IT was an era when Glasgow truly was Cinema City, when enterprising youngsters would take orders for fish suppers from people queuing outside the 130 picture-houses then in operation.
It’s startling to recall, in these days of hugely popular streaming services, and with multiplexes currently shuttered because of Covid-related precautions, it is thought that in the 1930s and 1940s Glasgow had more cinemas per person than any city outwith North America.
They had such names as the Paramount, on Renfield Street, La Scala, on Sauchiehall Street, Arcadia, Mecca and Vogue. The Toledo, at Muirend, was noted for the Spanish-American influence on its hacienda-style windows.
A typical day’s listings, from the entertainments adverts in the Evening Times in 1945, shows these and many other picture palaces of the time; the Mayfair (Langside), the State (Shettleston and King’s Park), the Embassy (Shawlands), the Kingsway (Cathcart Road), and the Olympia, in Shettleston.
The numerous films on offer that night ranged from The Thin Man Goes Home, starring William Powell and Myna Loy, to The World Owes Me a Living, with David Farrar and Judy Campbell.
In time, once their years as cinemas came to an end, many of these buildings would fall into neglect, or be re-opened as bingo halls.
But they remain a strong part of Glasgow’s social history, and now their heyday is being celebrated in a five-minute short film, made by Glasgow Museums, City Archives and Special Collections.
One fact that emerges from the narration – by the film’s writer, Neil Johnson-Symington, curator of transport and technology at Glasgow Museums – is that some of the cinemas were decidedly more luxurious than others.
“Visiting the cinema was more than just going to see a film,” Neil says. “It was about luxury and glimpsing glamour.
“Imagine passing through the doors of the Paramount beneath its towering lights and buzzing neon sign … Doormen and ushers would welcome you past polished doors up to the café, restaurant, or the auditorium itself”.
The main aim of ‘Glasgow Cinema City’, by Neil and learning assistant Oliver Braid, is to enable people to experience the Riverside Museum’s Cinema City display while the venue has had to close during lockdown.
The hope is it will prompt happy memories of ‘going to the pictures’ in Glasgow and, as the short video will be hosted on social media, generate comments and discussion, reminiscence and the sharing of stories.
The video brings together many images and objects featured in the Riverside Museum display, including cinema programmes, photographs and even a 1930s manual pump disinfectant air freshener made by the Glasgow Cromessol Company (of Ibrox), nicknamed ‘the skoosher’. It was used to keep crowded cinemas hygienic. Patrons were known to ask the usherette: ‘Skoosh me, miss!’
Neil said yesterday: “I was so delighted when my colleague, Oliver, suggested making a short video about Cinema City to go online during lockdown. It meant that anyone who’s missing our display at the Riverside Museum while it’s had to close could still enjoy it in a virtual way.
“Oliver, like all our staff within Glasgow Museums’ Learning and Access team, is used to bringing objects on display to life and had no shortage of ideas for the short video. And, as Cinema City is one of my favourite subjects – covering architecture, film and social history – I was over the moon to revisit the display I curated over 10 years ago”.
The film packs a lot of evocative detail into its brief running-time. At one time, it says, there were 23 cinemas in Glasgow city centre. Today there are only a few – but together they actually provide 24 cinema screens a total that will only increase once the nine-screen Vue multiplex opens at the St Enoch Centre.
** The film (https://fb.watch/40MMtOHzK3/) can be viewed on the Facebook page of the Riverside Museum.