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King's Cinema / The Cameo
38 Home Street
Official Website

The Cameo is one of the oldest surviving cinemas in Scotland, and probably the oldest with its interior decoration intact. Now running as a three-screen operation, almost all of its original character and decoration are intact, making it a unique and very welcoming place to see a film.

Opening as the King's Cinema in January 1914, the  cinema was named after the nearby King's Theatre.

The original seating was for 673 on a single level, sloping gently down towards a mirrored screen, which was the first of its kind in Scotland.

A live orchestra provided accompanyment to the silent films. The building was fitted for sound in 1930, and after a couple of changes of ownership, ended up in the hands of the Poole family, who refurbished the building, re-opening it as the Cameo in March 1949. The Cameo immediately made a name for itself as a continental cinema, providing quite different fare from many of the other cinemas in Edinburgh.

Taking over an adjacent shop unit allowed a Milk Bar to be added; and in 1963 it obtained the first cinema drinks licence in the city. Even today, the bar is a key part of the Cameo experience.

The Cameo closed in September 1982 when Jim Poole retired, and lay empty for several years. Luckily, several mooted schemes to redevelop the building did not work out, and it re-opened as a cinema in 1986, since when it has gone from strength to strength.

The interior of the main auditorium is largely unchanged from how it looked in 1914, although both seating and sightlines have been dramatically improved (Screen 1 now seats 253, down from the orginal 673!). The screen has been brought forward slightly onto the stage to allow for cinemascope.

Another two shop units were purchased, allowing the construction of two additional screens in 1992 (Screen 2 seating 75, Screen 3 66), making it the first multi-screen independent cinema outside of London.

The new screens are at right angles to the original, one on each side. At the same time, the rear of the main auditorium was brought forward to allow space for a new corridor connecting the three screens.

Screen 1 Panorama - Front

Screen 1 Panorama - Back

Screen 1 Panorama - Side

Screen 2

Screen 3



Bar Entrance

Auditorium Roof

The outer foyer, with original terrazo flooring and the remains of two exterior payboxes in situ, leads you in under the tenements above to a larger, ornate inner foyer, and then to the auditorium behind. This peculiar 'back-court' Scottish method of cinema design put the auditorium in the space behind a shared tenement block, often blocking out much of the daylight for the surrounding residents.

The small, flat roofed Cameo does not cause this problem, but the use of the flat cinema roof as a drying green can cause problems for the cinema! It is believed the Cameo is the last of the 'back-court' cinemas still in operation, although some other do survive in other uses (e.g. the Rosevale in Partick).

Now owned by City Screen / Picturehouse Cinemas, the Cameo continues to hold its own in the competitive Edinburgh market (even though both the new Odeon and the Filmhouse are just a couple of minutes walk away), and is the firm favourite of many of Edinburgh's picturegoers.

In November 2005, it was announced that owners City Screen were looking to sell the building, and as part of this had lodged a planning application to convert the original main screen into a bar and restaurant, involving flattening the floor and building an new mezzanine level behind a smaller screen.  This was later withdrawn after a huge public outcry, spearheaded by Genni Poole and the Save the Cameo campaign, which successfully argued that the best use for the Cameo auditorium was to keep it running as a cinema.

In early mid-2006, City Screen took the Cameo back off the market, and made a new commitment to the building and its continuing use as a cinema - as reported on the BBC News website.

In August 2006, Historic Scotland upgraded the entire block of tenements containing the Cameo from Category C(s) to Category B, because of the rarity and interest of the cinema they contain - this was also covered by BBC News.

For a complete photo survery of the Cameo, taken in May 2005, click here.

Many thanks to manager Ian Hoey and the staff of the Cameo for taking the time to show us around the building.

For a selection of interior photos courtesy of Pete Naples, click here.

An archive photo of owners John R Poole and JKS Poole in the Cameo in 1949 is available here, courtesy of Genni Poole.

Gallery of exterior and interior images from the Cameo's 60th Anniversary Weekend in March 2009 available here.

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