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Celebrating a century of film on the silver screen

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: November 29, 2012

  • The Savoy cinema in Penzance is celebrating 100 years of showing films. Above, Merlin Cinemas marketing manager Craig May, pictured in the screen one auditorium. Right, from top: the cinema exterior; duty manager Paul Ward with the Ross projector from the 1930s; Disney remains a favourite

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When the silver screen first flickered into life at the Savoy Cinema a century ago it was to entertain excited crowds desperate for a taste of new fangled film magic.

The world of 1912 had witnessed heartache and upheaval; the Titanic tragedy was fresh in people's minds while the Great War was brewing in the Balkans.

But for filmgoers in Penzance the Savoy was an escape route, a chance to gaze at screen idols and watch magical silent tales from the newly emerging Hollywood studios.

It was a different time and while film tastes and the fortunes of the whole industry have peaked and ebbed over the decades, the Savoy has resolutely remained open and is believed to be the oldest continuous cinema operating in Britain.

Today it will celebrate 100 years to the day when the doors were first thrown open by the Mayor of Penzance, who proclaimed it as "the handsomest and most luxurious picture theatre outside London".

A particular feature that the venue boasted was that its auditorium would be "electronically lit" throughout.

The praise continued with a contemporary report noting the interior was adorned by "panels of a green and gold silk paper" while electric fans under the roof extracted cigarette smoke.

It added: "The theatre has red plush tip-up seats and the floor is carpeted. The building is heated throughout with radiators while beautiful ferns are placed either side of the stage."

For a cinema in a small Westcountry town, the size of the venue in Causewayhead was impressive, seating 400.

The popularity of the movies blossomed and two more cinemas opened in 1915 and then, a few years after talkies made their debut, the enormous 1,000-seater Ritz.

By 1966, the Savoy was again the only cinema in Penzance as film tastes changed and the industry seemed to be locked into at terminal decline.

And by 1980, it looked as though the Savoy would go the same way, as its owners limped towards bankruptcy.

But that was reckoning without film fan Geoff Greaves, who sold his house in the home counties to purchase the Savoy and, five months later, the Royal, a then crumbling cinema in St Ives.

A former manager of one of the UK's first multiplexes, Mr Greaves' Merlin Cinemas group now has a chain of picture houses throughout Devon and Cornwall. He remembers taking over the near derelict cinema: "The Savoy was very run down, so we refurbished the exterior to make it more welcoming, made a new sales and ticket office area in the foyer and installed a pizza counter."

In 1993, as the threat of multiplexes drew audiences to out of town venues, Mr Greaves split the Savoy, creating an extra two screens in the back of the main auditorium.

A champagne reception and gala premiere of the latest adaptation of Great Expectations will be held at the Savoy tonight for charity

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