The Gaiety Cinema

Charles Hailstone wrote in 1984:

This picture is reproduced from the unique panorama of Mortlake High Street south side in the 1920s, finely drawn and tinted by my friend HJ McLoughlin (Mac) now residing in Somersetshire. All lies under the widened Mortlake High Street and Rann House flats. WM Carwithen in 1913 built the Mortlake Picture Palace with 408 seats on the site of Adams's Eel Pie House. The four exits, fireproof operating chamber, and use of non-inflammable film satisfied the Cinematograph Act of 1909, but a licence was refused because the police had not been notified and not all seats were properly fixed. Nevertheless, opening was billed for the Monday after Christmas, with "Good Pictures! Good Music! Good Ventilation", matinees 2 and 2.30, continuous films from 6.30. But it went dark until March 1914, reopening as the Mortlake Cinema with "House of Discord", a "powerful domestic drama", seats 2d, 3d, and (reserved) 6d. It again closed, but reopened as the Mortlake Electric Pavilion in October when the Great War was two months old. In 1915 it became a light engineering factory, until 1919 when it reopened again as the Gaiety Cinema under Isaac Cohen. Mrs Cohen worked the ticket office and her 15 year old daughter Rose accompanied the films on the stage piano six nights a week. The licence went to PT Cook in 1920 when weekly draws began for free aeroplane flights over London, the first winner being Mr Royal of 99 Ashleigh Road, Mortlake, with an alternative choice of a free charabanc trip to Brighton. Judah Schwartz became the licensee in 1921. Application for Sunday showings was refused, but on 4 and 11 December 1922 LS Dorling risked two Sunday performances and was fined 10 shillings for each offence.

The Gaiety (later the New Gaiety) was conveniently placed between the Two Brewers and the Old George, so that patrons could nip in and out for a quick drink. The narrow auditorium with red walls was heavy with the aroma of fish and chips brought in from Cotsfords, the fish-mongers. There were some boxes against the flank walls at the rear, price 1s 7d. The writer's own recollections as a child are of the Saturday afternoon matinees when the place was full of school children, all very noisy and often up to mischief. Tin pea-shooters could be bought at Barrys, newsagents, and pomegranates from Reynolds, greengrocers. The seeds would then be blown with force either at villains on the screen or at other children. Bernard Harrold was the licensee, and a personable boy of about 26 kept order with a cane, stopping the film to eject the worst of the offenders. Such goings on were never known at the Picturedrome at Milestone Green, East Sheen.

The Gaiety licence was constantly in jeopardy either from overdue electricity bills, often paid by loans from patrons, or from the County Council inspector. In 1928 it was discovered there was no fire hydrant and the licence was made provisional for four months until one was put in, Norah Thompson being the licensee. More serious deficiencies came to light in July. The roof was on timber instead of steel trusses as specified in the 1913 plans, and the ceiling was not fire resistant. Ventilation was poor, there being no windows and there were no panic bolts on the exits. Worse, there was no gents toilet. The amendments had not been completed by the following February, yet the cinema limped on until 1930 when application was made for standing room at the rear of the stalls. The licence was suspended in July. Like many bijou cinemas it was affectionately known as the flea pit. Later it was used for storage by the Flush Block Co. of Fulham. One warm evening in July 1961 it caught fire and was completely gutted.