High Society: The Golden Age of Cinema
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In 1931, a newly-built, glamorous cinema opened on the site, named the Capitol. Although there were two other cinemas in St Albans, the Gaumont and the Chequers, this became the premier venue, with its elegant art deco facade. Throughout the 1930s, 40s and 50s, audiences dressed up for the occasion, and women wore hats, sometimes to the annoyance of the people sitting directly behind them. There was a smart, formal restaurant, with Lloyd Loom chairs and soft lighting.
Despite the hardships of World War Two – or perhaps because of these – many of the key films of those decades were ‘events’ in their own rights, and people went every Saturday night without fail. Pathé News told audiences what was happening with bulletins in between the A and B films, and the much-loved Compton organ played at the interval.
Seats cost 3 shillings 6 pence up the stairs, 3/6, 2/ 9, 2/3 and 1/9 downstairs in the early 1950s. The average ticket price would be 1/7th of £1 in 2012 prices, and the average weekly wage in 1950 was £7. A ticket would have cost approx 1/50th of income in 1950. The average weekly wage now is approx £250, and tickets cost approximately £8, which is 1/30th of an average 2012 income.
The usherettes would come up with their ice creams in the interval break. It did feel much more of an occasion. And it was quite plush inside, red, velvety seats and lovely red curtains that would then go back as the film came on; looking back and seeing the projectionist and hearing the whirring of the machine. There was certainly much more of a sense of occasion than now.