Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: March 14, 2016
Webpage updated: January 05, 2019

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The Palladium Cinema at Ford, Devonport, 1950s.
Western Morning News Company Limited.

The plans for a new cinematograph theatre on the corner of Saint Levan Road and Ford Hill were approved in December 1916.  Mr F J Stanbury was going to convert his building shed but his plan to construct a gallery was not allowed.  The licence was subsequently issued to Mr Gwyther Eastlake Prance and the Palladium had its Grand Opening on Thursday August 9th 1917.  It was to be managed by Mr Ernest W Price, late of the Cinedrome.

The leading film was a Vitagraph, entitled "The Combat", in which the popular cinema artiste, Miss Anita Stewart, took the leading role. In the cast of another scene called  "Caprice", Miss Mary Pickford appeared with great success.  Interest in the drama "John Carlton's Double" was enhanced by the fact that the convict scenes had been filmed at Princetown and the views of the sea at Saint Ives. Included amongst the humorous pictures was a Triangle comedy entitled "Her Painted Hero".  'Music was discoursed by an efficient orchestra', the review concluded.

A gallery was added a year or so later when the plans of Mr Prance and a subsequent licensee, Mr A Fredman, were approved.

From November 8th 1925 the minimum admission charge to local cinemas became 6d. That year also saw an unusual development at the Palladium, Ford.  Its licence had just been transferred from Mr Fredman to a Mr E W Price when an application was made to the Council for permission to open the cinema in the winter months for concerts. Although that wish was granted, it is not clear whether it was ever put into effect.

Mr Fredman became its licensee again in 1926 but when it was renewed in 1927 it passed to Mr Henry Banks Bambridge Mather.  He continued to run the Ford Palladium for the following 35 years or so, with Mr A Sullivan as his manager.

The seating capacity in 1939 was quoted as being 430 but by 1953 it was only 383.

Mr Cyril John Charters, late of the Gaumont Palace, took up an appointment as chief projectionist on Monday November 29th 1954. His pay was 8 per week. Following Mr Sullivan's sudden death while at work, Mr Charters took over as manager and he later took over the lease as well when Mr Mather retired. The projectionist at this time was Mr Les Gillard.

The beginning of the end probably came in early 1963. The Watch Committee of Plymouth City Council decided that as from April 1st the Sunday charity levy should be fixed at two shillings per seat for cinemas with a capacity of 1,250 or more and one shilling for those with less.  This was vastly more expensive than the old system, where the City's cinemas as a whole just had to find 2,000 per year between them, the larger ones subsidising the smaller units.   Mr Charters found this new levy 'unjust' and argued that if he opened on a Sunday for any other form of entertainment, he would not have to pay the levy.

Despite problems like that, Mr Charters continued to attempt to draw people to his small cinema.

In October 1963 he set up a special foyer display in order to create a jungle atmosphere while the film "Hatari" was showing. Foliage and paintings of animals and jungle scenes decorated the foyer while the box office notice displaying the prices of admission had been altered to read "Treetops Hotel" for the circle and "Jungle" for the stalls. However, he had to give up his hopes of having an animal from Plymouth Zoo in the display because of the cool weather.

On another occasion, during a three-day showing of "Mein Kampf", he staged an exhibition of photographs of Belsen Concentration Camp guards and Germans in victory and defeat. These pictures he had taken when, as a member of an army mobile cinema unit, he went into Belsen immediately after liberation. The unit used to show comedy and other light entertainment films to boost the morale of the former prisoners and those working among them.

He was also an excellent opportunist. One Sunday in July 1964 the local children were surprised to see a notice outside exclaiming: "See the 'Rolling Stones' at the new Riverside Theatre -- exclusive to the Ford Palladium". This clever announcement was not entirely accurate, however, and there is no record of the disappointment felt by the youngsters when they discovered that it referred to real stones. A nine-inch water main had burst up Ford Hill and the water gushed down into Saint Levan Road, taking some "rolling" stones with it. The children were soon playing in the water and there was, according to Mr Charters, 'quite a seaside atmosphere'.

Unfortunately, Mr Charters was fighting a losing battle in his efforts to encourage the local population into his cinema.   Visits to cinemas were declining largely due to the advent of television.  Why go out when you could sit in the warmth and comfort of your own home and watch the small screen?  The only advantage in going to the pictures was that the films were in Technicolour.

And so it was that on Monday November 15th 1964 the Ford Palladium screened its last film. The cinema was open the following day but as only one person turned up Mr Charters decided that the end had finally come and closed down.

Mr Cyril Charters, died on December 29th 1991. He had started his working life in 1931 as an ice cream boy at the old Palladium, Ebrington Street. This he did for only a few weeks as he was soon able to go up into the projection box. His career then took him to the Gaumont Palace and eventually to what became his very own Palladium.

The premises became, and still are, a builders' merchants depot but the frontage remains to remind passers by of its more glorious past.  That was until January 20th 1994 when some young arsonists set fire to the premises. As his widow, Eileen, said in a letter to the Evening Herald: 'I am glad Cyril was not here to see the sad end to the dear Ford Palladium, but all those connected in any way have happy memories I am sure'.