Sailor Harry gave running commentary on navy film

The Victoria Hall cinema at the southern end of Commercial Road, Portsmouth, at the end of its life in 1960
The Victoria Hall cinema at the southern end of Commercial Road, Portsmouth, at the end of its life in 1960

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The Victoria Hall at the southern end of Commercial Road, Portsmouth, could rightly claim to be the city’s first regular cinema as well as being one of the longest-running.

It flourished for more than 60 years until it closed in 1960.

In July 1896, a form of film entertainment was presented at the hall in what was called Cinematoscope, something described as animated photographs.

From 1900 films were shown on a more regular basis when the hall was rented to a film entrepreneur called Arthur Andrews.

The screening of Our Navy was a huge success for him but was, of course, silent, but had a running commentary supplied at the side of the screen by former Royal Navy man Harry Coveney at each performance.

Talking pictures came to the Victoria in 1929 and made its renowned orchestra redundant.

This cinema survived projector room fires and the blitz of the Second World War pretty well and even celebrated its golden jubilee. But it could not escape the demolition hammer in 1960 when it was operated by the ABC cinema chain. The last film shows was Expresso Bongo starring Cliff Richard.

The Apollo cinema , pictured in our picture gallery, in Albert Road, Southsea, was officially opened as the Apollo Kinematic Theatre on Saturday, April 6, 1912. It has 500 seats at prices beginning at 3d.

For the first three days the main film was A Cure for Jealousy, but the programme changed the following week when the big film attraction was Vanity Fair.

Film projectors were handworked in the early years and there had to be intervals for spool-changing.

The pictures below show two contrasting images of the Apollo.

The earlier view was taken in the early 1920s, the big film being Charlie Chaplin in the The Gold Rush and Harold Lloyd in Grandma’s Boy. The picture on the right is of the modernised Apollo in the post-war years when The Yearling (1946) with Gregory Peck was the main film.

The pictures are from Ron Brown’s book Cinemas and Theatres of Portsmouth.

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please e-mail Chris Owen at or write to him at The News, The News Centre, Hilsea, Portsmouth,PO2 9SX