Cinemas at War

At the outbreak of World War 1 in 1914, St Andrews had two main sites of cinema exhibition, La Scala and Variety Theatre located on James Street and the recently opened New Cinema House on North Street. During the short period leading up to war, when both venues were operating and showing films, both sites looked to exploit the evident public interest in current affairs and military events as they competed for business, and legitimacy, within the town.

At the start of 1914 a fierce advertising battle developed in St Andrews Citizen, with La Scala the first to use and exploit the potential war as a commercial selling point. While it advertised a forthcoming screening of ‘The Great Film of 1914 – The British Army’ – described as ‘the only film taken by authority of the Army council and as shown by the royal command’ – the Cinema House instead emphasised its state of the art facilities. ‘This new theatre compares favourably with any of the First Class Theatres of London and Glasgow’, the advertisement stated, ‘It is fitted out with all the latest appliances. It is arranged on the most Hygienic principles and is commodious and comfortable, beautifully designed and exquisitely furnished (Citizen, 31 January 1914. 1).’

However, a few weeks later The New Cinema House followed La Scala in advertising its own war-related film. Under a ‘Special Notice’, an advertisement explained that for one evening only ‘The National Service League will show Patriotic Subjects “Life In The British Army” and a special picture of the “Territorial’s In Camp” showing our university brigade in training’ (Citizen, 14 March 1914).’

Both of the town’s exhibition houses were trying to win public support by screening topical films, which often combined national images with local footage or talks, pertinent to the community. A further example of this came in La Scala’s biggest ever advertisement (Citizen, 4 April 1914):




Supported by Colonel Allan, Colonel Macpherson and Others.


The Citizen subsequently reported on the ‘large audiences’ and ‘great interest’ generated by the British Army film screened, but now noted that ‘Colonel M’Kerrell commanding the Black Watch Brigade occupied the chair.’ Colonel Sprot, a prominent figure in the area and the intended guest of honour, instead attended a screening that evening at the rival, neighbouring Cinema House, in front of an audience of 900 people. This would appear to represent a major coup for the New Cinema House, which was now established as the leading cinema, and a community centre, within the town. Publicity for La Scala would fade over the next few weeks until on Saturday April 18 1914 an empty programme was printed on the front page of The Citizen opposite the full listings for the New Cinema House. A month later, in May 1914, La Scala closed when its Manager Mr McCullum retired. While it would reopen a number of times during the war, it never again focussed exclusively on film, and would shut its doors for good in 1923. The Cinema House, born and established on the cusp of War in December 1913, would continue until its closure in 1979.

Graham Dalton



The St Andrews Citizen 1913 Editions

The St Andrews Citizen 1914 Editions

The St Andrews Citizen 1915 Editions