The A-listed Picture House in Campbeltown is an amazing survivor and holder
of several records. It is now the oldest purpose-built cinema in Scotland still
showing films, the only cinema in Scotland still with atmospheric-style decoration,
and one of the few cinema buildings that remains undivided, allowing films to
be seen from a choice of stalls or balcony. It also unusually has never had
a name change!
The Picture House opened on 26th May 1913, the first cinema in the town. It
was designed by prolific cinema architect AV Gardner (later to design such cinemas
as the Grosvenor and the Kelvin, and better known now as one half of the partnership
of Gardner and Glen) to seat 640.
His design for the building was quite unlike any other cinema building of the
time, which, when viewed in plan projection, are clearly based around a series
of concentric ovals, the highest and narrowest of which consisted of the projection
box, with a larger oval below that at balcony level, with another curved frontage
and foyer area below - the curved walls are very noticeable on the exterior
facade, and, in another unusual touch, were mirrored on the back wall of the auditorium.
There was no foyer to speak of, with doors under a single central ticket box
open to the elements, protected only by an open-air balcony above.
Sadly no photographs of the original 1913 interior are currently available,
but descriptions suggest stained glass windows on either side of the proscenium,
and decoration including potted plants and boxes. The original plans also show
an orchestra pit below the stage, and two dressing rooms (one on each side of
The cinema was a great success, and in July 1931 the cinema closed for 11 days
to allow sound equipment to be installed. An additional kiosk building was built
next door to provide additional queuing space for customers waiting to get into
the main building!
In 1935, the original architect was brought back to refurbish and modernise
the interior, which he did in a similar 'atmospheric' style as with his Kelvin
cinema. This involved the construction of two small buildings (now known locally
as 'the wee houses') on either side of the screen, and the rebuilding of the
balcony to improve access from one to two stairwells. Making the most of the
small building, and - somewhat unusually for an atmospheric - the buildings
at either side of the screen are not entirely decorative; one houses the managers
office, and the other a storeroom.
Some time in the 1940s, additional improvements were also made to the foyer
and exterior - the outside balcony was screened off with windows, and the main
foyer enlarged by installing new doors at the previously open entranceway. Apart
from the later installation of acoustic tiles in the auditorium, and several
coats of paint, the cinema survives today largely unaltered since the 1935 redevelopment.
The festoon curtain and some of the current seating came from an (unidentified)
Glasgow cinema in the 1950s.
Due to falling attendances, part-time bingo was introduced in 1963; this arrangement
continued until 1986, when the cinema closed. Thankfully, the building was taken
over by the Campbeltown Community Business, a charitable company. A large fund-raising
effort eventually culminated in the seats and building being refurbished (now
seating 265), and the cinema finally reopened in 1989.
The cinema celebrated its 90th birthday in 2003.
Because of the increasing costs and problems involved in maintaining a building
of that age, works are shortly to commence to repair the auditorium roof, and,
funding permitting, convert the adjacent kiosk building to create a new entranceway
and cafe-bar area.
While the interior itself is also badly in need of refurbishment, it still retains
its unique atmosphere and appeal, and, over 90 years since it opened, and having
outlasted and survived bigger, and grander cinema competitors, bingo operations,
and numerous threats of demolition, the 'Wee Pictures' enters its tenth decade
very much looking to the future...
Long may it continue!