The site on Stirling Road adjacent to the glebe which was chosen in 1938 for the most up-to-date cinema in Denny did not have an auspicious history. David Anderson had erected the Denny Public Hall there, but it burnt down in 1888. The following year it was replaced by Denny Town Hall and it too was destroyed by fire, in 1937. The same fate was to befall the cinema – but that lay in the future. The new cinema was given the name Cinema De Luxe to give an impression of the comfort within. It was erected for the Commercial Cinematograph Co Ltd, the firm which also controlled the existing Picture House in Denny, and of which ex-provost Tom Timmons was managing director, though he then lived in Lochgelly, Fife.
Illus 2: Main east and south Elevations of the Cinema De Luxe.
The cinema was built on a slight gradient, the road being one storey higher than the ground at the back of the building. This was utilised by placing the auditorium seating on the slope. Local contractors were used where possible and the total cost was in the region of £12,000. As with most cinemas, it was essentially a massive shed with a façade attached. It was designed in a clean cut “futuristic” 1930s style by J Abercromby of Speirs Ltd, 257 George Street, Glasgow. The looming stepped gable façade facing the road was 81ft long (including the shop), with contrasting arrangements of mass and void. The voids were created by three tall, narrow vertical window ladders projecting outwards in triangular form like giant Toblerones. The two side window ladders were capped by friezes and surmounted by flag staffs. The central ladder rested on a semi-circular cantilevered entrance canopy.
Below the canopy, central to the building, were four doors in a rebated doorway providing a gaping cavern for the entrance. A horizontal arch with shaped voussoirs was carried across the doorway to accentuate it and extended to either side to cover recessed advertising panels. A line of small windows above the canopy is reminiscent of the contemporary airfield buildings at Grangemouth. The bulk of the front wall was rendered and finished with the ubiquitous “snowcrete”; the lower section being finished in glazed faience with channelling. The basal band was black. At night the voids were lit up to emphasise the segmented nature of the façade and floodlighting was provided at the entrance canopy. To the north of the cinema proper was a single storey flat-roofed shop with a serving space and sitting room. The shop opened as the Café De Luxe a week after the cinema saw its first audience and was leased by George Rossi.
The doors under the canopy opened into a bright entrance hall containing the central glass-fronted ticket office and two stairways leading to the balcony giving an impression of space upon entering the building. A separate entrance in the front wall next to the café gave access by a long passage to a fair-sized committee room or Lesser Hall, to conveniences for both sexes, and also acted as an exit to the front part of the auditorium. The auditorium, with two doorways from the entrance hall had accommodation for 636 people. The acoustic wall boarding was treated with horizontal bands of different hues of amber and pale pink. The proscenium arch and curtains were in brighter colours. The electric lights were placed on a dimmer switch. Tip-up cushioned seats were placed in every part of the house. The stage had a retiring room to either side and two separate WCs. As usual, the heating chamber was hidden below the stage. The staircases that rose from either side of the entrance hall gave access to an upper hall and thence to the balcony that accommodated a further 274 people. The balcony, free from obstruction underneath, was constructed on the cantilever principle with trusses tied to the back wall and supported on a steel girder stretching from side to side of the building. On the upper hall were situated cloakrooms and a room for the electrical equipment. From the upper hall two stairways gave access to the projection and rewinding rooms. Two Magnus projectors were installed for screening the films and sound was furnished by the Duosonic system. Safety was built in with wide passages and exits and ample fire-fighting equipment.
It was officially opened on 2 March 1939 by ex-Provost P Loney and Provost James Sawers – the intimate link with the Town Council was maintained for most of its life. The inaugural attraction was “Love Finds Andy Hardy”. Films were shown weekdays from 6pm on a continuous cycle, and at 6.20pm and 8.45pm on Saturdays. Tom Timmons’ brother, Joseph J Timmons, who had been in charge of the Picture House at Denny for 18 years, acted as resident manager. The prices for adults were – Area 6d & 9d, Balcony 1/-, reserved 1s/3d; and for children – Area 4d and 6d, Balcony 6d (unaccompanied 9d).
Illus 3: The Cinema De Luxe on opening day – 2 March 1939 (Falkirk Herald 4 March 1939, 4).
