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Two men, one English and one Welsh, entertained cinema Goers of the Welsh Valleys. They were like chalk and cheese, their unlikely friendship forged the foundations for the Jackson Wither’s Circuit that dominated South Wales, Cardiff, Newport and the South West of England. If you were a cinema lover in the forties, fifties, sixties and seventies you would have been a patron of their cinemas. Here we pay homage to an important organisation within the industry that there is little known about. 

Formerly Wales & West Cinemas, the Jackson Withers Circuit has its roots in Bargoed and Pontllanfraith, with influences from business activities in London and Cardiff. Here we take a closer look at the cinema circuit that entertained the valleys for many decades.
During the mid to late twenties cinema was becoming a popular leisure past time in the heavily populated bleak industrial South Eastern Valleys of Wales. Film was a welcome escapism for the communities and many public halls had been converted for the use of showing films, it was beginning to become big business that brought in considerable revenue to the halls.

By the 1930s most towns throughout the hillsides of the valleys North of Cardiff had between three to five cinemas, mostly converted public halls although by now a number of purpose built picture houses were built to entertain the enthusiastic cinemagoers, with many more purpose built cinemas populating the towns and even the villages of the region.

Most cinemas were owned and operated by small consortiums that owned a circuit of cinemas in any town, Abertillery Theatres Limited, Bargoed Theatres Ltd, Blackwood Entertainments Ltd, Ebbw Vale Theatres Ltd, generally these operators would manage the cinemas of the town named in the title. Although these circuits had the skills to manage the venues, they lacked booking skills and contacts with film distributors. The majority outsourced this part of the business to Albert Jackson Withers, a local businessman based in Bargoed. The formidable Jackson Withers family had been prominent in the valleys since the beginning of the century, with varying businesses. Albert Jackson Withers found employment outside of the early family businesses, becoming General Manager of the Theatre Royal in Merthyr Tydfil prior to the First World War. Alfred was an early showman in the valleys and knew how to run a cinema from a business point of view, with a keen eye on what the audiences of the day wanted to see on the live stage and the big screen. He used this knowledge to programme films for most of the cinemas in the South Eastern Valleys.

More so than theatre, cinema was an affordable leisure activity for the working men and their families of the South Eastern industrial Valleys. Recognising cinema as a flouring, profitable business proposition Albert Jackson bought the New Hall cinema in Bargoed, programming the venue with films at favourable rates alongside a dozen or more other picture houses in the valleys.
MAXIME CINEMA, High Street, Blackwood
OLYMPIA CINEMA, Morgan Street, Tredegar
PLAZA CINEMA, North Road, Cardiff
During the mid to late twenties cinema was becoming a popular leisure past time in the heavily populated bleak industrial South Eastern Valleys of Wales. Film was a welcome escapism for the communities and many public halls had been converted for the use of showing films, it was beginning to become big business that brought in considerable revenue to the halls.

By the 1930s most towns throughout the hillsides of the valleys North of Cardiff had between three to five cinemas, mostly converted public halls although by now a number of purpose built picture houses were built to entertain the enthusiastic cinemagoers, with many more purpose built cinemas populating the towns and even the villages of the region.

Most cinemas were owned and operated by small consortiums that owned a circuit of cinemas in any town, Abertillery Theatres Limited, Bargoed Theatres Ltd, Blackwood Entertainments Ltd, Ebbw Vale Theatres Ltd, generally these operators would manage the cinemas of the town named in the title. Although these circuits had the skills to manage the venues, they lacked booking skills and contacts with film distributors. The majority outsourced this part of the business to Albert Jackson Withers, a local businessman based in Bargoed. The formidable Jackson Withers family had been prominent in the valleys since the beginning of the century, with varying businesses. Albert Jackson Withers found employment outside of the early family businesses, becoming General Manager of the Theatre Royal in Merthyr Tydfil prior to the First World War. Alfred was an early showman in the valleys and knew how to run a cinema from a business point of view, with a keen eye on what the audiences of the day wanted to see on the live stage and the big screen. He used this knowledge to programme films for most of the cinemas in the South Eastern Valleys.
During the mid to late twenties cinema was becoming a popular leisure past time in the heavily populated bleak industrial South Eastern Valleys of Wales. Film was a welcome escapism for the communities and many public halls had been converted for the use of showing films, it was beginning to become big business that brought in considerable revenue to the halls.

By the 1930s most towns throughout the hillsides of the valleys North of Cardiff had between three to five cinemas, mostly converted public halls although by now a number of purpose built picture houses were built to entertain the enthusiastic cinemagoers, with many more purpose built cinemas populating the towns and even the villages of the region.

