How to Run a Picture Theatre – part 8

Alacazar, Edmonton

We come to the eighth and last instalment of the series of extracts taken from the c.1912 guide How to Run a Picture Theatre. We have covered selecting and fitting out the building, taking on staff, and putting together an effective programme. The last thing to consider is the licence.

In January 1910 the Cinematograph Act was introduced, the first piece of government legislation directed at the new film and cinema industry. Previously, cinema had had to be licensed under schemes designed for music or theatre performance, though the majority of them chose to avoid such bureaucratic necessities (there are even some examples of cinemas that put on purely silent shows, to avoid the demands for a music licence). The unregulated nature of the industry, and in particular the threat that such venues posed as a risk risk, led to the drafting of the Cinematograph Act. Despite its ‘compulsory’ nature, there were many cinemas which chose to ignore the new scheme and pay the fines, as Jon Burrows’ recent research into cinemas in London pre-1914 has shown. But the coming of the Cinematograph Act ultimately encouraged the huge boom in cinema construction that swiftly followed its publication. There were 4,000 cinemas in Britain and Ireland by the end of 1914.

Obtaining a License. The Cinematograph Act 1909. Under the Cinematograph Act, 1909, it is compulsory that every place to which the public is admitted, where exhibition in which inflammable films are used, shall be licensed …

It is not, however, necessary to obtain a license for premises used not more than six days in a year for a kinematograph exhibition provided that notice of such shows are given to the County Council or the Chief Police Officer, but these occasional exhibitions must confirm to the regulations …

The penalty for using an unlicensed building for an entertainment which comes within the meaning of the Cinematograph Act is a fine not exceeding £20, with a penalty of £5 per day as long as the offence continues, and power is given to the authority to revoke the license.

Music and Dancing License. Every kinematograph theatre in which music is employed – except such music be provided by automatic means – must possess a music and dancing licence.

In the case of premises situated in the Administrative County of London these are granted in November of each year …

All eight parts of How to Run a Picture Theatre can be accessed here.

(The photograph shows the Alcazar in Edmonton, one of the new breed of super-cinemas, which seated 2,000. It opened in 1913, and the poster outside advertises the British & Colonial epic The Battle of Waterloo, released in that year.)

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