The Uplands Cinema is a representative of those suburban cinemas which sprang up all over Swansea and then disappeared just as quickly. At one time almost every community had one, like the Manor Cinema which was in Manselton or the Maxine in Sketty. Morriston had the Gem and the Regal and in St Thomas you could visit the Scala and in Mumbles The Tivoli. They were palaces of entertainment with deep carpets and luxurious fittings which turned an evening at the cinema into a real occasion. It wasn’t just the screen that offered a glimpse of another world. It was the building too, so different from the audience’s modest homes.
Sadly of course such a diverse provision could not be sustained and the arrival of television in 1952 effectively brought an end to the local picture house. The very best that the cinema could offer was now brought directly into your home saving you the bother of having to go out into the dark and the rain.
The Uplands Cinema opened at Easter in 1914 in what the press described as “one of the best class districts in Swansea.” Absolutely, and as such, certainly deserved the best. The announcement tells us that “The evening performance will commence at 6.30 p.m., and at the matinees afternoon tea will be provided free of charge. “ It beats popcorn in my view.
The cinema was built on the corner of The Grove to supply the needs of a flourishing and still-growing district. It was designed by Ben Jones of Wind-street to seat 500 and to provide them with a constant supply of pure air “while numerous windows and skylights admit the cleansing sunlight which is so essential to a fresh and thoroughly sanitary interior.” One must imagine that cinemas on the east side offered something different. “An orchestral instrument, comprising both piano and organ, has been installed, and is manipulated by a talented young lady.” You would expect nothing less.
“The films shown will always be of the highest standard of respectability, as well as the last word in bioscopic art. If we may judge by the excellent attendances of the first few days of its career, the Uplands Cinema will speedily become a boon to the residents of the districts it is intended to serve.”
All the seats in the circle “are excellently upholstered tip-up chairs” and “the lighting system is also of the most modern class.” This is clearly an important issue.” In a large percentage of picture halls the sudden illumination after the showing of a picture has an injurious effect on the eyesight. The management of the Uplands Hall, however, have taken great interest in the matter of the lighting, with the result that the illuminants rise gradually, and with a pleasing effect.” Even if the film was poor you would not have wasted your evening because you could still enjoy the way the lights came back on. Interest in the films themselves, as opposed to the lighting, was promoted in a weekly column “Stage and Stalls” in the “Cambrian Daily Leader” which was intended to whet the audience’s appetite about the thrills available to them across the whole of Swansea.
The programme would usually contain a number of short films, both comedies and documentaries, supporting a main feature. At the Upland’s premiere that was “The War Makers” featuring Mr. Maurice Costello and Miss Julia Swayne in “a thrilling story of high diplomatic circles.”
Later in the year in November, the people of Uplands had the chance to watch the doings of “The Mysterious Leopard Lady.” This clearly exciting drama was notable since it was directed by a woman, Grace Cunard. It was one of a small but important number of early films that featured female action heroes. The programme also featured was The Warwick Bioscope Chronicle, which “portrays the events of the day in moving pictures.”
I am quite sure that they were queuing down on to Walter Road in December 1914 to see “The Misappropriated Turkey” in which a striker puts a bomb in a turkey which, unfortunately, falls into the hands of a number of poor children who take it home. As bizarre as it sounds this unpromising 17 minute drama was directed by the legendary D. W. Griffith. The intervening years seemed to have ignored it, not withstanding the very exciting climax when the bomb is removed from the house at the last moment. I still worry about the turkey to be honest and must assume that it was already oven-ready when the striker inserted the bomb. Any alternative is just too painful to consider.
On this occasion “a liberal number of comical films are included in the programme, of which “Billy’s Love-making” is one of the most laughable.” You will not be surprised to learn that this title troubled the Pennsylvania State Board of Censors but naturally did not exercise the good people of the Uplands. One presumes the film was not instructional. Other short films might include fascinating titles like “Was Pimple Right?” “Avenged by a Fish” and “Bertie Buys a Bulldog.” I think I would like to see the one about the fish.
The Uplands wasn’t just used for films though. In November 1914 an evening concert was held to raise money for the Swansea Belgian Relief Fund .” Not a vacant seat was to be seen in the hall, which had been tastefully decorated with palms and British, French, and Belgian flags.” There were a number of musical items including Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C Minor.” Undoubtedly the chief artiste of the evening was Miss Gertrude Reynolds, who both as vocalist and elocutionist scored triumphs. Her recital of The Bandit’s Death (Tennyson) was wonderful. There were several pictures, amongst which was “Stricken Belgium,” which gave the audience an idea of the plight of the refugees.
The cinema is remembered too because it was close to 5 Cwmdonkin Drive, the childhood home of Dylan Thomas. In his writings he makes several references to “Hissing and Booing away his pocket money” at Saturday matinees in one of his favourite places. Dylan loved the cinema for its narrative strength and the way you could immerse yourself in a story. One of his first published works was a piece for his school magazine about the cinema.
At the start of WW2 the cinema was closed down and converted into a branch of Lloyd’s Bank before it was demolished and then rebuilt in its current squat unattractive form, almost as deliberate rejection of the excitements that the building once offered to an audience from “one of the best class districts in Swansea.”
(This piece is taken from my book A -Z of Swansea. I don’t have any copies for sale on the website but is still available from Amazon and from bookshops.)