Both AKC and RAFCC continued to function uninterrupted for some years following their independence from E.N.S.A. Each had a full team of staff and each had their own set of offices in London. The success of cinema within the safe environments of a military base lead to the construction of a number of new and purpose built cinemas although some cinemas were modified from existing buildings on bases. Almost all of the Army and RAF cinemas in Europe were painted dark olive green, almost camouflage like in colour. The Army cinemas all followed a particular style of architecture as did the RAF, each having a slightly different style unique and exclusive to them, with just a few exceptions. Those cinemas in the Southern Mediterranean regions and the Middle East were often painted white or sand like colour, different to those in central Europe.

Cinema entertainment within the British Armed Forces had become big business in the fifties with a large department assembled to manage the organisation. Although these departments were mostly run by civilians recruited specifically for the task, military officers and NCOs also formed part of the Management and operational team. Senior civilian members of staff were granted officer rankings/status. Non managerial staff, such as projectionists and venue managers, were also civilians recruited randomly, some with cinema exhibition experience and some without who were given the necessary training. The non managerial grades were given NCO status. By 1958 the military cinema division was a vibrant business. On base cinemas recruited dependents of servicemen to operate the box office, concession stalls and as ushers on a part time paid basis. Servicemen off duty volunteered to work within the cinemas as and when their shifts allowed.

With the organisation expanding a collective name was introduced in 1960, all cinemas on British military bases in the UK and overseas were operated by the new structure known as SKC {Services Kinema Corporation}. SKC formed an important part of the entertainment facilities for British Forces and their families, in particular on those bases overseas. Most cinemas were restricted for use by military personnel of all ranks and their dependents. Cinemas continued to be especially built and based within the military barracks and stations although a small number did operate off base within the main town. Cinemas were built to conventional standards although slightly smaller than most civilian cinemas found in British towns of that era, these cinemas would usually seat between 200 and 400.
Astra Cinema, RAF Tengah, Singapore.
Astra Cinema, RAF Jever.
CINEMAGOING IN THE MILITARY:

In post war Britain the civilian population enjoyed a return to the cinemas for big screen entertainment following years throughout WWII when many cinemas were closed, by order of the Government of the day. Just as in civilian life military personnel conscripted to the British Armed Forces wanted to enjoy leisure time, often this took place over a pint or two and perhaps a cabaret or stage show entertainment at the NAAFI {Navy, Army Air Force Institute}.

It soon became apparent that off duty servicemen and women also enjoyed an evening of escapism at the cinema. By now, Both the British Army and the Royal Air Force had established cinemas on their bases in the UK and overseas. The Royal Navy also offered cinema facilities at their land based units.

As established, most cinemas on military bases in the UK and overseas were purpose built with the appearance of a conventional civilian cinema as seen in most British towns and cities of that era. Most auditoriums would be on one level although some did have a balcony, generally a military cinema would seat between 200 and 400 patrons, some were of course slightly smaller while others were considerably larger. Admission prices were normally lower than the civilian ticket prices of the day in most towns

These cinemas were open to serving members of the British Forces alongside their families and civilians employed on the military bases. During the day many of the cinemas would function as a station or camp briefing facility, screen military training material with regular cinema performances in the evenings and matinees at weekends. Saturday morning children’s matinees were also a feature, just as they were in civilian cinemas, often with CFF {Children’s Film Foundation} programmes that were always popular as they were with the civilian children in towns and cities across the UK.

By the late fifties there were 58 cinemas on army bases overseas and 48 at RAF bases overseas. Programmes changed twice weekly on a Monday and Thursday with films transported by road to each cinema on the circuit. Most cinemas were within the military base although there were some exceptions where the British military cinema was in the host countries town closest to the base. Although in a civilian area these cinemas remained exclusive to military personnel and families with the occasional screening of films open to the civilian population of the host country, usually at Christmas or other special occasions. The Army cinemas were always named The Globe while the RAF would have cinemas named Astra, there were a few exceptions to this rule. During the 1960s both the Army and RAF cinema operations were amalgamated under one charitable umbrella organisation, SKC {Services Kinema Corporation}.