The principal contractors were: Speirs Ltd, 257 West George Street, Glasgow; and the sub-contractors were: excavation and brickwork – A Headridge Ltd, Causewayhead, Stirling; steelwork – Kelvin Construction Co Ltd, Maryhill, Glasgow; plumber work – Joseph H Graham, Denny; heating and ventilation – C F Howden, Garscube Road, Glasgow; plaster, “Snowcrete,” stipple finish and roughcast work – David Robertson & Sons (Denny) Ltd, Herbertshire Street, Denny; faience work – Southhook Potteries Ltd, Kilmarnock; steel windows – William and Williams, Hope Street, Glasgow; “Pabco”
flat roofing – Potter, Cowan and Co Ltd, Pitt Street, Glasgow; ironwork of canopy – R Smith & Co, Glasgow; electrical installation – Edward Masson, Stirling Street, Denny; glazier work – the Clydesdale Glass Company, North Street, Glasgow; painter work – J D Smith & Sons, Causewayhead, Stirling; terrazzo work – Tat, Menzies & Bertoia Ltd, Glasgow; seating and carpets – Patersons (Glasgow) Ltd; sound installation, projectors, screen and curtains –Gaumont British Equipments Ltd; floral decorations – James Earl, Denny.
A month after the cinema’s opening the local branch of the British Legion approached JJ Timmons for the use of the premises to stage a concert in aid of the Denny and Dunipace Cottage Hospital. This was readily granted and so they sought and received permission from the Town Council to hold the concert on a Sunday (30 April). This was the first time that such a sanction had been given in the town for a Sunday concert without the stipulation that there was to be no admission fee and that the money had to be raised by a collection. As the cinema could not open on Sundays for its regular business, this meant that it did not lose any revenue, though the cinema company did pay for the running costs. It soon became normal for the Cinema De Luxe to be granted one day per month for such charitable Sunday entertainments. The Church may have seen this as the start of a slippery slope, but for the moment public opinion was on the side of the cinema and the events attracted full houses.
The Cinema De Luxe was thrust into the forefront of national events on 2 September 1939 when, by prior arrangement, it witnessed an extraordinary exodus of children from Glasgow. Just over 600 evacuees from Bridgton arrived at Denny by train and were escorted to the cinema. In entering the buildings the teachers and helpers in charge of family groups handed their evacuation lists to the official in charge at the box office, the lists subsequently being placed in possession of the Chief Reception Officer or his deputy. In the balcony the billeting officers and their assistants awaited their call to take over the group allocated to them. On entering the cinema and getting their seats many of the children got comfortably settled in the tip-up seats and commenced reading a comic or periodical as if waiting for the show to begin. One by one the party was conducted to behind the proscenium, where in an ante-room they were medically examined. Tea and edibles were served in the lesser hall and bags with two days of rations were distributed. Everything went well and soon after their arrival the groups began to leave the hall on being taken over by the billeting officers. Denny Town Council subsequently sent a letter of complaint to its Glasgow counterpart objecting to the unclean and “verminous” state of the children. The latter referred to head lice.
Illus 4: Plan of the Cinema De Luxe. 1- vestibule; 2 – entrance hall; 3 – cash office; 4 – toilets; 5 – auditorium; 6 – balcony (above); 8 – stair to balcony; 9 – proscenium; 10 – stage; 13 – artiste’s room; 14 – manager’s room; 15 – hall; 17 – café/shop.
The first week of October saw a second quota of evacuees arrive from Glasgow. They had travelled by train to Larbert and then by bus to the cinema. There should have been 53 children from St Aloysius and St Columba’s RC Schools; however, only 42 arrived because several had been turned down by the medical examination before departure. By contrast with the first group they were all clean and tidy. Many of these evacuees returned to Glasgow after a few months, but for those that remained a free show was given on Christmas Day making it a very memorable occasion. Local children were also invited.
