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Aberdeen Cinemas: Star Picture Palace
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Aberdeen Cinemas: Star Picture Palace

Historic Photographs
David Oswald
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Aberdeen Cinemas: Star Picture Palace
Historic Photographs
Aberdeen Cinemas: Star Picture Palace
A photograph of the Star Picture Palace at the junction of Park Street and South Constitution Street in the 1920s. The cinema was an undertaking of Bert Hedgley Gates in partnership with his wife Nellie and with financial backing from local businessmen. Bert Gates was among Aberdeen's most influential cinema proprietors. He would go on to be the founding managing director of Aberdeen Picture Palaces, a highly successful company that would play a key role in cinema exhibition in the city.

The ever useful Silver Screen in the Silver City (1988) by Michael Thomson details much of the history of the Star Picture Palace, known as The Star or Starrie, and the activities of Bert Gates. The cinema was converted from the former premises of the Aberdeen East End Mission. Its name was thought to come from a red-stained glass window in the shape of a star that was a legacy of its previous use. The Star's auditorium stood on the south side of South Constitution Street and its entrance, as shown here, was at 23 Park Street, underneath a block of tenements.

The cinema opened in March 1911 and showed a mixture of films and music. Bert and Nellie would stand behind the screen and add dialogue, sound effects and commentary to the silent films being shown. They also added topical references and allusions to well-known local figures. Both had backgrounds as stage artistes and their performances became a popular feature of the Star.

In 1913 the successful cinema was expanded, doubling its capacity, as Aberdeen Picture Palaces acquired the building and some houses to its rear. Thomson states that the remodelled Star was advertised as "Absolutely the Finest and Most Handsome Interior Out of Glasgow".

The Star had direct competition when the Casino cinema opened just around the corner on the north side of Wales Street on 7th February 1916. Thomson suggests that Gates responded to the Casino's popular and innovative cine-variety performances by programming his own varieties and mini revues. These included Miss Madge Belmont, "America's Handcuff Queen" and Birteno's Golden Grotto, "the most gorgeous electrical dance spectacle ever seen in Aberdeen - a display of serpentine and fire dancing by Belle Lumière, with marvellous kaleidoscopic colour effects".

The Star Picture Palace showed its first talkie, King of the Khyber Rifles, on 13th October 1930. In November 1932 the cinema suffered a fire caused by a dropped cigarette. The damage was relatively minor however and only put the Star out of action for a fortnight.

By the beginning of the second world war, the area around the Star was becoming depopulated as housing on Hanover Street and Albion Street was demolished to make way for the new Beach Boulevard. Bert Gates acquired control of the Casino in November 1939 with the idea of combining it with the Star to create one super-cinema that fronted onto the new thoroughfare.

Thomson explains that business was concentrated on the Casino and later that month the Star closed as a cinema for good. In 1939/40 it served as an indoor fun-fair and as the Boulevard Ballroom for the remainder of the war. The Star building was demolished, at the same time as the Casino, in 1971 to make way for a housing development.

Michael Thomson addresses the use of jam-jars for cinema admission in the first appendix to Silver Screen in the Silver City (1988). This includes an account of the Star Picture Palace from Ethel Kilgour who remembered going there as a child. Her description concludes as follows: "It was a great little cinema, jam-jar entry fee and all, and it was a form of escapism for so many children in a world so depressed between the wars".

[Information primarily sourced from Silver Screen in the Silver City (1988) by Michael Thomson]
Park Street
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