Before SKC cinemas were administered through the War Office, Once SKC was officially set up a head office was established in Central London, in later years SKC moved its headquarters outside of London. The new charity status would share cinema revenue, with a portion going towards the running of the venues and the payment of booked films through the film exhibitors while a portion of the profits were paid back to the military base to fund other activities and leisure facilities, similar to the NAAFI revenue share. In Germany, Army and RAF cinemas were equipped with German professional 35MM Bauer B8 Projectors including the latest Telefunken Stereophonic sound. There were a few exceptions where cinemas equipped with 16MM projectors. Twice a year a German engineer would service the entire circuit of Army and RAF projectors, the engineer was an ex U Boat sailor, Harry Wehrman..
Astra Cinema, RAF  Siggiewi, Malta.
Astra Cinema, RAF  Laarbruch, Germany.
Projectors in use at an  RAF Astra cinema.
INTRODUCTION:

During WWII an institution was born, known as E.N.S.A. {Entertainments National Services Association}. The E.N.S.A. task was to maintain the moral of British troops fighting in combat zones throughout war torn Europe. Top stars of the day were recruited to entertain troops, something that was highly successful and widely welcomed by troops of all ranks and services. In addition to travelling throughout Europe E.N.S.A. also staged shows throughout the UK at military bases and at factories that were making components for the British Armed Forces. E.N.S.A. did not restrict itself to live performances featuring popular stars of the day, they also offered film shows, often in open air environments within the combat zones. 
BFBC AND SSVC:

SSVC was formed in 1982 from the merger of SKC and BFBS {British Forces Broadcasting Service} BFBS offered radio and television to servicemen and their families overseas.

The new organisation was founded to serve those who serve and is a private company limited by guarantee and without shareholders. SSVC is self supporting and a registered charity in the UK.

Reorganised and renamed SSVC {Services Sound and Vision Corporation} The new organisation continues to operate an impressive number of cinemas on British military bases, mostly overseas with a smaller number in the UK. In addition SSVC included a number of retail outlets that sold electrical goods, in particular, televisions, video recorders, radios and Hi Fi systems. Although most of these retail units were located within the existing cinemas, within their foyers, a few bases had stand alone SSVC retail units, offering an extended range of electrical goods, competing alongside NAAFI stores.

SSVC retail operations were officially formulated in the eighties although there were several stores already established during the late seventies, including at RAF Laarbruch and RAF Gutersloh. It was at RAF Gutersloh that I became the proud owner of my first video recorder, a JVC, bought at the SSVC retail outlet within the stations Astra Cinema. SSVC continued to be a charitable organisation, Sharing revenue.

Throughout Britain and Europe cinema admissions dipped considerably at civilian cinemas during the mid and late seventies, SKC cinemas also experienced a dip similar to its civilian operators although due to their operations overseas in territories where cinema on bases offered big screen entertainment in English SKC were more fortunate and this sector of the business enabled SKC and SSVC to operate without too much of a decline in revenue, although BFBS TV and radio was available in some areas overseas, reception was patchy, leaving cinema as the primary source of filmed entertainment.

Today cinemas operated by SSVC have evolved just as the civilian cinemas have done so. The number of cinemas operated by SSVC has been reduced considerably due to a combination of less patrons due to other media options and the closure of a great deal of overseas military bases during the past ten years, resulting in the loss of the SSVC cinemas on those bases affected.

