We had television of course, but the biggest attraction throughout the valleys in South Wales was the cinema or a morning, afternoon or evening at the pictures where adults and children alike could escape the bleak surroundings of industry and be whisked away with big screen entertainment. I didn’t realise it at first but in the valleys we were spoilt when it came to going to the cinema. Cinema going in Wales was very popular with most towns having more than one cinema, many had four or five cinemas with a choice of programmes to keep us entertained. I just missed the heyday of cinemas in the valleys, attendance figures had declined as a result of television so many cinemas had already closed, even so most towns had at least one or two cinemas open and it was easy enough to travel to another town to visit a different cinema that would most likely offer an alternative film to that of your own town, this was handy if you were not old enough to go along to a AA or X certificate film showing at your local cinema that week.
My very first visit to the pictures was with my Mam, I can’t be sure how old I was at that time, I must have been around five or six, perhaps even seven. Mam took me to the Astoria Cinema in Ebbw Vale, we lived in the village of Cwm, 3 or 4 miles outside of Ebbw Vale and a short bus ride to the magic of the big screen. The film was Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Entering the cinema I found myself engulfed in excitement and once seated in the stalls the excitement of this magical experience had me hooked from the moment I sat down and once the house light dimmed and the screen tabs opened I became a cinema buff. My second visit to the Astoria was again with Mam, we sat through another Walt Disney great, this time it was the magical Mary Poppins.

Having been inside the Astoria in a wonderland of magic and adventure I was struck by how the world had passed me by when we left the darkened, low light auditorium into the lobby area and then through the doors back out onto the street and the real world, complete with a heavy rainfall.

Being thrifty we sat in the stalls where the tickets prices were cheaper. The circle or balcony was more expensive and considered to be posh. Throughout my childhood I think I only ever paid the extra ticket price for a seat in the circle or balcony once.
As a child I continued to enjoy regular visits to the cinema with my Mam and later with my younger Sister. It was always a memorable treat that I always enjoyed. Moving from Cwm to another village, Oakdale, near Blackwood we continued going to the cinema at the two picture houses at that time in Blackwood, the Maxime and the Capitol cinemas as well as visits to the Miner’s Institute Cinema in the village of Oakdale. The Miners Institute cinema had closed as a fulltime cinema, it only opened for Saturday Morning Matinee’s.

As I grew into my teens I would continue going to the Maxime in Blackwood with school friends and as I got into my later teens I would travel with friends to other cinemas in the area, Abertillery, Bargoed, Tredegar, Newport and on a few occasions to Cardiff. I even returned to Ebbw Vale on occasions although the Astoria had closed and been demolished, instead the Workmen’s Hall became a cinema for us film buffs.

When it was time to leave school I wanted to work in a cinema but even then the industry was in decline so it didn’t seem to have much future. The steel works and coal mines were also in decline so I opted to join the RAF. I didn’t realise it at the time but my passion to work in a cinema would be realised while serving in the RAF, while posted in Germany I worked as a volunteer at the Astra cinema, based on the RAF base and operated by SKC {Services Kinema Corporation}.

Leaving the RAF after the completion of my service I joined the Rank Organisation where I became a Cinema Manager, giving me the experience to enter the industry where I operated cinemas in the UK and overseas.

Much of what I observed at the cinemas in the South Eastern Valleys of Wales, in particular related to presentation and marketing followed me throughout my years in cinema exhibition and served me well.

On reflection, growing up in Wales, we were spoilt when it came to cinemas and while we might not have realised it at the time the standard of showmanship and exhibition in the valleys was high.

Sadly, most of the picture houses/ cinemas from my childhood and youth have vanished, most have been demolished, a few survive, such as the Maxime in Blackwood, which is seen above on the left, nowadays it is struggling as a bingo hall with very little evidence of its magical past.
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THE MAGIC OF CINEMA IN WALES
Welcome to an affectionate appraisal and tribute to the cinemas that entertained us in the South Eastern industrial valleys of Wales.
UPDATED - 2013
As a child growing up in the heartland of the industrial South East Wales Valleys I was surrounded by the waste and pollution from the industry that brought wealth to the region, masking much of the natural beauty of the land that surrounded me. Much of it scarred by the coal mines and steel works that provided most people I knew with full time employment and wealth, although health was not one of the benefits from that era. This was the 1960s and 1970s and the valleys still had a heavy reliance on its traditional industries even though there were already signs that this industry was coming to an end.