Crowds of people are gathered together in one room where tables are laid out with food. Women in aprons serve those attending the opening ceremony. The guests of honour sit at a long table at the front of the room. Members of the public queuing outside the theatre go into the foyer through the entrance doors which are held open by staff. Upstairs in corridor, Mr Evans shows Mr and Mrs Davis the way in which the theatre is designed to hold many patrons.

Commentary - Now for the official opening, Mr Davis cuts the tape. As a memento, he was presented with a silver key by the architect. And in reciprocation, the kitten for good luck was presented by Mrs Davis to Mr Brinley Evans. But the purpose of a picture theatre is to show films, so let's have a look back stage, so to speak, where the projectionists are getting the film loaded up in the most modern film projectors in the world - those mechanical marvels that bring the romance of entertainment into the round of worker day life. The curtains draw slowly aside to reveal the new silver screen fifth largest in the whole country. The house lights dim, and from its magic window come the bright light which is the cinemas way of telling its story. The story of relaxation, of entertainment, and enjoyment unparalleled. One of the greatest contributions to social life that the 20th century has to offer.

Crowds of people are seated in the auditorium. Mr Davis cuts the ribbon on stage to open the theatre. Mr Davis shows Mrs Davis the Key given to him by the architect. Mrs Davis presents the good luck kitten to Mr Evans. The kitten has a bow tied around its neck. Inside the projection room, the technician loads up the projector with film. Through the hatch, the auditorium is seen, and the curtains are pulled back to revel the screen. The projectionist runs the projector, and the light from the projector fills the darkened auditorium. Two technicians monitor the projectors during the screening. The film closes with an exterior shot of the newly opened Cecil Theatre.

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This short film marks an important chapter in the history of cinema, being the first cinema to be built on a new site anywhere in Britain since the war. The film has no credits, although David Salmon, on his splendid website on cinemas in Hull – which also features this film – states that it was filmed by a newsreel crew. It certainly has the feel of a newsreel short film, with a commentary typical for newsreels, which at that time were commonly shown in cinemas.  Another, longer film, was made on the cinema in 1960, Full House - Cecil Cinema Hull.  This provides a much fuller portrait of the cinema, and shows other Hull cinemas of the time – we hope to have this film also on YFA Online before too long.
 
In the early twentieth century places licensed to show cinema mushroomed throughout the country, and Hull was no exception; with 29 cinemas or public halls showing films by 1914 – a higher proportion per population than most other large cities. The first major circuit of cinemas in Hull were developed by William Morton, including the Theatre Royal, the Grand Opera House, the Alexandra, the Prince's Hall, the Majestic, and the Holderness Hall. By 1938 36 cinemas and halls were licensed in Hull to exhibit films. This had been reduced to 25 cinemas and halls by 1945, 21 in 1959, 15 in 1960 and just 10 by 1964.
 
Cecil cinema was owned initially by a senior chartered accountant, T Fawley Judge, who set up Associated Hull Cinemas.  Geoff Mellor states that in fact it was his first acquisition, starting out as the old Electric Palace on the Anlaby Road, opening in 1911, until he re-built it as the Cecil Cinema Theatre in 1925 (the second theatre in Hull with this name).  David Salmon claims that it was originally the Theatre de-Luxe, operated by National Electric Picture Theatres (Salmon has photographs of both on his website – see References for Mellor and Salmon). Judge later acquired other venues, for example, the Plaza, turning William Morton’s Majestic into the Criterion, the Grand Theatre, which became the Dorchester, also from William Morton, along with the Princes Hall, the Priory, and the Central in Prospect Street. His successor as Chairman of Associated Hull Cinemas, Brinley Evans – Salmon has him as the founder of Hull Cinemas Limited – later added Langham on Hessle Road, Charlton, Savoy and Berkeley to the circuit (the company went into liquidation in 1978). For more on Brinley Evans see Bernard Goodwin, "Carry on Showing" (References).
 
Among the other many cinemas in Hull, there was the Tower Cinema on Anlaby Road, the Regent opposite, and the Regal Cinema opposite Hammonds. The East Hull Picturedrome, on the corner of Holderness Road and Brazil Street,  was opened in 1912, later, after modernisation, becoming the Ritz Cinema in 1928 (AKA the Savoy, now the shop Boyes). A list of Hull cinemas and when they closed can be found at British History Online (see also Allen Eyles – References). 
 
