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The Tale of the Paramount Cinema main street

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The tiny forecourt is now occupied with parked vehicles and pallets of milk. In the distance; the mascot of an Aram Lily on a small faded wooden plague denotes the property ownership as W.A Thorpe & Sons Ltd.

The many coloured bulbs which lit the old wooden signage saying “The Paramount Cinema” have long since been removed from the building’s facade, replaced by one single outdoor halogen lamp.

One could google information of The Paramount Cinema but this is a short account of what the cinema meant to many people and the memories that will never be lost to TV and Social Media.

Stacks of pallets block the view to where people once bought confectionary (some homemade) before taking their seat indoors. The marshmallows, homemade crisps, ice-lollies, ice creams, fudge etc. were a favourite, although many could just about afford the tickets, let alone extras.

It is suggested by Colin Corker, son of the late Cecil Corker (‘Sniffy’) that a seat in the upper echelons (balcony) of the cinema would have set a person back 50p whilst the centre 25p-30p and the ground floor; 20p. 

The cinema had originally been set up by Mr Netto for silent movies and opened by Governor Pilling on 5th April 1940.

It is suggested by Colin that it was then sold to a Mr Broadway before the Corker family acquisition. Nostalgia seems to fill the room as I stop by Chad’s Shop on Main Street to talk about the lights, the signage boards and the memories. Even now, people still refer to the building as ‘The Cinema’. Some things change, not all things.

The property is now occupied by fridges and stacks of non-perishable goods. I am hoisted onto the fridge to get a closer look at the wonderful sombre paintings which run along the sides of the wall and it is suggested that a ‘Pa Jones’ was the artist and that his relatives still reside on the island, although I have not been able to locate them. The plaster is falling away in places but scenes of the seafront and harbour are still easily recognisable.

8mm, 16mm and 35mm reels would be hired from Cape Town. Cecil had to pay hire, freight, customs duty in Cape Town and on St Helena and entertainment and income tax before even a ticket was sold to a customer. The tickets would have been taken to the Castle and stamped as part of the entertainment tax payment. The cost to return them was the same minus the hire, income and entertainment tax.  

Many might remember smokin’ guns and Clint Eastwood as a main feature. How smartly people would get dressed, often the main entertainment of the week. In speaking to a few ladies about their experiences, they giggled about the torch that Percy ‘Mullet’ or ’Sniffy’ would carry around and switch on to ensure that ‘date night’ didn’t extend to kissing in the back rows. Perhaps there would be a little touch of the knee, or a little peck on the cheek. One ‘Saint’ talked about how she and her siblings would be instructed by her Mum to take a nap in the afternoon in preparation for the big event, she had only once set on the balcony due to affordability. These days, the screens are so huge and the sound so pitch perfect that the quality of a movie is only ruined by mobile phones, voices and annoying digs from those sitting behind. I have had the odd leg thrown over a chair next to me with the shoe absorbing my vision, that’s when the services of ‘Mullet’ and ‘Sniffy’ would have been helpful

As the cinema industry (‘Talkies’) began to gain traction, the shows travelled to Apple Cottage in Longwood every Friday evening, every other Tuesday evening the Guinea Grass Community Centre would come alive and once a month Sandy Bay would also get a taste of the entertainment.

Before the films were rolled out to the public, the island censorship board would view them and if they felt that they could not be used, even though they had already been cleared for viewing in Cape Town, this would mean a heavy loss financial loss for the Corker family. This happened on a number of occasions and in the end, the business lost its viability as a result.

I wish I could remember much about my days of going to the Paramount Cinema behind Broadway House, but the memories are hazy, yet I remember being carried home on someone’s shoulder and the cartoon at the start of the main feature.

Whilst the international community have continued to enjoy cinema visits, St Helena has had to settle for outdoor viewings in bar venues. Yet, that was not the end to St Helena’s attachment to the big screen. I attended the premier of the BBC documentary ‘St Helena – An end to Isolation’ by Dieter Deswarte in Regent Street. I am sure the people on that documentary never anticipated whilst going to ‘The Talkies’ on a remote island in the South Atlantic, that they would one day be on a big screen in Regent Street, London!

As the cinema days drew to a close, the hall was used for children’s hops, adult dances and concerts. They say, “if these walls could speak what stories they would tell us?” In a world where we are so busy ‘doing’, our only way of ensuring that tales are never forgotten is to write them down, talk about them, laugh about them and most importantly, listen to them. How many of us spend hours, days, weeks, months, years looking for information which we could have put into a scrap book or in a short story or article for people to enjoy many years from now? Oh to preserve the historical fibres that hold our culture together under the umbrellas of ‘good times’?

If you have pictures that you can share to bolster our online bank of St Helenian Heritage, please feel free to send these by JPEG to us.

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