SSVC has invested heavily in digital cinema and most SSVC cinemas have 3D digital projection facilities, replacing 35MM projectors, with high quality Digital surround systems in their auditoriums. Most cinema auditoriums and foyers have also seen the benefit of investment, enabling SSVC to deliver a true modern cinema experience for military cinemagoers.
Astra Cinema RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus. 440 seater and air conditioned.
Skyking cinema/theatre at RAF Upper Heyford.
Interior of the Skyking cinema/theatre at RAF Upper Heyford, after closure.
Royal Navy, Culdrose Seahawk Cinema, built in 1970s, seating 178 patrons and now equipped with digital 3D as seen above.
The Wessex Cinema in Belfast opened in 1998. One of the more recent SSVC cinemas in the circuit. The Wessex has recently been refurbished with new seats and now with 3D digital facilities.
SSVC CURRENT OPERATIONS ARE:

UK:

RAF Aldergrove – Wessex Cinema {68 seats, digital facilities – new build and a recent refurbishment}

RAF Halton – ASTRA Cinema

RAF St. Athan – ASTRA Cinema

RAF Honnington - ASTRA Cinema

ARMY Blanford Camp – Forum Cinema

ARMY Hawley Camp – Globe Cinema

RN Culdrose – Seahawk Theatre

GERMANY:

RAF Gutersloh – ASTRA Cinema {now Royal Theatre}

RAF/ARMY JHQ Rheindalen – Globe Cinema

ARMY Osnabruck – Globe Cinema

ARMY Munster – Globe Cinema

ARMY Paderborn – Kaleidoscope Cinema

ARMY Hameln – Flix Cinema
ARMY Herford – Globe Cinema

ARMY Fallingbostel – Jerboa Cinema

ARMY Celle – Trenchard Cinema {300 seater}


ARMY Celle – Red Rat Cinema {200 seater}

CYPRUS:

RAF Akrotiri – Astra Cinema {440 seater}

ARMY Dhekelia – Key Cinema

RAF Ayios Nikolaos – ASTRA/Mercury Cinema

FALKLANDS:

RAF/ARMY MPS – Phoenix Cinema

A typical SKC Astra Cinema on a RAF station in Germany. Does it look familiar to you?
The SSVC Forum Cinema at British Army Blanford camp.
The remains of a 1944 military cinema at Flotta, Orkney Islands, UK.
Built and equipped in France the vehicle is an impressive 3M tall and 16.5M long. The vehicle is 2.55M wide. Once on location for film shows the vehicle opens out to 12M wide and occupies a operational space of 25M X 20M in full cinema mode with a screen measuring 1.6M X 4M.
The interior of the SSVC Movie Machine, fully assembled for film presentation following a long road trip to the destination in the Balkans.
Cinema attractions advertised at a British military base in Cyprus sometime in the late fifties.
Information from the operators SSVC has been almost like trying to crack the codes within the official secrets act, perhaps they believe that the cold war is still active and information on the cinema, such as official opening dates and seating numbers together with screen size is only available on a need to know basis.

I tried several times to confirm information through email with SSVC head office, almost all communications were ignored, eventually I was given the contact details and email address of the SKC/SSVC archivist who sounded promising, unfortunately he was taken ill, he indicated he would contact me once he recovered, regretfully he never contacted me again.

Most of the information provided here is based on my own knowledge of AKA, RAFCC, SKC and SSVC together with information and memories given to me by other ex serving Airmen and women of the RAF together with ex Army personnel and ex army/RAF projectionists.

For many servicemen SKC/SSVC Astra and Globe cinemas were a welcome treat on bases, providing big screen entertainment

They were not a big secret and it was well known that these cinemas existed.

Operated by SKC/SVC these cinemas also employed volunteers, such as myself, who would work during their free time.

I’m continuing with my research on SKC/SSVC, albeit without assistance from the charity that operates these venues and welcome any information and/or photographs that other serving or ex servicemen/women might have that I can use. I’ve already received some information but more is welcome.
Many Airmens wives would work part time at SKC cinemas. Here, Lorna Longstaff is pictured at the  Astra box office  RAF Eatleigh.
While SKC continues to invest in future technology for its chain of cinemas continues, it remains unclear on what the future holds for SKC. With continuing expenditure cut backs by successive governments and the need for fewer bases overseas it becomes clear that there will be little need for cinemas on bases in the UK or overseas. With the considerable investment in digital technology already committed, I imagine the equipment purchased can be moved to other locations as and when required. Without the heavy projection equipment required for 35MM projection together with the 35MM film itself, a switch to digital projection could easily be a better choice for SKC. Such equipment can be easily shipped into future conflict zones, where the British Forces might be required to serve.