During the designing of the cinema the Lesser Hall had almost been an afterthought, but during the Second World War it proved invaluable as the meeting place of many local committees. The first to use it was the Women’s Voluntary Service who met there each Tuesday afternoon from October to distribute wool and other materials to those volunteers willing to make garments at home. The Women’s Rural Institute had early Monday evening meetings. The British Legion, the local branch of the Labour Party and, after a fire at the Hut in January 1944, the Brownies, were amongst the other users.
|DATE||CHARITABLE CAUSE||SPONSORING BODY|
|March 1940||Denny & Dunipace Comforts Fund||Fankerton|
|July 1940||Lifeboat Institution|
|October 1940||Stirlingshire Red Cross Society’s POW Parcels Fund||Stirlingshire Special Constabulary (Denny Section) Social Club|
|November 1940||Earl Haig Fund||British Legion|
|December 1940||Stirlingshire Red Cross||Dr Serafin’s Accordion Band|
|January 1941||Denny & Dunipace Comforts Fund|
|February 1941||Denny & Dunipace Cottage Hospital/ Falkirk & District Royal Infirmary||British Legion|
|May 1941||Red Cross Society POW Fund||Local children|
|September 1941||National Lifeboat Institution|
|October 1941||Denny & Dunipace Comforts Fund|
|October 1941||Red Cross||British Legion|
|November 1941||Red Cross POW Fund||Stirlingshire Special Constabulary (Denny Section) Social Club|
|December 1941||POW Fund||Local children|
From September 1939 to the end of November 1941 £710 was raised by the Sunday entertainments at the cinema and this pattern was repeated throughout the remainder of the war. Other charitable causes included the Polish Welfare Fund for those Poles exiled in Russia, for which a company of Polish artistes performed at the Cinema De Luxe on 22 February 1942. Denny, as we shall see presently, soon became accustomed to having foreigners in its midst. On 18 October 1942 Sir Harry Lauder performed in the Cinema De Luxe in aid of the Stirlingshire Red Cross POW Fund and such was the demand for tickets that the prices were increased. Tickets were obtained from Wilson’s shop at Denny Cross. In July 1942 Tom Johnston, the Secretary of State for Scotland, addressed a meeting in the Cinema De Luxe and made a stirring appeal for further aid being sent to Soviet Russia.
Collections were sometimes made during the evenings of normal weekday screenings. Public announcements could be made in person or on the screen, such as appeals for blood for the Transfusion Service. Information films, talks and exhibitions were also held, many arranged by the Ministry of Information. Denny Town council also enlisted the support of the cinema for its campaigns for War Savings Week, Warship Week, Wings for Victory Week, and so on. It may have helped that Joseph J Timmons was now a town councillor. In March 1941 one hundred teenagers turned up at the Cinema De Luxe for the inaugural meeting of the Herbertshire Squadron of the Air Training Corps.
On 11 February 1942 that dread to all cinemas happened. The film caught fire during a screening. The operator and his assistant were frantic as the fire spread to all 2,000 feet of film in the projection box and then to the projector. However, they were able to contain it and the show went on with the audience quite unaware of what was happening! The show had to stop on some occasions, such as 4 November 1944. During a severe storm the Glasgow Road area of Denny was blacked-out owing to the wind interfering with the overhead electric cables. The audience had to remain for over an hour before the entertainment could be resumed. The time was passed with community singing and after an anxious time for the management the show went on, but it was well after 11pm before the conclusion was reached and many of the audience missed their last bus home.
Under its commandant, Miss May Shanks (later Mrs Horsley), the Denny Voluntary Aid Detachment of the Red Cross was very active. As well as its role as first aiders the group also helped local people with welfare. On 20 October 1943 it entertained the next-of-kin of the Denny men who were prisoners of war by giving them a meal and a visit to the pictures at the Cinema De Luxe, Denny. The following December the collectors for the Red Cross Penny-a-Week Fund, numbering in all about 40, were also entertained to tea in the lesser hall. In July 1944 the Detachment launched an appeal for magazines and weekly publications so that they could be handed to the wounded men returning from Normandy. Naturally, the Cinema De Luxe was the collecting point.
The war had lasted for over five years and for many the return to “normality” in May 1945 seemed very strange. Many children could not remember having seen streets lights and the flood-lighting of the façade of the Cinema De Luxe utterly amazed them. The glow was arranged to give a red, white and blue outline. The cinema had been at the heart of the community’s war efforts and its place in local society was ensured.
