Wizard idea marks a reel cinema milestone in Chippenham
The Astoria Cinema in Chippenham will celebrate its 75th anniversary on Sunday with a one-off screening of the Wizard of Oz.
The Judy Garland classic was released in 1939, the year the Astoria opened on May 22 in Marshfield Road.
The cinema management wants people who have worked there over the past 75 years – or have special memories of the place – to attend the showing.
Some may recall the cinema’s early days, when it was a large, undivided auditorium with 800 seats; twice as many as it has today.
Manager Jeremy Hancock said: “We have some former staff coming along and I believe there may be one man who had his first kiss here.”
The cinema was built in six-and-a-half months by Frank Wilkins of Bristol, who had also built the Bristol Hippodrome. The first film shown was The Citadel, directed by King Vidor and starring Robert Donat.
Its first manager, Eric Harris, was the grandfather of Anita Harris, who went on to be a star of the silver screen in the likes of Carry On Doctor.
Now 71, she said she was between three and seven when her grandfather was the manager and she remembered the cinema well.
Back then, the Astoria was the second cinema in town, after the Gaumont in Timber Street, which stayed open until 1974, by which time it was known as the Classic.
Mr Hancock started at the Astoria as a projectionist 33 years ago and has been manager for the last five years.
He said: “The biggest change I have seen was a couple of years ago, when 35mm films went out and we went digital and got 3D. All the films are on a hard drive now.
“The cinema’s heyday was in the 1950s and 60s. People don’t tend to come to the cinema like they used to then; they’ve got Netflix and big size TVs. That’s why we’re branching out with broadcasting live theatre productions. We’ve just had a live link-up from Stratford for Henry IV.”
The next live broadcast is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, which goes out tonight at 7pm.
The celebratory screening of Wizard of Oz, on May 25, is free and starts at 4pm. There will be a bucket collection to help start an Astoria enhancement programme which, among other things, aims to buy new seating for the upper foyer.
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