Most cinemas were owned and operated by small consortiums that owned a circuit of cinemas in any town, Abertillery Theatres Limited, Bargoed Theatres Ltd, Blackwood Entertainments Ltd, Ebbw Vale Theatres Ltd, generally these operators would manage the cinemas of the town named in the title. Although these circuits had the skills to manage the venues, they lacked booking skills and contacts with film distributors. The majority outsourced this part of the business to Albert Jackson Withers, a local businessman based in Bargoed. The formidable Jackson Withers family had been prominent in the valleys since the beginning of the century, with varying businesses. Albert Jackson Withers found employment outside of the early family businesses, becoming General Manager of the Theatre Royal in Merthyr Tydfil prior to the First World War. Alfred was an early showman in the valleys and knew how to run a cinema from a business point of view, with a keen eye on what the audiences of the day wanted to see on the live stage and the big screen. He used this knowledge to programme films for most of the cinemas in the South Eastern Valleys.

By the 1930s most towns throughout the hillsides of the valleys North of Cardiff had between three to five cinemas, mostly converted public halls although by now a number of purpose built picture houses were built to entertain the enthusiastic cinemagoers, with many more purpose built cinemas populating the towns and even the villages of the region.

Most cinemas were owned and operated by small consortiums that owned a circuit of cinemas in any town, Abertillery Theatres Limited, Bargoed Theatres Ltd, Blackwood Entertainments Ltd, Ebbw Vale Theatres Ltd, generally these operators would manage the cinemas of the town named in the title. Although these circuits had the skills to manage the venues, they lacked booking skills and contacts with film distributors. The majority outsourced this part of the business to Albert Jackson Withers, a local businessman based in Bargoed. The formidable Jackson Withers family had been prominent in the valleys since the beginning of the century, with varying businesses. Albert Jackson Withers found employment outside of the early family businesses, becoming General Manager of the Theatre Royal in Merthyr Tydfil prior to the First World War. Alfred was an early showman in the valleys and knew how to run a cinema from a business point of view, with a keen eye on what the audiences of the day wanted to see on the live stage and the big screen. He used this knowledge to programme films for most of the cinemas in the South Eastern Valleys.

More so than theatre, cinema was an affordable leisure activity for the working men and their families of the South Eastern industrial Valleys. Recognising cinema as a flouring, profitable business proposition Albert Jackson bought the New Hall cinema in Bargoed, programming the venue with films at favourable rates alongside a dozen or more other picture houses in the valleys.

Although a prudent businessman, Albert was not an accountant, with his business of cinemas expanding and the booking arm of the business growing month by month, Albert took the opportunity to appoint his brother, Alfred Jackson Withers a qualified solicitor, as an advisor for his small, but growing circuit of local cinemas that now included the cinemas in Abertillery, Blackwood, Ebbw Vale and a few small cinemas in Cardiff. Alfred had returned to his native Wales on health grounds, advised by his doctor, following a successful time as an accountant in London. The brothers struggled to work together and Alfred eventually found a solution, by introducing Albert to London chartered accountant, Julian Hodge, the Hodge family had moved from London to Wales some years earlier, eventually settling at Sir Ivors Road, Pontllanfraith. Julian Hodge had, by now, formed his own financial business, which had become a great success, outliving his office in the family home in Pontllanfraith, so Julian relocated his office to Cardiff, with branches in Blackwood and Bargoed.

With the mini cinema expanding all three men were kept busy in their efforts to entertain the working classes with big screen escapism and solid entertainment, all offered at an acceptable price for the working classes of the  heavily polluted and often bleak industrial valleys, Albert Jackson Withers knew what these people wanted to see on the big screen, he had become very astute when it came to booking films for his target audience.
Albert Jackson Withers was a loud and sometimes abrupt chap. Tall and stocky in stature, but nevertheless charming, He and Julian Hodge got on very well. While Alfred Jackson Withers was tall, slight and quiet with just a passing interest in cinema exhibition. Julian Hodge grew up in cinema, with his parents running the Raglan cinema in Hengoed, a short distance away from the family home in Pontllanfraith. Julian Hodge was swiftly appointed as accountant and executor to the now flourishing cinema circuit business owned by Albert Jackson Withers.

Albert Jackson Withers cinema circuit grew from strength to strength, acquiring cinemas throughout the valleys, Cardiff and Newport as well as expanding into England, the South West areas including Somerset, Devon and Cornwall, although Withers was careful to stay clear of London.