During the blitz of 1941, the Central and the Cecil were entirely destroyed, and five other cinemas, including the Carlton, were damaged.   As the film states, it was built to replace the old cinema which was situated across the road and which was bombed on the night of 8th May 1941 when Hull came under extremely heavy bombing (the site wasn’t cleared until 1953). It is doubtful whether the German bombing crews knew that on that week the Cecil was showing Charlie Chaplin’s spoof of Hitler, The Great Dictator!
 
During the 1920s new large plush picture palaces replaced the smaller venues. From then through to the 1950s was a boom time in cinema, before the large scale coming of TV (ITV didn’t start broadcasting to Hull until 1956). During the decades of the 1940s and 1950s, there were in excess of 200 cinema circuits of sizes varying from three sites to the many hundreds of major operators. As in so many other business areas most of the smaller enterprises have been taken over to leave just a few very large operators: Terra Firma, Empire, Cineworld.  
 
In the 1930s the average annual admissions to the cinema in Britain was around a staggering 1,000 million each year, making it by far the most popular paid-for leisure activity. The highpoint was 1946 when there would have been a strong desire to escape post-war reality, with 1,635 million admissions (31.5 million each week). This compares with 174 million for 2009, itself the highest total since 2002. Still, TV was on the way, and between 1956 and 1960 cinema attendance dropped from 21.1 m to 9.6m. Brinley Evans had been optimistic: the new Cecil having 1374 seats in the stalls and 678 in the balcony – 2052 in total. The demographics of cinema going have changed markedly since that time too: note the age group of the audience! 
 
Work on the new Cecil was begun in April 1955 and it was opened on 28th November 1955.  It being a state of the art cinema of the time may explain how they managed to get the Managing Director of the Rank Organisation, John Davis, to open the cinema. At that time Rank owned the biggest chain of cinemas in the UK, starting out with Odeon and later buying up Gaumont-British Picture Corporation and Paramount. They also owned five major film studio complexes and were branching out into TV and other media products. His wife, Dinah Sheridan – seen in the film giving Brinley Evans a kitten – played in the TV comedy Don't Wait Up in the 1980s and starred as a ‘Time Lady’ in the Dr Who special, The Five Doctors, in 1983.
 
As can be seen, the cinema opened with Billy Wilder’s The Seven Year Itch; followed by The Glen Miller Story, a Hitchcock film (needless to say) and Carmen Jones. Although heavily cut by the censors, The Seven Year Itch is the film that has the famous scene when Marilyn Monroe’s steps onto a subway grating and has her dress blown into the air – apparently precipitating the end of her marriage to Joe DiMaggio.
 
The Cecil was the longest lasting of Hull cinemas (the old ABC cinema closed about 6-7 years before Cecil). In 1971 the restaurant was converted into a cinema seating 137 (Cecil 2), and the following year the main auditorium was spilt into 2 smaller cinemas in the balcony (Cecil 1 & 3 each seating 307). This was renamed the Cannon triple until 1992 when it closed operation as a cinema on 26th March 1992. It then became part of the MGM chain from 1994 (later under Virgin ownership) as Take Two triple, functioning as a bingo. 
 
The closure of so many wonderful old cinemas, or their conversion into multiplexes, is considered by many a national scandal. But there are those who aim to see some being restored. The East Riding Mail (03.11.2010) reported that The Cinema Theatre Association (CTA) were hoping that a buyer would help to restore the striking Edwardian building on Anlaby Road – which was the Tower Cinema and more recently a night club – back to its former glory. The Cinema Theatre Association is the first port of call for all those who like to join them in their mission of preserving and restoring old cinema and theatre buildings.
 
References
 
Allen Eyles, Old Cinemas, Shire Publications, 2001.
Kinematograph Year Book, 1914.
Geoff Mellor, Movie Makers and Picture Palaces, Bradford Libraries, 1996.
Jim Nelmes, An Introduction to Film Studies, Routledge, London, 1996.
 
Further Reading
 
David Docherty, David Morrison and Michael Tracey, The Last Picture Show? Britain's Changing Film Audiences, BFI, London, 1987.

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