Press Releases

Cinema Paradiso - Oakdale Workmen's Institute shows first film in 35 years

1.00pm 24.08.2004

Those of us old enough to recall town centre cinemas, usherettes and thumping organ music will remember with fondness the 'pictures' or the 'flicks' that dominated Wales in grandiose Deco cinemas, village halls and Workmen's Institute for the bulk of the twentieth century. Tomorrow, the Oakdale Workmen's Institute at the Museum of Welsh Life will open its Picture House to visitors for the first time since its re-erection in 1995 and for the first time since the 1960s when the last celluloid frames flickered across the screen and the picture house closed its doors for the very last time.

Oakdale Workmen's Institute was opened on Monday September 10th 1917. The 'Stute' contained a Library, Reading Room and a Committee Room as well as a Concert Hall (The Lesser Hall) which occupied the whole of the first floor. A separate, but linked Billiards Room was housed in a flat roofed building behind the Stute, on top of which was later built a larger public hall which in turn was adapted to house a Cinema. Originally called the New Hall, the cinema was always called the Picture House and opened its doors to its first paying customers in 1927 when 'April Showers' whirred onto the screen and the Picture House came alive.

The Institute's Cinema Committee appointed staff to run the Picture House which consisted of a Projectionist and three female attendants, with dresses and uniform provided by the Institute. During the 1920s a set of scenery was purchased from London for £15. 10s. (£15.50) and a small orchestra was engaged as accompaniment.

The orchestra was dismissed after a few months and Madame Templeman was appointed Musical Director of the Picture House in 1929. "Mrs Templeton would be there playing, and there'd be no speaking, it would just come up at the bottom of the screen like Pobol Y Cwm. She'd be there playing, wobbling on this old piano stool... you were trying to watch the picture and she'd make this rattling noise on the piano, that was like horses coming!" recalls one Picture House regular with glee.

The last film features were shown at the Stute in the late 1960s and the Oakdale Workers Institute closed in 1987. In 1989 the building was dismantled and transported to St Fagans. The cinema however was too large for the site and was not moved to the museum.

Today, visitors are welcome to a simulation of the Picture House held at the Lesser Hall. The cinema staff, resplendent in their 1930s uniforms, will be on hand to ensure a thrilling and rare chance to see a short, silent film called Hen Grefftau Cymru.

This other-worldly film was produced in the 1930s by Sir Ifan ab Owen Edwards, founder of Urdd Gobaith Cymru, son of educational pioneer Sir O M Edwards and father of S4C's first controller Owen Edwards.

Filmed all over Wales, this black and white film is part of the Museum's extensive AudioVisual archive and shows the fast disappearing crafts of the cobbler, the miller and wooden spoon and crockery carver amongst its modest stars. Sir Ifan went on to make Y Chwarelwr (The Quarryman) in 1935, the first Welsh language talkie and was trying to document and save dwindling and dying Welsh traditions and crafts that also inspired Dr Iorwerth Peate, founder of the Welsh Folk Museum.

Betsan Evans, Educational Interpreter at St Fagans and leader on the Picture House project is delighted to be showing this rare film for the first time in many years at the Stute. "This is a fantastic opportunity to recreate the excitement and the buzz of the pictures which was a major part of the social life of the Oakdale community and to show a film that reflects our collection and what we're fundamentally about at St Fagans. I'm really excited about our very own cinema and can't wait to don the uniform and show our visitors to their seats for the first time."

Hen Grefftau Cymru will be shown at the Oakdale Picture House at 1,00pm and 3.00pm, Tuesday 24th - Saturday 28th of August.

Entry to the Museum is free, thanks to the Welsh Assembly Government.