With 48 cinemas forming the circuit, Albert needed a head office that would be worthy of his business, the decision was made to set up office in Cardiff, near to his financial partner and friend, Julian Hodge. A office was found in Park Place, close to Hodge as well as the major film distributors of the day who had regional offices in Cardiff, MGM, United Artists, Paramount, 20th Century Fox, Rank, Columbia etc. All cinemas were now programmed from head office in Cardiff, financial management and decisions also took place at the HO. The circuit was now known as Wales & West cinemas, acknowledging the acquired cinemas in the West Country of England. Albert Withers became Managing Director of Wales & West cinemas with Julian Hodge in the role of Chief Executive. The unlikely duo forged a successful and profitable working relationship and solid friendship from the early days in 1937, building their empire of cinemas entertaining the working class communities of Wales and now extending that experience across the border to the South west of England. 
By now, Julian Hodge had been knighted for his work within the finance sector, Sir Julian Hodge remained sentimentally affectionate to the Jackson Withers Circuit. Even so, while bingo was now flourishing, cinema, which was a personal passion of Sir Julian Hodge, was now struggling a great deal more than it had during previous declines of cinema going. A small number of the Jackson Withers cinemas still operating were converted to include a small studio cinema or two screen cinemas in the former balcony while developing bingo hall/clubs in the larger stalls areas. Sir Julian saw the need to cut his losses and sell the estate of cinemas and bingo halls, which were becoming costly to operate and maintain. Without his good friend Albert Jackson Withers, Sir Julian had to let go of the circuit he had affectionately continued to look after and had renamed in tribute and memory of the two Withers brothers.

During the mid-seventies the Rank Organisation approached Hodge with an offer to buy the Jackson Withers Circuit. Rank was looking to expand its successful Top Rank Bingo clubs brand into the valleys and had identified a number of the former cinemas as ideal locations. Sir Julian Hodge sold the Jackson Withers Circuit, consisting of 50 cinemas and bingo hall to the Rank Organisation for £2,4 Million in 1976.

Having acquired the halls, Rank immediately ceased cinema exhibition and converted all but one to exclusive use as Top Rank Bingo Clubs, later changing the survivors to its newly acquired Mecca bingo brand. Very few of the bingo clubs were a success under the Rank Organisation banner. The majority were eventually sold off to smaller bingo chains local to the area, such as Castle bingo or Top Ten Bingo. 

The exception was the former Maxime cinema in Blackwood. The Maxime had been converted to a two screen studio cinema in the former balcony area, partitioning part of the original ground floor foyer to facilitate a dedicated entrance and stairs to the original balcony lobby. Creating a self-contained studio cinema complex. The conversion was of a high standard and probably the best conversion of its type in the mid-seventies.

Meanwhile the former stalls area was converted for bingo use, utilising the remainder of the original ground floor foyer as a dedicated entrance to the bingo club.

The studio cinemas continue to operate for about ten years, with the assistance of local authority funding paid to Rank. Eventually Rank successfully argued for the closure of the two screen studio cinema, on the grounds it was not financially viable. Once the cinemas were closed, the balcony was converted to use as part of the bingo club in the former stalls. Some years later, Rank sold the Bingo hall local competitor, Top Ten Bingo. The bingo Hall continued to operate with various owners until October 2013 when the operator sold the venue together with a number of others in the area. The former Maxime cinema has been bought by a cinema exhibitor who plans to restore the venue and return it back to use as a four or five screen cinema, 25 years after it ceased showing films altogether.

Sir Julian Hodge died peacefully in his sleep, at his home in Jersey on the 17th of July 2004, just three days before his 100th Birthday. During my research of his involvement with cinema in Wales and particularly The Jackson Withers Circuit, formerly the Wales & West Circuit, I spoke with Sir Julian by telephone and agreed to a face to face meeting to discuss the business in depth. In addition I had very similar conversation and agreement with another Director of the cinemas and friend of Sir Julian, unfortunately both men died prior to the actual agreed meeting.
Two men, one English and one Welsh, entertained cinema Goers of the Welsh Valleys. They were like chalk and cheese, their unlikely friendship forged the foundations for the Jackson Wither’s Circuit that dominated South Wales, Cardiff, Newport and the South West of England. If you were a cinema lover in the forties, fifties, sixties and seventies you would have been a patron of their cinemas. Here we pay homage to an important organisation within the industry that there is little known about. 

Formerly Wales & West Cinemas, the Jackson Withers Circuit has its roots in Bargoed and Pontllanfraith, with influences from business activities in London and Cardiff. Here we take a closer look at the cinema circuit that entertained the valleys for many decades. Did you work for the circuit as a projectionist, usherette, box office or kiosk sales.
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Albert Jackson Withers right.
Alfred Withers below.
ABERDARE
Welcome to an affectionate appraisal and tribute to the cinemas that entertained us in the South Eastern industrial valleys of Wales.
UPDATED - 2013
UPDATED - 2013
JACKSON WITHERS CINEMAS CIRCUIT
JACKSON WITHERS CINEMAS CIRCUIT
BRINGING BIG SCREEN ENTERTAINMENT TO THE WELSH VALLEYS.
Sir Julian Hodge left.