Topic

Kirkintilloch

Kirkintilloch is positioned near the the Antonine Wall to the North-East of Glasgow and by 1911, it comprised of a population of 11,932. Scotland’s Great Canal, created during the eighteenth century to connect the Clyde with the Forth, divides the North from the South of the town and made Kirkintilloch a place of significance during the industrial period, up to the middle of the twentieth century. The nearby coal mines, iron foundries, calico print works and chemical industries used its canal site at Southbank to ship raw materials and goods, and small vessels were built in Kirkintilloch until 1945.

Travelling companies such as the OK Pictures had offered film shows in the Town Hall since it opened in 1906. Bookings declined rapidly since the opening of the town's first full-time cinema, the Pavilion Picture House, in 1912. During the war, the cinema was managed by Mr Simmons, and Thomas Ormiston, a cinema exhibitor whose circuit included twenty-two cinemas during the 1920s, was the Pavilion’s secretary at various times.

The commercial success of this cinema, however, meant loss of revenue for the Council as there were fewer bookings of the Town Hall. Thomas Johnston, an Independent Labour Party representative, proposedthat instead of leasing out the hall, the Council should run their own cinema. This was connected with ideas of 'municipal socialism' whereby services and assets would be publicly owned and the profits would go to the Common Good fund. The proposal was approved, a projector installed, and the Municipal Cinema opened in November 1914 with a Belgian anti-war film, The Curse of War.

The Saturday matinee and the two houses in the evening would become the most frequented shows of the municipal cinema. In addition, the municipal cinema opened on Monday nights (and later Fridays too), for which it proposed more elevated programmes, including literary adaptations and nature films. _ftnref1">The intention to offer a cheap but uplifting alternative to the commercial picture house was visible to begin with, but the committee soon had to compromise to compete with the commercial cinema, which showed a lighter, more entertaining programme. As an alternative to commercial cinema, municipally controlled cinemas were resisted and legally challenged by the cinema trade, which saw them as unfair competition as their staff and venue costs could be subsidised.

Throughout the war years, both cinemas incorporated local elements and audience interaction into their programmes. The Pavilion screened a roll of honour showing photographs of soldiers from the local area, while the municipal cinema featured local talent as part of the Saturday bill, and the Municipal Pictures invited you to test your skill as a Film Censor. The general slump in attendances after the war affected both venues, but the final blow for the municipal cinema came in the autumn of 1922 with two events: the opening of another commercial venue, the Black Bull, and the departure of Tom Johnston to serve as a Member of Parliament in Westminster. Without Johnston, municipal socialism in Kirkintilloch lost much of its momentum.

The Black Bull, a conversion of a pub that had closed when Kirkintilloch went 'dry' in 1920, was very successful in appealing to the local audiences. It offered the cheapest tickets, from 1d. for children’s matinees, but also offered a range of more comfortable seats and boxes, and a film-only programme with plenty of dramas and westerns. But what really stood out about the Black Bull was that it staged a jazz band every Saturday night. Together with vaudeville and a variety of cinematograph films, jazz proved to be the key to the cinema’s success and underpinned its manager James Lyle’s status as an innovator who brought the latest trends to Kirkintilloch._ftnref3">

While the Pavilion managed to survive the additional competition, the Municipal Pictures ceased in April 1923, owing £240 in rent arrears. This led to a heated debate in the pages of the Kirkintilloch Herald, with the apparent mismanagement of the cinema held as argument against municipal enterprise by political rivals. The Black Bull's manager took over the Town Hall for jazz and pictures on Saturdays, and the venue reverted to its mixed use for meetings and dances.

Research by Julia Bohlmann

Sources:
Archives:
BK/19/1 Kirkintilloch Burgh Municipal Pictures
BK/1 Kirkintilloch Burgh Minutes

Newspapers:
Kirkintilloch Herald, Forward and Kirkintilloch Gazette
All available at East Dunbartonshire Archives & Local Studies. Contact: archives@eastdunbarton.gov.uk, t: 0141 777 3142
http://www.edlc.co.uk/heritage/archives.aspx