Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

What Happened to the Old Films of Thornaby?

Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

What Happened to the Old Films of Thornaby?

Article excerpt

EVERY community had a thriving cinema during the 1920s and 30s until the onset of television and Thornaby was no exception. The Queens Cinema, on a once-thriving Mandale Road, should stir feelings of affection with many people who were around during the 1950s and even before, when the cinema slowly declined as more people bought TVs and it turned over to bingo like so many other venues.

One of three cinemas in the town, the Queens was owned and run by Mr Nightingale, an enterprising manager who commissioned films made about Thornaby for screening at his cinema - and Derek Smith is trying to track them down.

Derek, now a busy documentary film maker in London, who has an award winning series running on Sky Arts this year, first encountered the medium that would dominate his working life at the Queens in 1958 as a three-year-old visiting with his parents, who lived in nearby Barnard Street.

Many years later, in 1977, Derek's interest in Thornaby history led him to photograph the now abandoned and derelict cinema days before it was demolished. Upstairs in the old office Derek confronted a scene of desolation and ruin.

He takes up the story of what he found: "Someone had opened the roll-top desk and scattered old files everywhere. But my eye was caught by pieces of celluloid amongst the papers, they had images on them.

"I was excited to find they were of a local event from the 1920s and obviously part of longer 35mm reels. I took them home to inspect the frames and try to uncover the mystery. One of the frames was a title and it read: 'Mr S W Nightingale presents an Exclusive Film of the 1928 Carnival'.

"What were local images doing in a cinema dedicated to British and American features from Hollywood and Pinewood? These pictures were of local people at a local event. How had they come to be made? Then I discovered the last manager of the cinema, Mr Peacock, was living in Lanehouse Road, 20 minutes walk from my parents. "I set up an interview and Mr Peacock revealed that Mr Nightingale believed people would flock to the cinema to see themselves on film. This was something that never happened in an age when few people in Thornaby even possessed box cameras."

Derek Smith says that interestingly the "come and see yourself on screen" technique had been created much earlier, at the turn of the 20th century when the renowned partnership of Mitchell and Kenyon toured northern towns turning their camera on local scenes, invariably with large groups such as workers emerging from factories.

The more people Mitchell and Kenyon could cram in their frames the better for them, because the subjects and their families would buy tickets to see the film when it was shown. Mitchell and Kenyon's collection of negatives, once considered lost, was miraculously found in a Blackburn basement seven years ago and the event has effectively rewritten the history of early British cinema. …

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