The Cinema and Cinema-Going in Scotland, 1896-1950

The Cinema and Cinema-Going in Scotland, 1896-1950

The Cinema and Cinema-Going in Scotland, 1896-1950

The Cinema and Cinema-Going in Scotland, 1896-1950


What did our Scottish grandparents and great grandparents see at the cinema? What thrilled them on the silver screen?

This is the first scholarly work to document the cinema habits of early twentieth-century Scots, exploring the growth of early cinema-going and integrating the study of cinema into wider debates in social and economic history. The author draws extensively on archival resources concerning the cinema as a business, on documentation kept by cinema managers, and on the diaries and recollections of cinema-goers. He considers patterns of cinema-going and attendance levels, as well as changes in audience preferences for different genres, stars or national origins of films.

The thematic chapters broaden out the discussion of cinema-going to consider the wider social and cultural impact of this early form of mass leisure. Trevor Griffiths' book is a major contribution to the growing body of work on the history and significance of British film

Key Features

  • First major study of early Scottish film
  • New archives and research
  • Fascinating diary entries
  • Early cinema as business
  • Important addition to Scottish film studies

Key words: cinema, Scotland, history, cinema-going, society, films, Scottish


By the mid point of the twentieth century, the cinema and film more generally had put down deep and extensive roots across Scotland. With over 600 fixed sites in use for the commercial screening of motion pictures, there were more cinemas and cinema seats per head of population north of the border than across Britain as a whole. Although unevenly distributed, the picture house was a fixture in all towns and cities of any note and boxed the compass, from Kirkwall (Orkney) and Stornoway (Lewis) in the north to Stranraer (Wigtownshire) and Coldstream (Berwickshire) in the south. the Kinematograph Year Book for 1948 revealed that the cinema was present in some 261 centres of population and that, while 30 per cent of houses were located in the four major cities of Glasgow, Aberdeen, Dundee, and Edinburgh, over a quarter operated in towns or villages each with populations of 5,000 and below. Cinema-going was a pursuit that encompassed small-town- and city-dweller alike, and was practised on a scale and with a frequency that eclipsed all other commercial leisure forms. Returns from the collection of entertainments tax offer powerful evidence of cinema’s then dominant place in the world of popular entertainment. Across Britain, it accounted for almost 83 per cent of all admissions to taxable entertainments in 1950. As a point of contrast, football, often seen as the leading passion of the average working-class Scottish male, accounted for a mere 5 per cent of the total. Tightening the focus to Scotland reinforces the importance of the movie-going habit. Cinema seats were not only more abundant north of the border, they were also filled more frequently than was the case elsewhere. So, at a time, in 1950–1, when the British were the most inveterate cinema-goers in the world, visiting picture houses on average twenty-eight times a year, the average Scot went thirty-six times. Even this figure masked significant variations, so that Glaswegians and those living in towns of between 50,000 and 100,000 each saw the insides of cinemas an average of fifty-one times a year. Whatever measure is taken, the cinema was confirmed as a significant presence in the everyday lives of many, perhaps most, Scots.

Yet its appeal was not comprehended by commercial screenings alone. in areas to the north and west of the central belt, where a dispersed population rendered the operation of shows from fixed sites problematic, exhibitors toured in a manner reminiscent of the early days of moving pictures.

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