On this Day 27th July 1936

Putting on the Ritz in Penzance

There’s a mighty new cinema in town, on the site of the old Horse and Jockey – closed since way back, before the Great War.

It’s mighty, all right, the new Ritz Cinema – mighty in every way. The little shops and houses on the other side of Queen Street are quite cast into shadow. But the decorative fin on the front of the building, which will soon be lit up in neon, relieves the simple modern design of the face.

Inside, a thousand people can sit in comfort, relaxed by the concealed lighting, and enjoy a cigarette, a luxury box of chocolates, and the latest film. There are carpets on the floors, all the seats tip up for ease of access, and precautions have been taken against draughts. The décor? A “rich scheme of tempered reds, speckled over in metallic gold”. And the staff will be smartly turned out: the lads, we hear, as page boys; the girls in “smart semi-military uniforms”.

Technically minded? The Wide Range Sound System – on which thousands have been spent – will be of particular interest. But whether or not you appreciate the details of this latest development in sound engineering, you are sure to enjoy the benefits to the soundtrack: the “greater intimacy created between the audience and the screen artists”; the audibility of “individual instruments… heard in their true perspective, and with all their original brilliance.”

Harold Ramsay at a previous engagement (Courtesy of Wayne Ivany And what’s more, the Ritz has a Mighty Compton Organ – and in the orchestra pit, a lift to raise the illuminated consol onto the stage when required. The newspaper was full of it, a couple of weeks ago: “exquisite perfection of the mechanism”, “revolutionary advance… in organ construction”, and all that sort of blather. A treat for music-lovers, that’s for sure, given an accomplished man at the keyboard. And on Monday, the organist will surely fit that bill: Penzance will welcome “world famous broadcast organist”, Mr Harold Ramsay. You’ve heard him “on the air” – now come and see him in real life. He may sound a touch American, but in fact he’s English through and through. Indeed, the entire programme – with the obvious exception of a Disney item – is British: “a very pleasing fact in the opening of a new British super cinema, built by British brains and labour, and managed by an entirely British concern”.

Our Mayor, Alderman Thomas, runs the two existing cinemas: the Regal in the old Central Hall, off Parade Street, and the Penzance Cinema in Causewayhead. But this evening he will set any thought of business rivalry aside and perform the opening ceremony, doubtless with generous words about how the new and existing concerns will complement one another, and keep Penzance in the forefront of 20th century entertainment. . And the manager of the new Ritz? Austin Marsh - St Ives man, and what’s more - the son of the late vicar! Wonders, indeed, will never cease.

Tudor Rose (free to share via Wikimedia0But enough of technology. Enough of the Mayor. Enough, even, of the Mighty Organ. It’s the films that everyone’s come to see. The main feature, so new that it won’t be on general release until next month, stars Nova Pilbeam – you may have seen her in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much. But for audiences at the new Ritz, she is offering something rather different: a historical drama, about Lady Jane Grey – so hideously brought to a tragic end in the barbarous times of the olden days. Thrill to the drama, and perhaps shed a tear for her sufferings, as Leslie Perrins (Jane’s guardian, the dastardly Thomas Seymour) John Mills (her ambitious husband, Lord Guilford Dudley), and Cedric Hardwicke (the “tyrannical Earl of Warwick”), bring their innocent victim to her doom. Also on the bill, by way of a contrast, “Cheer Up” – an entertaining tale of a composer, an author and a chorus girl – and a Disney show which is sure to provide “laughter from beginning to end”.

So come one, come all this evening: 7.30 sharp, doors open 6.30. Lady Jane Grey may only have been queen for nine days. But Penzance’s new super-cinema? Surely it will last forever. And the old Penzance Cinema on Causewayhead, Alderman Thomas’ own business (or, at least, one of them)? Its days are surely numbered.


The Ritz at the Millennium (courtesy of M.D. West)


Postscript: The Ritz was closed on July 17th 1965, and survived as a Bingo Hall until 2008. Since then, it has served as an entertainment venue. Although currently disused, it is believed that Merlin Cinemas, owners of the Savoy in Causewayhead, have plans that will involve continuity of use. In the Great Beyond Alderman Thomas - if he knows of this - will doubtless be smiling.



The opening was trailed extensively in the Cornishman – see Thursday 16th July page 5, Thursday 23rd July page 2. It was described in the Thursday 30th July edition, page 2.

More on the history of the Ritz 

Hear Harold Ramsay at another mighty organ

For more on the film Tudor Rose

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Penwith Local History Group
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Growing Up in West Cornwall. A Publication by the Penwith Local History Group

"Growing Up in West Cornwall"

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