The Blantyre “Broadway” Cinema

1953 Blantyre Broadway CinemaBlantyre’s residents were excited and thrilled when it was announced in 1939 that the Blantyre Picture House Company were going to build a “state of the art” cinema on Glasgow Road.

The Broadway Cinema was to be located on spare ground at the corner of Station Road and Glasgow Road at the junction. Construction took place in Summer 1938 and one of the tallest buildings on Glasgow Road arose out the ground, its prominent brick towers a modern contrast to the sandstone tenements nearby.

In early September 1939, just as the finishing touches were being prepared, the Second World War broke out. Some construction projects throughout Blantyre and the rest of the UK stopped due to the announcement, notably Blantyre library, left with a steel frame for many years. However, with so much money spent on the building and it being ready, the Broadway progressed and was opened on Monday 18th September 1939 at 2.30pm by the Blantyre Picture House Company, just 15 days after the war started. Perhaps a strange time, as most people would have been at work. It got off to a shaky start for war limited what films were to be shown. News reels were popular in these immediate years.

The first film to be shown was “Dawn Patrol” starring Errol Flynn and David Niven. Unlike the other picture houses in Blantyre, it was a beautifully appointed cinema with large winding marble staircase leading to a lounge level that had thick carpet and comfortable easy chairs. Doors from this area led to a further flight of stairs to the “balcony.”

It was the sixth cinema to arrive in Blantyre and with seating for 1,118 people, it was larger with 300 seats more than the 1913 Blantyre Picture Theatre (Dookit) and significantly larger than the 1912 Blantyre Electric Cinema once at the corner of Forrest Street or the co-op hall cinema of 1903, or indeed the Blantyre Olympia Cinema of 1912.

Post Second World War and with the film industry gaining popularity, going to the cinema in Blantyre was a popular pasttime. Whether young children enjoying matinees or whether you were adults, looking for a seat near the back in the dark with partners.

Films were shown on continuous loop from 5pm each night, but on Wednesdays and Saturdays, they were on loop from 2pm. This was thought to be advantageous to the customer, who could catch the end of a film or newsreel, or see a film to a point before heading to work or appointments. Truth be told, it meant many people walked into the film halfway through, which is nowadays not regarded as the best experience.

Admission prices varied but for many years the price of the balcony was 1s 3d, the price for the back stalls on the ground level was 9d, and 6d for the front stalls. It was generally thought only the “posh” folks and “winching couples” used the balcony. Most people used the back stalls and the not so well off, used the front stalls up close to the large screen. A Saturday afternoon matinee was screened for children. A typical night at the pictures consisted of the main feature, a “B” film, the newsreel and, if you were lucky, occasionally a cartoon.

When all the seats were taken, queues formed around the cinema. As people left and seats emptied, the number available was called by the commissionaire. There was a separate queue for each section inside. The “posh folk” queuing for the balcony stood on the inside of the pavement on Glasgow Road, against the wall of the building, towards Birrell’s the sweet shop. The queue for the back stalls stood on the outside, adjacent to the road. Pedestrians had to squeeze through a narrow gap in the middle. The people queuing for the front stalls stood behind a metal rail than ran the length of the cinema down Station Road. When seats became available, people would take them even if it was the middle or end of the film. They would subsequently leave the cinema when the film reached the point in the storyline when they had entered.

The tagline for Broadway adverts on the billboards, noting it being “The house of distinction”, perhaps eluding of its rather more grand status, than the Picture House at the time.

In the early 1960’s The Broadway found itself the remaining cinema with the closure of the Dookit. In the 1960’s the cinema canopy outside had a large red and green stripe. By 1969, The Broadway was sold to Mr Jack Brown, who with development opportunity in mind, closed the cinema on 30th August 1969. The last film shown was Shalako, the main feature with Thunder of Guns, the supporting film. (My father was on holiday from Czechoslovakia in Scotland for the first time, staying in Blantyre that very warm week).  The building lay empty for a short time, before being destroyed by fire. Carmen Wood of Sanquhar added, “I seem to remember the Broadway’s sad end was because of a major fire. All the immediate neighbours on Station/Glasgow Roads being evacuated from our houses and ushered by the fire service to a safe distance on the pavements.Cannot recall the exact date,but yes it was early 1970’s!”

It is of course now demolished. A supermarket was constructed on the site, which was later used by the Housing Department of South Lanarkshire Council until they moved in 1999 to David Dale House in John Street.

1939 Broadway Cinema opens, Blantyre

1939 Broadway Cinema opens, Blantyre

Thankfully, Blantyre does still have a cinema in the shape of the rather excellent Community cinema at the Miners Welfare. The 4th cinema in our town. However, as much as that’s a wonderful resource, seating for only 150 people is far short of the Broadway cinema ten times the size. The Broadway was a much loved and missed building.

On social media:

Elizabeth Weaver I remember first going to the Broadway in the late 50s – and the queues! It was normal to go in part of the way through, as you say – but for some reason it didn’t bother us that we’d have to watch the first half later. We must have been easily pleased. I liked the fact that you had a B film as well – seemed more exciting, and there was bound to be something you liked. You had to stand for God Save the Queen at the end – looking back, it’s amazing that folk would stand there out of politeness rather than any love for the monarchy – but it was the 60s (I think) before people started to walk out during the anthem and eventually it was abandoned.

Andy Callaghan Loved it and loved the matinees though you couldn’t hear a thing for weans shouting n cheering. And you had to keep your wits about you as kids chucked loads of stuff at each other. Was only ever in the balcony once with my whole family to see Derby O’Gill and the Little People. Vince’s chippie was rare n handy when you came out.

Betty McLean I remember a school outing to see the film Scot of the Antarctic it seemed such a long film at age 11

Alex Hosie I was born in Blantyre but moved to Burnbank when I was a child. I was in both the Broadway and the Plaza as as kid and I must say that on a Saturday morning the Plaza had more class. Not that emigrating to Bankie land made me a snob, but that Broadway was full of Tyre maddies who had no manners whatsoever and chucked their chippit fruit and broken biscuits all over the shop. In the Plaza they had the good manners to chew it a bit first before spitting it all over you.

Alessio Gonnella Was this were the first showing of Debbie does Dallas was shown?

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