Page last updated at 14:24 GMT, Wednesday, 2 April 2008 15:24 UK

End of Empire for island cinema

Wena Alun-Owen
BBC Wales news website

The Empire Holyhead
The Empire first opened in 1920

Cinema-goers on Anglesey face a long journey to see a film after the only cinema on the island closed its doors for the last time.

The Empire cinema originally opened in 1920, as one of three picture houses in the town of Holyhead.

Owner Gareth Jones said he was "sad and disappointed" at having to sell the building but the financial situation was forcing him to do so.

The nearest cinema is now 40 miles (64km) away at Llandudno Junction.

Around 60 people watched the last showings of St Trinian's and Alien vs Predator.

Film programmer Steve Reynolds, who looks after hundreds of similar small cinemas across the UK, said it was a shock when he heard it had to close.

"We only heard in the first week in January that the cinema would have to close," said Mr Reynolds.

Victor Thomas, cinema usher
It's terrible this place is closing, especially for local children as a lot of families can't afford to go to Llandudno to see a film
Victor Thomas, cinema usher

"It is a great shame for the island but also for the summer tourism market as there are very few entertainment venues on the island," he added.

Ironically, it was a slump in interest in bingo, not cinema, which sealed the Empire's fate.

The bingo hall on the cinema's ground floor recently closed, forcing the owner to sell up.

Mr Jones said: "The downturn in customers in bingo halls is not a local thing.

"Our profit went down 30% after the smoking ban came in, so that contributed towards it."

Customers shared Mr Jones' disappointment.

Projectionist Merfyn Eccleston
I used to go to the matinees when I was young - it used to be known as the coldest cinema in town
Projectionist Merfyn Eccleston

Twelve-year-old Josh Higgins said he found the closure "upsetting".

"There is nowhere else to go, we come here nearly every week."

Hannah Jones from Holyhead, said: "I come here often and I don't think it's a good idea to close the place."

Her friend Sophie Jones from Valley added: "It's the only cinema on the island and on Monday and Thursday it only costs 2.50 - what can that buy you, a drink maybe."

Ashley Wills, 13, added: "It will be hard because there's not another cinema in Holyhead."

Projectionist Merfyn Eccleston has worked at the Empire since 1981.

"I think it is sad for the town that this place is closing," he said.

'Part of the furniture'

"I used to go to the matinees when I was young. It used to be known as the coldest cinema in town."

Mr Eccleston said he remembered classics The Sound of Music and Gone With The Wind - films he now had on DVD at home.

Films arrived at the cinema on five or six reels, he said, and it was his job to put them together for showing.

"It used to be very stressful if something went wrong, but it rarely happens now because the film is much better quality," he added.

Hannah Jones and Sophie Jones
Hannah Jones and Sophie Jones say they will miss the cinema

Victor Thomas said, between taking tickets and helping people to their seats, that his first job after leaving school was as a projectionist at the town's Cybi cinema.

"It's terrible this place is closing, especially for local children as a lot of families can't afford to go to Llandudno to see a film," he said.

Glynn Cook worked part-time at the cinema.

"I juggled my shifts at my other jobs to make sure I could be here," he said.

Jean Owen, 63, described herself as "part of the furniture" at the Empire having worked there on-an-off for many years, recently as manageress for the past nine years.

Mrs Owen said the Empire was a family cinema, where everyone worked together, and she was "gutted and shocked".

"I'll miss talking to customers, some of them have been coming here for years.

"We know most of the customers by name," she added.

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