Arthur Melbourne Cooper, film pioneer and cinema builder
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In 27 July 1908, Arthur Melbourne Cooper (1874 – 1961) opened the Alpha Picture House, the first permanent cinema in Hertfordshire. Designed by Percival Blow and seating 800, the cinema contained a restaurant, swimming pool and hairdressing salon; it had a sloping (raked) floor, a separate fire-proof projection booth, uniformed ushers and usherettes, free teas during the intervals, and the cheapest seats in front, not at the back. All these features got special attention in the press and, for a time, the St Albans Picture Palace was a commercial success.
Cooper had witnessed the birth of the movies as an assistant/cameraman to Birt Acres who, in 1895, developed the first British 35 mm moving picture camera.
Cooper’s main achievements include:
1899: making some of the first animation movies including Dreams of Toyland
1900: the first interpolated close-up (close-ups deliberately cut into a medium shot)
1904: the first parallel action shots (where one shot is contrasted with another)
1908: Alpha Picture Palace opens
However, there were increasing concerns over the safety of cinemas – for example, capacity and fire risk – and in 1910 the Cinematograph Act became law. The Alpha was inspected and its condition ‘found wanting as a place of entertainment’; in 1911 it was sold through liquidation to George Arthur Dawson, who re-opened it as the Poly and ran it until 1926.