Echoes of the war still lingered. On 25 August 1945 the Italian Orchestra from the Castlerankine POW Camp just outside the town performed at the Cinema De Luxe in the continuing campaign to raise money for the Denny and District Comforts Fund. By that time those Italian POWs who cooperated were allowed to enter shops to make small purchases, visit cinemas and talk to members of the public. Unescorted women queuing at the Cinema de Luxe were only too often subjected to uninvited advances. A year later it was German POWs who attended the cinema; although they were better behaved many still viewed them as the enemy.
What shook the citizens of Denny most, quite literally, was an event on the night of 6 April 1946. The audience in the Cinema De Luxe heard a very large bang like an explosion and the building rocked for several seconds. One lady who was sitting in the balcony said she had the impression that the roof was coming down about her. One ex-service woman, describing the incident, said that it reminded her of her experiences when the V1 and V2 bombs were causing a lot of trouble in the south of England, where she was stationed. Some of the audience immediately left, thinking that the staircase had collapsed, and gathered outside to see how they could assist. After a delay it was ascertained that the tremor had been caused by an event further away and they returned to the show. The noise and vibrations had in fact been caused by the tremendous blast from the explosion of an ammunition store in Perthshire.
The cinema was refurbished in 1948. The next incident of note at the cinema occurred early in the morning of 13 March 1949, ten years since it had opened. At the close of the performance at 10.20pm on the Saturday, Bailie Timmons made, as was his custom, an inspection of the interior and found that all was in order. The policeman on the beat reported that he passed the cinema at 12.30am and saw nothing unusual. Shortly after 1am, however, the residents in the Dryburgh housing scheme saw flames issuing from the west end of the roof and the alarm was immediately raised and fire crews from Denny and Falkirk were soon on the scene. By that time the interior of the building was a blazing inferno. Fanned by a strong westerly wind, the flames rose to a height of almost 50ft. When the smoke cleared away and the flames had been subdued, the interior of the building presented a picture of appalling destruction. Practically everything that would burn was gone, and only the iron standards of the tip-up seats stood sentinel in the mass of debris. The high west gable of the building was seen to be swaying in the breeze, and was demolished by pulling it into the interior of the wrecked building. An estimated £20,000 of damage had been caused. After an investigation the view was expressed that the fire had originated in the south-east corner of the stalls and was probably the result of a lighted cigarette end having been dropped.
It was insured and the Management intimated
“that it will be their earnest endeavour to restore this home of entertainment at the very earliest date, when they trust that picturegoers of the district will renew their esteemed patronage so tragically interrupted.”(Falkirk Herald 19 March 1949).
Three weeks later the plans for rebuilding the Cinema De Luxe were approved by the Dean of Guild Court. It was not to be so easy. The Ministry of Transport objected and demanded that the frontage should be put back 30ft in order to widen the road. Timmons made a direct appeal to Arthur Woodburn, the Secretary of State for Scotland. Eventually a site meeting was arranged, but it was February 1950 before the Secretary of State gave permission for the work. Spiers Ltd again acted as the architects and managers of the project. Further problems arose due to the acute shortage of timber. The architect was told by the pertinent government ministry that concrete should be substituted where possible, which required the complete revision of the steelwork for the balcony in order to carry the extra weight. Finally, work started to clear up the site of the Cinema De Luxe that July. At the end of August the steelwork for the interior was delivered and by the end of September asbestos sheeting was placed on the roof. The sub-contractors were largely the same as they had been ten years before, but now the electrical work was done by J Robertson of Glasgow, the painter work by W McIndoe of Kirkintilloch, the plaster work by A Couper & Sons of Stirling, the seating by Paterson (Glasgow) Ltd, and the carpets by Pathé Equipments Ltd. Delays in obtaining materials put the re-opening date back to 22 January 1951 at a time when ex-bailie J J Timmons was unable to be present due to illness. He did recover and returned to his role, with his son as assistant. He also returned to the council.
Illus 5: The Cinema De Luxe in 2003 after the removal of the canopy.
The Cinema De Luxe closed in the 1971 by which time it was also hosting games of bingo. It then continued under new ownership as a bingo hall and social club. The vertical bands of windows on the façade were blocked up and bingo continued until the turn of the century. The building then stood empty for several years before being damaged by yet another fire and demolished c2011.
Cinema de Luxe (Denny Public Hall) SMR 1515 NS 8119 8262