The early travelling cinematograph shows visited the small communities throughout central Scotland. The limited seating capacity of these makeshift cinemas meant that while it was worthwhile for their owners to stop in a village, they did not remain for as long as they did in the towns. Community venues such as church halls were well used. Few, however, were able to sustain a permanent cinema. The Picture House in Brightons could tap into the large mining community in the area and draw people from the surrounding area – from Maddiston, Polmont, Rumford, Shieldhill and Redding. Remoter locations such as Slamannan and Avonbridge made their own provision for intermittent services. At Avonbridge a disused blanket mill was converted into a part-time cinema and community hall. At Slamannan the church hall was utilised.
The Picture House near Brightons Cross opened at an inauspicious time – 23 December 1914, just after the First World War had broken out. Appropriately it was opened by David Corrie, manager of the nearby Westquarter Explosives Works of Nobel’s. A new company was established by four brothers – Thomas, Hugh, Andrew and William Duncan – for the purpose of running the cinema. It seems to have been Willie who had the main interest in music hall and started with a hall in Prestonpans. When it came to opening at Brightons he was supported by his brothers. Andrew had an ice-cream business and Hugh was an electrical engineer. They commissioned the Bo’ness architect Matthew Steele to design and oversee the construction. The architects influence can be seen not only in the design but in the choice of sub-contractors who were: builder – Richard Snedden, Bo’ness; joiner – Mr Simpson, Bo’ness; plaster and slater – James Begg, Bo’ness; plumber – Charles Anderson, Bo’ness; painter – Mr DG Reid, Polmont; cabinetmaker and upholsterer – JE Chisholm, Falkirk. It made use of the slope away from the main road for its raked seating which provided accommodation for up to 700 – at a pinch. This number was achieved by the use of tip-up forms and some tip chairs. Lighting was a combination of electric and gas. The single projector was electric. The main feature of the single-storey façade was the use of wood barge-boarding on the gable and around a canted central bay which sloped inward to the apex providing an entrance canopy. Below this the wall was harled with dressed stone quoins to the corners and voids. The front was symmetrical with a broad entrance flanked by Diocletianic windows. The roof was covered with red felt tiles.
Prices for entry at the time of opening were moderate – front seats 3d, centre of hall 4d, and back seats 6d. Music was provided by A Heeps and P Muir. The programme was changed twice a week and every Saturday at 3pm there was a children’s matinee.
Messrs T & H Duncan supported the war effort as best they could – showing films of the war, including authorised news films. Money was collected and passed on to the Red Cross for POWs, or War Savings, and so on.
Local talent was also promoted and in June 1918 the Rumford Dramatic Club put on a play. The Brightons Picture House Orchestra was available for performances outside the cinema. In July 1922 the management of Brightons Picture House promoted a revue which was an entirely local production with a cast of about forty called “Hullo, Polmont.” Variety acts also appeared throughout the 1920s. Hugh Duncan emigrated to Canada. The partners were now William and Thomas Duncan and the company correspondingly called W & T Duncan. Following the Redding Pit Disaster in 1923 William had wooden boxes made and placed them on the bank of the Union Canal where the crowds were gathering so that they could drop coins in for the victims’ families. They were also circulated in the cinema. Going into the 1930s William seems to have been the driving force. He gave the free use of the picture house for a concert in February 1931 to raise money for the miners of Craigend Colliery who were in dispute with their employers. An act from Kilsyth provided the entertainment on that occasion, but the film that should have accompanied it was cut due to electrical problems. The attendance numbered 500 and the drawings amounted to £12 10s. The picture house was overhauled in the late 1930s to maintain its standards. A British Thompson Houston projector was installed and polished once a week.
During the Second World War the cinema developed a close link with Westquarter. At the beginning of the New Year in 1942 some 400 children from Westquarter were entertained by the Village Committee to a free show of films in Brightons Picture House and each received a penny on the way out. This was repeated in 1943 for 500 children. Films were provided by the Ministry of Information. The Ministry provided a range of documentaries about the Empire as well as the war and subsidised their showing – just as well because they were not well attended. It also provided speakers to talk about a spread of topics from why democracy failed on the Continent, to a history of Russia. Professor John Cameron and Miss Lai Po Lan talked about China. On a more practical note, the soldiers billeted at Tarduff House were given the use of the shower previously installed for the artistes.
Illus: The Duncan brothers Willie, Hugh and Andrew, from left to right, Main Street, Brightons. (Wendy Anderson).
On 24 September 1945 the partnership between William and Thomas Duncan was dissolved and William became the sole proprietor. Carol Sneddon in her oral history of cinemas noted that William used to take the takings home in a brown leather bag and these were banked once a week. The small change was taken to the local butcher’s shop and exchanged for notes. The uniformed usherettes halved the tickets and put one half in a box – the same box used in 1923 to collect money for the miners’ families. These would be checked against a head count in the cinema to comply with fire regulations and later to assess the entertainment tax.
Willie Duncan’s stepson, Adam Brown, used to make the slides projected onto the screen to advertise local businesses. He subsequently took over the cinema and operated it with his wife, Jenny. In the 1950s the cinema entered a period of decline and closed on 1 July 1961. Adam and Jenny converted it into a bingo hall which in turn closed in 1969. It was sold in 1972 and stood empty until demolished in 1986. The site is now occupied by housing.
Illus: Jenny Brown with a poster from the last days of the Picture House.
Brightons Picture House
SMR 2219 NS 9266 7783