The first dedicated permanent cinema in Denny was built for Thomas Turnbull in 1913. Unlike so many of the early proprietors he had no connection with the pioneering days of the travelling shows. He started business with his brother, John, as a carrier in Falkirk. Then he became a professional footballer, starting with Falkirk Football Club, moving to East Stirlingshire, Glasgow Celtic and finally Sheffield United. He retired from the game in 1911 when he broke his leg and resumed his partnership with his brother. It is not known why he chose Denny for his cinema, which he called the “Picture House.”
The Picture House was located in Stirling Street a little to the west of St Alexander’s Church and occupied a greenfield site on a bank down to Carronbank Park. The gradient of the bank was utilised for the sloping floor of the auditorium. The plans were prepared by Thomas Copland, architect, Falkirk, who supervised the construction. The outer walls were built of brick with internal buttresses to take the timber roof. It was relatively simple, being rectangular in plan with slightly projecting twin towers on the front façade facing the street. These were some 19ft tall, with an open storey above carrying a pyramid-shaped roof, making 30ft to the apex. The open storey was fenced in with wooden balustrades giving the appearance of a fort or an adventure playground – which dramatic backdrop suited the cinemas of the time. The solid parts of the towers were emphasised by a crenellated eaves course. Sandwiched between the towers was the main building with a hipped roof covered in felt tiles. The façade was enlivened by the application of green tiles. The main entrance was in the centre with side ones for greater egress. These led via the lobby to a central pay desk, behind which was the entrance hall. From here two doorways led to the back of the auditorium. A third doorway, to the left, led to steps and a passage to the front of the auditorium. It was designed to seat 600 people. The entire seating was in red morocco leather, with the exception of one row at the rear, which was of red plush; the dearer-priced seats being of the tip-up variety. The stage was large in order to take live entertainment and had appropriate rooms off to either side. The toilets were located off the entrance hall. Inside the upper parts of the walls were painted in red and white, while the lower sections were panelled in dark varnished wood. The lighting was electric. The contractors for the work were: plumber work – Mr A R Peacock, Denny; painter work – James Marshall, Falkirk; electrical work – Cuthbertson and Co, Falkirk; plaster work – Drummond & Crowe, Falkirk; and joiner work – W Mealls & Sons, Dunipace.
The Picture House was opened by Mrs Forbes of Herbertshire Castle on 11 December 1913. The first film to be shown was “Snatched from Death!” Councillor J Shanks welcomed “a place where the tired worker could come and enjoy a quiet pipe after the day’s labour”. There were two houses on Saturdays, with matinees on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The residing manager was Harry Harris and Miss Isa D Kirk was the pianist.
Less than a year after its opening the country was at war with Germany. The Picture House joined the National Cinema Scheme to raise money for motor ambulances. Its staff soon had a more direct involvement and when Harry Harris departed for his military service in June 1916 he was presented with a wrist watch. It was during the war that Charlie Chaplin first appeared on the screens and the first showing in Denny was of “The Floorwalker” at the Picture House on 1 October 1917. Appropriately, Denny Town Council had to complain about the queues for the cinema blocking the public footpath.
The cinema was well attended during the war, playing to full houses, and so in June 1918 it closed for a week for cleaning and renovation. Turnbull was doing well enough to give the children of Denny an annual treat of a free viewing and sweets. It continued to offer a wide selection of films under Tom Turnbull until the second week of November when he departed to run the Star Inn in Grahams Road, Falkirk. The Picture House in Denny was then leased by the Commercial Cinematograph Co Ltd, with ex-Provost Tom Timmons of Lochgelly, Fife, as managing director. Turnbull continued to have an interest in the cinema at Denny until late 1928 when he sold the concern to the Commercial Cinematograph Co Ltd. Unfortunately he did not have long to enjoy the rewards for he died 23 February 1929 aged only 44 years. Curiously, the managing director of the new company had also been a footballer. He had helped to found Dundee United and often played in goal.
Illus 3: The twin towers of the picture House.
Over the years the Denny Picture House was occasionally redecorated, as occurred in early December 1934, but by and large it remained little altered. In the late 1940s the tile roof was re-clad with corrugated sheets. Indeed, there were few incidents of note apart from the odd interruption to the power supply. One evening late in October 1936 the performance had to be abandoned due to the whole of the northern part of Denny being thrown into darkness. Despite the opening of the Cinema De Luxe in 1939 by the same company, audiences still flocked to the Picture House or the “Buggy” as the locals called it, reputedly due to the fleas.
After the war the Picture House was run down and it seems to have closed shortly after the death of Tom Timmons on 6 May 1955. It was demolished in the early 1960s.
Denny Picture House SMR 1907 NS 8103 8296