When all the big films came to Dungannon

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When I first went to the Astor Cinema back in the mid-1950s, it was to the Saturday matinees and it usually was to watch a cowboy film as the feature show, preceded by Laurel and Hardy or The Three Stoogees - or, what was actually my own preference, the brilliant Scotland Yard short films showing how the crimes were solved. These half-hour shows were superbly narrated by a man with a superb voice - criminologist Edward Lustgarten.

But, as a wonderful old article about the arrival of the cinema to Dungannon reminds us, the Georges Street venue was already well established by the time I first went near it:

‘With the shadow of war shrouding most of the country in October of 1939, there was a bright moment in Dungannon town with the official opening of the Astor Cinema in Georges Street.

It is estimated that more than 1,000 people attended the first night performance in the new building, described by one local paper as ‘palatial’.

The report stated: Dungannon has grown and expanded in recent years, but the facilities for local enjoyment have not kept pace and, ultimately until now, the accommodation for film-goers was not all that it might have been.

Messrs L & W Cinemas Ltd Belfast, with creditable enterprise, have now entered the breach and presented Dungannon’s corps of film enthusiasts with one of the most modern luxury cinemas.

The new venue was built to seat more than 500 and embodies many of the latest features of cinematic architecture. The most up-to-date model of RCA High Fidelity sound apparatus was installed and a new idea was also incorporated in the arrangement of the front stalls, where the slope rises towards the screen, affording maximum vision and providing greater co fort than ever before.

One of the most attractive features in the decoration of the building is the concealed lighting system, which includes 950 individual lights. When switched on during the interval, a pleasant is given to which an important contributing factor is the design of the walls and ceiling.

Due regard has been ordained of the comfort of the over six-footers and even the smallest patrons by the setting up of the seating system and there can be no room for any possible complaint in that respect.

As I entered the foyer of the Astor cinema on Monday night and proceeded to my seat I thought for a moment that I was back again in one of the big cinemas of Dublin or Belfast. Such was the impression I received and Mr.Maurice Logan, director of the company, told me that the comfort and modernity of his other eleven cinemas put together would not equal what is being given to the people of Dungannon via The Astor.

More than £12,000 was spent to make the most up-to-date of its kind and much of the credit for the project was accorded to the contractor, Mr.Ernest McConnell of Dungannon. Begun in early June, the amazing transformation of the old buildings just yards away from the Northland Arms Hotel was carried out in less than five months.

On the opening night, following the first part of the programme, Mr Logan with Mesrs R.Leith and WJ Beatty, chairman and clerk of the council, Mr.Joseph Stewart and the famous Ulster film star, singer and film producer Mr. Richard Hayward all appeared on stage to a rousing ovation.’

First manager of the Astor Cinema was James Curran, while the uniformed usher who manned the entrance to the premises was Joe White.’

My good friend Sean Rafferty, who was reared round the corner in Sloan Street, recently reminded me a ruse the lads used to pull off - whereby one paid in, then went to the toilet and opened the emergency exit door to allow a host of others to sneak in for nowt. Of course, I wasn’t involved!