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Campbeltown Cinemas

The Picture House

Hall Street
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Picture House exterior, 2006 - compare with the 2003 exterior here.
(Both photos courtesy KR Carroll)

The A-listed Picture House in Campbeltown is an amazing survivor and holder of several records.

It is now the oldest purpose-built cinema in Scotland still showing films, the only cinema in Scotland still with atmospheric-style decoration, and one of the few cinema buildings that remains undivided, allowing films to be seen from a choice of stalls or balcony.

It also unusually has never had a name change!

The Picture House opened on 26th May 1913, the first cinema in the town. It was designed by prolific cinema architect AV Gardner (later to design such cinemas as the Grosvenor and the Kelvin, and better known now as one half of the partnership of Gardner and Glen) to seat 640.

His design for the building was quite unlike any other cinema building of the time, which, when viewed in plan projection, are clearly based around a series of concentric ovals, the highest and narrowest of which consisted of the projection box, with a larger oval below that at balcony level, with another curved frontage and foyer area below - the curved walls are very noticeable on the exterior facade, and, in another usual touch, were mirrored on the back wall of the auditorium.

There was no foyer to speak of, with doors under a single central ticket box open to the elements, protected only by an open-air balcony above.

Sadly no photographs of the original 1913 interior are currently available, but descriptions suggest stained glass windows on either side of the proscenium, and decoration including potted plants and boxes. The original plans also show an orchestra pit below the stage, and two dressing rooms (one on each side of the screen).

The cinema was a great success, and in July 1931 the cinema closed for 11 days to allow sound equipment to be installed. An additional kiosk building was built next door to provide additional queuing space for customers waiting to get into the main building!

In 1935, the original architect was brought back to refurbish and modernise the interior, which he did in a similar 'atmospheric' style as with his Kelvin cinema.

This involved the construction of two small buildings (now known locally as 'the wee houses') on either side of the screen, and the rebuilding of the balcony to improve access from one to two stairwells. Making the most of the small building, and - somewhat unusually for an atmospheric - the buildings at either side of the screen are not entirely decorative; one houses the managers office, and the other a storeroom.

Some time in the 1940s, additional improvements were also made to the foyer and exterior - the outside balcony was screened off with windows, and the main foyer enlarged by installing new doors at the previously open entranceway.

Apart from the later installation of acoustic tiles in the auditorium, and several coats of paint, the cinema survives today largely unaltered since the 1935 redevelopment. The festoon curtain and some of the current seating came from an (unidentified) Glasgow cinema in the 1950s.

Due to falling attendances, part-time bingo was introduced in 1963; this arrangement continued until 1986, when the cinema closed. Thankfully, the building was taken over by the Campbeltown Community Business Association, a charitable company. A large fund-raising effort eventually culminated in the seats and building being refurbished (now seating 265), and the cinema finally reopened in 1989.

The cinema survives to this day, and celebrated its 90th birthday in 2003.

Because of the increasing costs and problems involved in maintaining a building of that age, plans are shortly to commence to repair the foyer roof, and, funding permitting, convert the adjacent kiosk building to create a new entranceway and cafe-bar area.

While the interior itself is also badly in need of refurbishment, it still retains its unique atmosphere and appeal, and, over 90 years since it opened, and having outlasted and survived bigger, and grander cinema competitors, bingo operations, and numerous threats of demolition, the 'Wee Pictures' enters its tenth decade very much looking to the future...

Listed Category B in 1989, this was upgraded to Category A in 2008.

Long may it continue!

A full gallery of photos from the interior (January 2005) are available here.
An exterior photo from the late 1970s is available here, courtesy Frank Watson.

For more information on film times, or to join the Friends of the Picture House to help support the cinema, visit the website at Campbeltown PH

Many thanks to Manager Russell Carroll, and Manageress Joanna Campbell, for taking time (on their afternoon off!) to show us around and for being such welcoming and generous hosts.

Rex Cinema

Photo above on morning demolition started, courtesy KR Carroll.
Opened around 1935. Run by the Green's circuit. 
Seated 828 in stalls and 391 in the balcony. Closed December 1977, and later demolished.
 Archive photo taken in the late 1970s of the demolition here courtesy Frank Watson.

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