The Railway and the Picture House
“I remember as a young boy in the Early 1940s going to the Picture House on a Saturday to the matinee. I think at that time the cost was a three-penny piece to get in.
As we queued in the foyer and before we paid our money there was usually a commissionaire position there; usually it was Mr. James Ramsay and to a lesser extent Mr. Angus McGougan.
In the early days they both wore a brown / khaki uniform with a khaki “cheese-cut” cap. But in in later years they reverted back to their own clothes. In the early 1940s, Campbeltown had many service personnel stationed at NMS Nimord and HMS Landrail (the Fleet Air Arm) based at Machrihanish so cinema-going was very popular. Sometimes if a good film was being shown we had to queue outside and in the adjoining empty waiting room if it was empty. And finally, Mr Ramsay before he worked at the Picture House, was the driver of the Campbeltown / Machrihanish railway train.”
Told by Duncan MacSporran, 11th August, 2017
Moustaches and Midwifes
“My uncle Donald who was the Engineer in the Net Factory was an avid film fan and had a permanent booking at the Picture House. There were two single seats at the back of the balcony and he had the one on the left-hand side, I think it was ‘F6’. He was a confirmed bachelor and liked sit on his own! The only time he didn’t take his seat was if the British Star, Jessie Matthews was appearing in a film; he couldn’t stand her! With the advent of the Second World War he became an ARP Warden and also an ATB Instructor and that put an end to his visits to the Wee Pictures. He had never been to the Rex Cinema.
My granny did catering at a lot of functions in the town and I think I’m right in saying that she provided it for the opening of the Picture House; I’m just not certain. Later that same night she went to her cousin, Bella Wilkinson’s house to act as a midwife. Bella’s daughter was delivered safely and shortly afterwards Dr. Brown arrived in his evening dress as he had been at the opening ceremony.
“Angus McGougan was the Commissionaire and looked impressive with his large moustache, nice brown uniform and peaked hat. I think his son, “Spud” McGougan did a spell at the door just after the war, but I may be wrong. After that it was Jimmy Ramsay’s job for many years. Jimmy had come to Campbeltown some years ago to drive the Machrihanish Train.
Downstairs in the Picture House was Mrs. Speed’s domain. She was a small elderly lady with a very loud voice and a very powerful torch with which she kept noisy youngsters under control. Upstairs Jenny Black didn’t have the same problems.
I was six or seven when I saw a film which was never forgotten called ‘Trader Horn’, it was the first to be made on location in Africa and I thought it was wonderful seeing the animals for the first time! A few years later my mother auntie were going to see a very popular all-star film called ‘Anna Karenina’ and I managed to go with them. The leading lady was Greta Garbo and near the end her part was to commit suicide by jumping in front of a train. When this happened, evidentially to the amusement of those around us, I said “could she not have done that at the beginning of the picture?” Classics were never my favourite!”
Told by Jimmy Allan, 11th August, 2017
Jumping out for grub
“My favourite film was the ‘Quiet Man’, it holds a real affection for me. I remember it in the ‘Wee Picture Hoose’, about 1951, possibly 1952. We went to both picture houses, but the ‘Wee Pictures’ was our favourite one. So, we had to queue. I remember the queue stretched from the Picture House, right around the corner, to what’s now known as the Factory Shop and then halfway up the main street, two deep to get in! We jumped out the queue to Leo Grumoli’s café for some food whilst mum and the other two kids held our space, before swopping over on our return!”
Told by Alex McKinven, 11th August, 2017
Egg, Chips and Casablanca
Jacqueline Wolsey was originally from Cheshire. She arrived at RAF Machrihanish during the very early hours of Boxing Day, 1945. She remembers waking up on her first day and seeing the sea. Jacqueline was stationed as a VHDF (radar) operator and stayed at the base for the remainder of the war. She worked in her own little hut. As the war progressed she experienced night flying and dancing in the mess hall.
Jacqueline took regular visits to Campbeltown and remembers having egg, chips and beans in a café on High Street. She tried to make it to the Picture House at least once a week and remembers that tickets weren’t expensive. There was ice-cream for sale and one evening she watched Casablanca with her boyfriend who was an Air-Gunner.
When the cessation of hostilities was announced, Jacqueline travelled into Campbeltown at night and saw a completely different place. The harbour was “sparkling” with light and all the boats were sounding their horns; the blackout had ended.
Image 1: Efforts have been made to trace the original image of Angus MacGougan.
Image 2: The Macrihanish Light Railway outside Campbeltown Picture House, Valentines & Sons Ltd. (copyright expired), The major archive of monochrome topographical views by James Valentine &
Co. is held by the University of St Andrews Library.