Golden memories of Sidbury cinema

FIFTY years ago this week, a licence was granted to the country s youngest person to run a cinema.

FIFTY years ago this week, a licence was granted to the country's youngest person to run a cinema.

Just 15, Michael Edgecumbe, then living in Sidford, was granted a licence allowing him to run a cinema in Sidbury, as long as an adult was there too.

Reported in the Sidmouth Herald at the time, chairman of the magistrates, E Warwick Cox, remarked: "This court likes to hear of young people pushing themselves on. We wish you the best of luck...Who knows, you may well be a J Arthur Rank one day."

Michael, now 65, from Winslade Road, Sidmouth, well remembers the nickname, used when the story hit the national newspapers.

A pupil at Exeter Technical Grammar School, Michael developed a life-long interest in cinematography and started up the cinema for those who couldn't get into town.

"I was inspired by Jim Hellier, a keen amateur movie maker, who took film of events in Sidmouth and screened them, and I was greatly encouraged by the photographer Harold Fish.

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"I ran six trial shows to start with, which I was allowed to do without a licence, then applied for the licence to show films at the village hall," said Michael.

"I wasn't allowed to run a cinema under two miles, as the crow flies, from the Radway."

Michael bought ex-Government projection equipment, which he renovated, and his late brother Peter built a collapsible projection booth and screen parts.

He took on Ron Williams as commissionaire and his sister as usherette and Gordon Davies was projectionist.

Mr Davies, who died last year, went on to be projectionist at the Radway Cinema for many years.

Because he was too young, Michael's father, who lived in Eastbourne, had to sign the contract for the Sidbury and Sidford Cinema to show films once a week.

But the cinema was short-lived.

"In the end Sid Vale Cinemas Ltd's directors put pressure on the hall committee at Sidbury who turned round and said they considered it a commercial venture and couldn't do business with anyone under 21, and I was not allowed to carry on."

Michael had six more screenings before packing away his projector, but remembers the film The Dambusters produced a queue from the hall to the war memorial the other end of the village.

Now, to mark the 50th anniversary of the cinema, Mike hopes to arrange a re-screening of the film in memory of Gordon, to raise money for Living with Cancer charity.

*See next week's Nostalgia for more on this story.