UK cinema 

cinema in the UK

a brief history


added: 12:47, 17-02-06

From the moment that the legendary pa pa pa pa, pa pa pa Pearl & Dean opening titles start to roll, cinema-goers immediately know that the main feature is just around the corner - after a brief commercial break of course!

A long established part of the cinema experience, quite a few celebrated British film directors first cut their teeth on these commercials and today's mini epics routinely now share the same production facilities & effects as the very biggest Hollywood studios.

The world's oldest known cinema commercial amazingly goes back to before 1900 so join us for a brief tour of Pearl & Dean's vaults in their light-hearted salute to the past 100 years of cinema commercials!

As an entertainment industry, cinema is remarkably now in its 3rd century having first arrived here way back in 1896 when the Lumiere Brothers gave a brief demonstration of their cinematograph in London's Regent Street. A shaky piece of film showing a horse and carriage on the move had people truly enthralled at this wondrous new invention and cinema very quickly spread throughout the land.

(Cinema advertising too also began in the late 1890's with a commercial for Dewar's Whisky dating from that period held in the archives of The Advertising Trust.)

Cinema soon sounded the death knell for many provincial theatres and, with the introduction of sound with The Jazz Singer in 1927, a good few actresses and actors also found their number was up! The war years saw cinema audiences peak at around 30 million visits per week but then, just as cinema had displaced the theatres, so too cinema was to faced stiff competition from a new competitor - television.

As the cost of TVs fell dramatically post-war, the mass cinema audience collapsed as the penetration of UK homes by the BBC and then ITV soared. The arrival of colour TV, the addition of new channels and then video recorders and multichannel TV seemed to suggest that the cinema industry was finally finished - and it certainly attracted all sorts of cliches such "Is it finally curtains for the cinema?" etc.

By 1984, UK audiences had hit an all time low, the cinemas left open were mostly showing the signs of under-investment and film product was weak. However, in true Hollywood style, the cavalry arrived rather appropriately from the US in the form of AMC (American Multi Cinema) who had the audacious idea that cinemas of 10 or more screens could prove just as attractive to UK audiences as they had in the US.

The two domestic chains (Odeon and EMI) shunned the concept only to find that the trickle of new multiplexes suddenly became a flood of stunning new movie house and the new kids on the block (from the US) literally scooped pole position from right under their noses.

From a flat point of just 1200 screens and 54 million admissions per annum in 1984, there are now 3,661 screens and audiences regularly average well over 3.5 million admissions per week.

The old exhibition duopoly has given way to stiff competition from several exhibitors, both home and overseas, all staking their claim to the burgeoning cinema market. Those in the main city centres are rarely much more than a 20 minute trip from a cinema. The multiplexes have also helped increase the quantity and variety of movies on offer to suit all tastes.

Even the most optimistic forecaster back in 1984 could surely have not dreamt of a better outcome for The Big Screen.