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Brief History of Films in London

Fragments Festival

Cinemas first appeared in London around the 1890s. This was thanks to the invention of the cinematograph. London was already a large city at the time, and it was the biggest city in the UK by far, with more than 5 million people.

The moving-picture device or the ‘’Cinématographe’’ was invented by Robert Paul and, in later years, renamed it to be called the ‘’Animatographe’’.

The cinema industry would emerge as an important source of entertainment for millions of people in London. London, at the start of the 20th century, brought new ideas and opportunities for commercial leisure than ever before.

At the start of the First World War in 1914, there were close to 500 cinemas in London alone. Even though the number of cinema theatres fell to under 400 in the aftermath of the war, the demand and size of cinemas would gradually increase as the decades passed.

In the 1920s, large cinemas could seat as many as 3,000 people at a time. The films people saw were like windows onto a new world. Films slowly became international products, and by the end of World War I, most of the films shown in the UK came from Hollywood in the US.

In 1926, cinema was already deeply entrenched in London culture. During this time, there were several picture houses in the West End of London. Advertisements for the latest shows and festivals would decorate the streets and walls all over London.

During the First World War, cinemas had to apply for a music licence if they wanted to showcase special films. Yet, several unlicensed cinema venues were granted permission to play films, but they had to play patriotic sing-alongs to raise public morale.

The Palmadium cinema in Palmer’s Green opened in 1920, and it is still regarded as a monument to moviegoers around the world. This was followed by the construction of the Premier Super Cinema in East Ham in 1921. Both venues had more than 2,000 seats.

The first feature-length film with synchronised singing and dialogue, the Warner Brothers musical The Jazz Singer, premiered in London at the Piccadilly Theatre on 27 September 1928, a year after its American debut.

Films still provide entertainment for millions of Londoners and people around the world. If we look at the history of the film industry in London, it is easy to see how much cinema has contributed to its history.