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Memories of Fakenham’s Cinemas by Hubert Dunthorne

“In the 1920s there were two cinemas in Fakenham commonly known as the ‘top pictures’ and the ‘bottom pictures’. ‘Top pictures’ was the Electric Pavilion in Holt Road between Baxter’s garage and the railway bridge. Built as a Territorial Army drill hall it could also be used as a dance hall. It was run by the Priest family. H & H (Horace and Herbert) Priest were stationers in Norwich Street (now Fakenham Optometrists). Herbert Priest was Clark of the Parish council with offices in Oak Street.

“The significance of the Electric Pavilion was that there was no mains electricity in the 1930’s. Electricity for the projector and lighting for the cinema was generated by a stationary petrol engine. The silencer for this was buried in the ground near the side exit from the hall and boys had great fun putting their caps on the exhaust pipe to see them blow up into the air!

“Silent films were accompanied by appropriate music provided by Mr Applegate. At first all seating was on the floor level but eventually a section of tiered seating was provided at the rear of the hall. The first ‘talkies’ came in about 1929-30. In the thirties it became the Regal, part of a chain of cinemas in Wells, Holt and son on.

“The ‘bottom pictures’ were located in the former British School in Norwich Road next to the Bell Hotel. I can’t recall its proper name. It was run by Mr Howell. I’ve a vague recollection of seeing ‘The Desert Song’ (silent version) there.

“Judging by the press advertising the ‘Central Cinema’ it was, at that time, well ahead of the opposition. However by 1928 the ‘Electric Pavilion’ was occasionally headlining its adverts with the slogan ‘Talkies! Talkies!’ whereas previously it had shown films only occasionally, when not hosting dances and other entertainment, it became a cinema for six days. I recall that in those early days of sound films, because the soundtrack was not on the film but played separately, it was not always perfectly synchronised! Even so attendances at the ‘Central’ must have suffered from the opposition provided by the latest cinematic development.

“It closed as a cinema when A. W. J. Aldiss wanted to refurbish his shops in the Upper Market. He gave notice to Mr. Howell but provided him with temporary accommodation in the Corn Hall which he also owned. Not very satisfactory as the natural lighting from the glass dome must have made it difficult in the summer. Aldiss’s clothing and drapery store moved to Holt Road for the time, after which the cinema did not return but the premises were let to Peacock’s Bazaar.

“In about 1930 the conversion of the Corn Hall into the Central Cinema took place. The Corn Hall contained a large main hall, extremely well lit by the glass dome, and high windows, and there were other rooms on two floors. The entrances were on the south east and north east corners only. The present main entrance was provided when the alterations were made for the cinema.

“For the conversion into a cinema the main alterations were removal of the dome, blocking or blacking out the windows on the north, west and south sides of the main hall and providing a new entrance to the foyer and box office on the east side. A projection room was built on this room and films were projected through the circular space left by the removal of the dome.

“Externally a new main entrance was created with steps up to it and the name CENTRAL emblazoned above it. Previously there had been two entrances at the south-east and north-east corners only as can be seen in earlier depictions of the Corn Hall or the Corn Exchange to give it, its perhaps more correct title.

“There were tiered seats at the rear beneath the balcony. I seem to recall the ticket prices were 1/6d (one shilling and six pence in old money) for the balcony and 1/9d on the lower floor. Children could have quite a good set for 6d.

“The Central Cinema was well attended in the thirties and forties and throughout the 1939-45 war but the advent of television led to its decline and eventual conversion into a bingo hall.

“Films were shown six days a week usually with a change of programme mid-week. But in April 1926 ‘The Goldrush’ starring Charlie Chaplin was scheduled for six days and as such was the anticipated demand that patrons were urged to book in advance with Mr Howells (who held the cinema license) at his home address.”


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