Kirkcaldy’s golden age of cinema

The Rialto, Kirkcaldy''Courtesy of Bill Gourlay
The Rialto, Kirkcaldy''Courtesy of Bill Gourlay

A look back at the halcyon days on eve of town’s first film festival

Ask people in Kirkcaldy what they’d most like to see in the town and among the answers you’re sure to find ‘cinema’.

Harry Kerr will welcome audiences on Saturday as Mr Thomas Ormiston, the first manager of The Rialto.

Harry Kerr will welcome audiences on Saturday as Mr Thomas Ormiston, the first manager of The Rialto.

For many in the younger generation it may be hard to believe, but in days gone by the Lang Toun was at the top of the cinema going game.

In its prime, almost 100 years ago, Kirkcaldy was in the unique position of having more cinemas per head of population than any town in Scotland.

The town was known for its cinemas - or picture houses as they would have been known back then - which offered plenty of variety for film fans in and around the town.

Among the big names were The Regal, The Raith, The Rio, The Port Brae Picture House and The Carlton , where The Beatles played back in the early 1960s.

Few buildings remain, with many having burnt down, and those that do are either lying empty or now have new uses.

Speak to elder members of the community and they will undoubtedly have many memories of the picture palaces to share.

Those classic film screenings, Saturday matinees for the family or even in latter years, the Friday horror all-nighters.

Cinema has long been a part of life in Fife and Scotland as a whole.

Over the years sadly the cinema scene dwindled and the last cinema - the ABC closed its doors on Kirkcaldy High Street for the final time 13 years ago in December 2000.

These days although there is no longer a dedicated cinema in the town, films are shown regularly at the Adam Smith Theatre.

Since the closure of the ABC there has been murmurs of a cinema screen returning to the town in various locations and forms. However none have yet come to fruition.

So to reminisce about the golden days of cinema you need to step further back in time, and that’s something people in Kirkcaldy will be able to do on Saturday as part of the inaugural film festival at the theatre in Bennochy Road.

The festival will return to 1950 with a day themed as ‘The Last Picture Show: From The Rialto to The Gaumont’.

It was on April 30,1950 that the Rialto at number 204 on the High Street closed its doors.

By that time the Rialto had served the people of Kirkcaldy and provided them with a chance to enjoy the glamour of Hollywood for 25 years.

The following day it re-opened as The Gaumont, which later became the Odeon, and filmgoers were introduced to the concept of a nationwide cinema chain.

The High Street premises were destroyed by fire on Boxing Day in 1974.

To celebrate Kirkcaldy’s cinematic history and the hey days, the 1950s cinema experience returns for one day only.

Shona Thomson, consultant producer of the Kirkcaldy Film Festival told The Press this week: “In its cinema-going prime in the 1920s, Kirkcaldy had more cinemas per head of population than any town in Scotland.

“Now the Adam Smith Theatre is the only place left to watch movies in town.

“The Last Picture Show is the Kirkcaldy Film Festival’s salute to the Rialto - one of the town’s gone but never forgotten picture palaces and a true ‘Temple of the Motion Picture’.”

And to mark the grand occasion there will be a family matinee, red carpet treatment and classic movie treats suitable for all ages on Saturday.

The Rialto’s cinema manager, Mr Ormiston - brought to life by Harry Kerr, from Kirkcaldy Amateur Operatic Society - will be on hand

Shona continued: “Mr Thomas Ormiston was the first managing director of the Rialto when it opened in February 1925.

“To help bring back the spirit of the picture palace, we’re reviving the tradition of the cinema manager greeting all patrons on arrival.

“Harry Kerr will be bringing Mr Ormiston to life all day, meeting, greeting and introducing the films.”

In the day’s programme there’s also a chance to learn more about the rich connection between the Lang Toun and moving pictures.

Two live illustrated presntations have been specially commissioned for the festival.

Gary Painter from The Scottish Cinemas Project - a website dedicated to recording and archiving historic cinema architectural heritage - presents a glimpse into the project’s vast photographic archive of Scotland’s cinemas.

Talisman Films Scotland has been making films about Fife’s social and industrial history for over 30 years.

Those behind the project will be sharing more about their work using footage from the group’s filmmakers and working with archive material such as ‘Kirkcaldy Links Market 700 Years On’.

Extracts from the latest project ‘Old Kirkcaldy’ will also be screened.

Details of the day’s events are at

Kirkcaldy’s Picturehouses

Palace, Whytescauseway
Opened in May 1913. Burnt down in December 1946.

Port Brae, 318-320 High Street
Opened in November 1930. Now demolished.

Carlton, Park Road
Opened in 1937. Closed around 1960. Later used for bingo. Destroyed by fire in 1972.

Rialto/Gaumont/Odeon, 204 High Street
Opened in February 1925. Renamed Gaumont in May 1950. Renamed Odeon in December 1962. Destroyed by fire on Boxing Day 1974.

Raith, Links Street
Opened in 1938.

Opera House/Regal/ABC, 260A High Street
Opened as King’s Theatre in 1904. Opened as cinema by SCVT in 1928. Rebuilt in 1937. It was the last cinema in Kirkcaldy to close in December 2000.