The Electric Cinema opened on the 27th of December 1909. It was Birmingham’s first cinema and predated the introduction of the 1909 Cinematograph Act that commenced in January 1910.
Back then, the word 'electric' conjured up images of Van der Graaf generators and Tesla Coils. To the vast majority of the population, who were still without electricity in their homes, the mysterious invisible power source was verging on black magic.
Much like the word digital is ubiquitous today, 'electric' became a common name for film theatres with Electric Cinemas and Electric Picture Palaces springing up all over the country.
The Cinema showed silent films with piano backing - these were mostly American and mostly short, just one or two reels in length.
In 1920, the cinema was bought out and underwent the first of many name changes, becoming known as The Select. After continuing to show silent movies during the 1920s, the cinema added sound in 1930, and the first film shown was from the popular detective series Bulldog Drummond. However, The Select wasn’t to last and the cinema was closed just a year later.
Although The Electric is the oldest working cinema in the UK, it’s not the best example of an Edwardian Picture house, as there’s not a great deal left of the original building due to a rebuild in 1937.
In the video above, David Simpson from the Cinema Theatres Association talks about the early days of film before cinemas became commonplace around the country.