Sweeping technological change has rung the death-knell of many a business. Just look at how the internet has transformed the book trade, or how digital cameras spelled the demise of Kodak – a one-time titan in its field. But there have always been a few business leaders who sensed change in the air long before anyone else, and embraced the opportunities it would bring. One such entrepreneurial visionary was Violet Melnotte-Wyatt.
Born in 1855, Melnotte-Wyatt started out in showbiz treading the boards in London, before moving into theatre management. But as the decades progressed, so did the advances in early cinema, none of which was lost on Melnotte-Wyatt. On 22 September 1910, the grande dame of theatreland opened Britain’s oldest cinema still in continuous use – the Duke of York’s Picturehouse in Brighton, named after the West End theatre she had built with her husband, Frank Wyatt, in the 1890s.
The building of the cinema on the site of an old brewery cost £3,000, or around £316,000 in today’s money. For between threepence and one shilling, patrons could relax in an air-conditioned auditorium – the old brewery’s malthouse – while an electric piano provided the Edwardian equivalent of Dolby surround sound.
You wouldn’t have been able to stuff your face with popcorn, mind – that didn’t make it over here until just before the Second World War. But, according to the website celebrating the Duke of York’s centenary, you could nip into one of the two shops that formed part of the baroque-style façade to buy pastries “shipped from Paris”.
Not that you would have had much time to eat them. What can be described as the very first feature-length films had only emerged in the last year or so. As such, only two or three existed in the whole world. Instead, attendees to Melnotte-Wyatt’s gala opening, which included a delighted Mayor of Brighton, were treated to songs, tea, and a few cinematic shorts.
Also on this day
On this day in 1955 at 7.15pm, Associated-Rediffusion made ITV’s first television broadcast, followed an hour later by Britain’s first TV advert. Read more here.