EU Commission Vice President and former Labour Party leader, Neil Kinnock, speaks about his favourire cinema, which was the Workmens’ Hall, Tredegar
European Commission Vice President and former Labour Party leader, Neil Kinnock, speaks about his favourire cinema. Some memories on the Workmens’ Hall, Tredegar, South Wales. «My favourite cinema is beloved, unequalled and, tragically, dead. The Workmens’ Hall in Tredegar, South Wales, opened 1861. But it was neither as utilitarian nor plebeian as its name suggests».
Don’t trust the name
On the contrary, it had 800 plush red seats, state-of-the-art technology, an art deco foyer of marble, glass, leather and steel. There were sweeping staircases that might have graced an opera house. It was also part of what would now be called a ‘complex’ that included a massive Public Library where Aneurin Bevan and countless others obtained their education. And a snooker hall where at least two World Champions – Ray Reardon and Cliff Wilson – both learned and honed their skills.
This palatial public facility also provided the stage for some of the 20th century’s greatest political orators. For Gigli, Sutherland, Björling, Thordike, Cassons, Wolfitt and other galactic classical music and theatre stars. For the national prizewinning Town Band and the huge Orpheus Choir. Even for the Tredegar Thespians and Operatic Society’s annual festivals.
Memories and adventures
It was a place for the riot and magic of Saturday morning kids’ cinema. Perfect for noviate necking in the back row a few years later, for smoking illicit Woodbines. And for cutting a teenage dash, or for seeing every film to get to the Heads of the Valleys in the 1950’s.
I mean every – particularly because, on several Sunday nights through the winter months (when most of the other cinemas in sabbatarian Wales were closed), the Workmens’ Hall was the meeting place of the Tredegar Film [Appreciation] Society where all the international movie classics of the cinema half century were shown… and then discussed.
These weren’t the gatherings of a few earnest anoraks. No, audiences of well over a thousand were customary. The examinations of technique and dialogue, acting and meaning – all conducted under the brilliant chairmanship of an ex-POW and steelworks manager, Ray Yabsley – were both erudite and passionate. It was Movie Review by the Masses, and it was wonderful.
Un unlucky ending
In the 1960’s the collieries closed one by one. The voluntary but universal workers’ contributions that had built, developed and sustained The Hall dwindled to nothing. The novelty of TV also took its toll as it did across Britain. The cinema, library and snooker hall went dark. Decay set in, and by 1995 the empty building was demolished in the interests of public safety. No lingering existence as a carpet warehouse or bingo hall or car showroom for this temple of fun, art and mind opening. Just the destroyer’s ball and crowbar. It was a sort of mercy killing. I suppose.
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