All the films at this period (1920) were silent and relied on the skill and improvisations of the pianist to play music appropriate to the on-screen action. Connie Plummer and a Canadian named Ken Perry filled the role of pianist in turn and were positioned close to the screen where they had a clear view of the action. The longer films at that date had sub-titles to explain the plot and the action and Len recalled how at every performance a lady named Eve Best would read out in a loud clear voice all the sub-titles as they came up on the screen. She used to say “I know the kids won’t be able to read them anyway” but her weekly monologues came as something of an annoyance to many of the audience who were perfectly capable of reading them.
Needless to say, not all of the performances went without a hitch. It was not unknown for some of the rougher kids to get hold of stink bombs which were set off at critical moments in the movie much to the discomfort of the audience. Such events lead to Billy Wakefield coming out with a hand spray containing some lavender water. My Dad used to say that Jarvis’s pictures might be on the ceiling or on the floor when they weren’t on the screen. There were times when the film broke or there was some malfunction of the projector and these generally gave rise to much ironic cheering from all the kids present. The kids quickly learned how to make a chattering noise like the noise of the projector running and they would start this leading people to think that the projector was running when in reality it wasn’t. During these unexpected interruptions the manager generally came forward to ask if there was anyone in the audience who would give them a song and the man who generally took up the challenge was Jim Baldwin which was very public spirited but rather offset by the fact that Jim was one of the worst singers in town. If the projectionist was unable to rectify the problem as sometimes happened the disappointed patrons had their admission refunded.
It comes as no surprise to learn just how much many ordinary folk who had never seen moving picture before became intimately involved in the action played out on the screen. It was a common occurrence for men to leave their seats and walk up to the screen, shake their fists and swear profanities at whichever of the ‘baddies’ they had grown to despise over the preceding weeks of the serial.
The Southam Cinema ran successfully for a number of years and a projection booth was added at the back of the balcony to house the projector and the highly flammable nitrate film that was then in use. What led to the demise of the Southam pictures was the introduction by ‘Fishy’ Harwood the Southam chip shop owner of a regular bus service into Leamington with a fare of 6d. Within a short space of time, the Southam movie fans had de-camped to the new cinema ‘palaces’ in nearby Leamington where a night at the movies was a much more comfortable if less entertaining business altogether.
After a short break, the cinema had a brief re-opening when Frank Rainbow took on the running of it but it was subsequently hired out to visiting repertory companies who performed for a season to appreciative audiences. There was something of a second revival in the 1950’s when a man named Astill from Bascote put on films every Wednesday evening in the Parish Hall on Warwick Road with Abbott & Costello and Western films being the main fare on offer.
As a boy in the 1950’s I can recall seeing occasional films in the old Convent Hall and in the Land Army Hostel in Welsh Road but the increased availability of television sets at affordable prices effectively put an end to the regular public screening of films in the town and the huge enjoyment they gave both on and off the screen.