27 Nov

Bombing Raids, Dive-Ins & Bunnets: Getting the Conversation Started


n order to reveal the meaning of heritage, you have to engage with the community that surrounds it.

Last week we were invited along to meet with the Campbletown Old Pals’ group in the comfortable surroundings of the Royal Hotel. Like the Antiquarians, we heard that these folks had both wisdom and experience under their belts, but we needed to find out for ourselves!

We were there to listen to stories related to the Picture House, cinema going and cultural activities. But we also wanted also wanted to kickstart an inter-generational interviewing project in collaboration with Campbeltown Grammar School.

After brief introductions we sat down and started to chat – and wished we had brought a microphone because the stories started to flow…

We were told about the opening night of the Picture House in 1913; a moment which was marked by a birth in the town, the delivery being made by the local doctor dressed in his best suit and bow tie for the occasion!

We heard about the terrifying bombing raid by a German plane on the 6th of November, 1940. One of the group told us how he was in the Rex Cinema at the time, with the film being stopped and the audience being hastily ushered out of the building, before then being told to dive for cover as the bomber circled over the harbour for another attack. Campbeltown was struck twice by bombing raids during World War Two, and the clock tower of the Victoria Hall was destroyed. The Victoria Hall was the site of some of the earliest cinema performances in Campbeltown from 1897 onwards.

All that survives: Victoria Hall (pre 1910) (left), The Victoria Hall today (right). Spot the crossed rifles plaque.

We were also told about the atmosphere of the Rex Cinema, especially the occasional feeling of luxury inside; golden divans (or “dive-ins” as they were known locally!) deep carpets, marble flooring, and teas and coffees being served upstairs on the balcony. This is really important because apart from memories we don’t (as of yet) have any idea of what it was like inside.

The Rex was huge, but the “wee pictures” always had local affection and the programming of shows were connected with other activities in the town. Schools used to attend shows related to what was being taught in class and one member of the group remembered being marched down the hill to see Lawrence of Arabia in 1944. On Sunday nights during the winter months the Picture House showed Christian films.

If you wanted to find out what was being shown next at the Picture House you would look at the noticeboard outside the Templar Hall where programmes would be displayed alongside notices for concerts, theatre and dances. The Picture House was also known for hosting theatrical performances. A local teacher, David S. McArthur, was responsible for the production of the pantomime ‘Babes in the Wood’ during the 1940s.

The people of the Picture House were also well remembered. One of the late doormen, Jimmy Ramsay, was said to have worn a khaki brown uniform with a flat cap “wi’ a big peak tae it” and had a wonderful handlebar moustache. He also sported a remarkably long thumbnail with which he would snap off tickets with the greatest of ease. Outside, you may have picked up a newspaper from Duncan McKinlay who sold the Evening Times with his distinctive cry – a sight and sound you rarely encounter today!

If any youngster was caught being boisterous during the matinees, a Mrs Speed would swiftly descend, shine her torch full on the guilty party, and proceed to loudly administer a “guid sherrakin’!”

We never found out how much ticket prices were, but we were told about sneaking into the next show by hiding in the toilet; it seems that the “tradition” of buying an entry ticket has travelled down through the generations!

A picture paints a thousand words, and moving pictures many more. We know that surviving footage of the ‘Arrival at Whitehart’ film, shown 10 days before the outbreak of World War One, captures the faces of locals and visitors to the area. We were told that a child in a pram could be the grandmother of one of the group’s participants; what a wonderful connection to preserve.

Join the Discussion!

Over the past two days we have been meeting with pupils of Campbeltown Grammar School trying to drum up their enthusiasm to interview people within the community, and to reveal and explore stories just like the ones above.

The school holidays are coming up and we are eager to have as many young folk involved in this project as possible. We will be having a friendly meet-up on Saturday 8th of July at Aqualibrium from 1pm onwards, so if you know any young folk who would like to get involved, please invite them along. There will also be opportunities for them to contribute to the blog and have a “hands on” experience looking at genuine Cinema artefacts and documents.

We’d also like to collect as many of your own memories and photographs related to cinema going! 

Get in touch: [email protected]

Thanks to the Old Pals Group and the staff and pupils of Campbeltown Grammar School.

Jan & Robin

Image Credits
1.) Victoria Hall pre-1910, MacGrory Collection, courtesy of Argyll and Bute Library Service.
2.) Victoria Hall, with permission from RCHAMS, http://canmore.org.uk/collection/1320757

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