Missing and faded memorials
In 1996, to mark the centenary of the cinema the British Film Institute backed a scheme called Cinema 100 to place 300 commemorative plaques on a number of locations associated with the beginnings of the cinema in Britain. Revisiting the ones along the Sussex coast recently revealed what a sad state some are in.
The worst case is probably the plaque which marks the location of the first UK film show outside London, at what was then the Pandora Gallery, on 25 March 1896. It was also, after the name changed to Victoria Hall, where R W Paul ran a season of film shows starting on 6 July 1896. However, the plaque is virtually illegible.
But at least it is still there and it may catch the eye of visitors who sit outside the restaurant in the sun (or wind) as they gaze across the road at the West Pier, which is in an even sorrier state. Another of the Cinema 100 plaques, to mark the site of the Maguire & Baucus Kinetoscope parlour at 70 Oxford Street, London
—but actually placed on no 76
—has disappeared altogether. As also has a plaque that was placed by the Cinema Theatre Association to commemorate the Regent Cinema in Brighton. It was unveiled by Susannah York as recently as 24 May 2001 at what is now Boots store opposite the Clock Tower. So far enquiries have failed to ascertain what happened.
Another of the surviving Cinema 100 plaques is on the building that was 144 Church Street, Hove (since re-numbered as 156). Is it appropriate that today the shop where James Williamson had his pharmacy and photographic processing business is now called The Eyecare Centre?
The plaque, however, somewhat misleadingly, calls it the ‘Site of the First Studio and Laboratory created by James Williamson’ and gives the dates 1896-1898. As far as film goes, the dates are the right ones. Williamson actually moved into the shop in 1886 but did not start processing films until 1896 and he did move on (to 55 Western Road, Hove) in September 1898. However, this is the actual building, not merely its site, and it is stretching a point to refer to a ‘laboratory’
—he processed film along with the rest of his photographic processing
—and even more to call it a ‘studio’. Most of his films at this time were actualities and even the comic and dramatic films were shot out of doors.
This misleadingness is as nothing compared with another plaque, to which bombshell we shall return anon.