Today we think of silent cinema as an amusing distraction, something that passed the time until sound films were invented. But nothing could be further from the truth…
Silent pictures were big business. Huge business. The biggest cinema ever built in Scotland – in fact, the biggest single screen cinema ever built anywhere in Europe – was built specifically to show silent films. And it was not created a big national chain, but by a small family business.
[Image: Green’s Playhouse logo]
The Green family had started in the travelling shows, and had rapidly seen the appeal of permanent cinemas. By the mid-1920s, they were planning their greatest achievement: Green’s Playhouse in Glasgow. Opening in September 1927, Green’s wasn’t just a huge cinema (which could seat over 4,300 people for each showing), it also featured several cafes and restaurants, a double-height ballroom that claimed to be able to hold over 6,000 dancers, plus, of course, there was a putting green on the roof!
[Image: Cross-section through Glasgow’s Green’s Playhouse]
Forty-five different companies were involved in its construction, and not long after it opened, George Green was interviewed for Film Weekly describing its appeal:
“You can spend the entire day at Green’s, starting with a game of golf on the roof and ending up in the cinema or ballroom. Of course my cinema is a success,” said Mr Green.
“The bigger the cinema the greater the success. And the reason – because people know they can get in – no-one is wasting time by coming to my cinema because they know there will be room for them. And there’s another reason: the big cinema will always attract because it can give better value for money. Overhead expenses are minimised, and so we can afford to give the best pictures, good musical interludes, at a price at which small cinemas cannot possibly compete.”
Mr Green also talked of the cinema of the future:
“In this amusement business the public demands progressive change. From silent to talking pictures, from black-and-white to colour photography, from small downtown 300-seaters to 4,000 seaters. Car parks, cafes, dance halls, these things will all become part and parcel of the cinema of the future.
“My new cinema at Ayr, besides having a car park, will have a flat roof on which gyroplanes may land. It is my belief that the cinema is definitely establishing itself as the centre of social life in every town.”
Mr Green’s cinema in Ayr was built: the Playhouse there still exists, and is now a bingo hall. Sadly, as far as we can tell, it never had any gyroplanes landing on its roof…
[Image: Green’s Playhouse in Ayr]
Glasgow’s Green’s Playhouse had a second life as the famous – or infamous – Apollo music venue, which ‘went on fire’ shortly before it was to be considered for inclusion as a listed building of architectural importance, and was then demolished.
The Renfrew Street Cineworld – opened as the UGC – and itself a record breaking cinema at 18 screens and 9 stories tall – sits on the site, carrying on the cinema legacy of the Playhouse.
[Image: The interior of Green’s Playhouse as the Apollo music venue.]