SKC remains remarkably quiet on providing information on future plans, just as they are silent on the history of itself, almost as though divulging such information could be a security threat.

With many former servicemen having enjoyed the SKC experience as a form of escapism and a taste of British life when serving overseas, it is baffling why SKC appear unwilling to celebrate its success and its own story.

By failing to celebrate the history and achievements of SKC the corporation is in danger of closing itself down.

Later in 2013, A feature on SKC and its cinemas in the former military bases overseas, by Michael Wood, himself an ex serviceman, will be published in the CTA (Cinema Theatre Association}  Picture House.

The publication of this feature in the leading cinema tribute magazine might serve to encourage SKC to promote itself more openly.
RAF TENGAH SKC ASTRA CINEMA
PROGRAMME DEC 1970
RAF CINEMA -
CHINA BAY
PROGRAMME OCT 1940
Most cinemas at British Military bases published a monthly programme that would be distributed around the base and in family quarters. Very few of the programmes are now available. If you have a programme to scan, please do email us a copy for inclusion here.

These programmes usualy covered a week or two week programme of films with performance times, film playdates together with a few features on current and future attractions. Often they would include paid advertisements promoting the businesses of local retailers serving the military community.

Cinemas also advertised their listings in the various newspapers that were available on British bases, scans of the advertisements or listings are also warmly welcome for publication here.
SSVC MOBILE CINEMA:

The popular SSVC mobile cinema, The Movie Machine visits troops in areas such as Afghanistan, the Balkans and other troubled areas, offering a full mobile cinema experience for British troops off duty. From time to time the mobile cinema also visits bases in the UK. Purchased by SSVC out of the SSVC welfare fund, the Movie Machine was gifted to the MOD. Operated and maintained by SSVC, the Movie Machine located as decided by the MOD.

The Movie Machine is an impressive vehicle housing a full scale 80 seater cinema with Dolby Digital surround sound together with 35MM and digital projection facilities. The cinema is air conditioned and heated as well as fully sound proofed. Like other SSVC cinemas The Movie Machine can also be used for troop briefings and training.
Auditorium of the Astra cinema/briefing hall, RAF Duxford, UK.
Astra Cinema, RAF Halton, UK.
SKC Astra Cinema, RAF base unknown?
John O'  Meara confirmed that this is the Globe Cinema at Fort Saint Louis", Werl, Germany. Taken at a time when it was abandoned, long after the Canadians had left in 1970.
RAF film unit on location during the 1940s.
RAF film unit during the 1940s.
RAF Projectionist on duty.
SKC Astra Cinema - RAF Laarbruch.
ABERDARE
Welcome to an affectionate appraisal and tribute to the cinemas that entertained us in the South Eastern industrial valleys of Wales.
UPDATED - 2013
SKC - SSVC
Cinemas of the British Armed Forces in the UK and Overseas.
UPDATED - 2013
The cinemas of the British Forces served to entertain British Troops and their families in the UK and overseas on British Army and RAF bases during peacetime and at times of conflict. Here we take a look at the role these cinemas played in entertaining the servicemen with popular big screen entertainment screened in a large number of purpose built cinemas offering a taste of life from back home. Today, there are still a number of cinemas operating on British military bases, they might have dwindled to a much smaller number but they continue to provide a necessary service with many of these cinemas now equipped with new digital projectors.

With appreciation to David Longstaff, former RAF Projectionist. Scroll to the bottom of the page to read David's memories of serving in the RAF as projectionist.
Exterior of the SSVC Movie Machine, positioned  in preperation for the evenings audience to view the latest film releases on tour.
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