42 Responses

  1. John Taylor
    | Reply

    My memories of the Metro included the ornate paintings on the walls. As a teenager in the sixties the Metro was one of the cinemas that we frequented after spending the morning on the beach. As I recall it cost 14c for a movie ticket.

  2. Gerald Buttigieg
    | Reply

    Hi Derrick,
    Great picture of the Metro taken just before its demise. Thanks for confirming about the “lace curtains” on the front doors. I have a clear memory of that. A couple of questions. Was it at the Metro that Buster Wheatley would rise out of the stage floor seated at his Wurlitzer organ and entertain the cinema goers during interval? Directly below the Metro sign was that the Mayfair Hotel Bar that you accessed from the pavement? I well remember Kahn’s Chemist with his corner window crammed with stock. As you slowly moved forward in the queue to the ticket office, you had a good look at what he was offering for sale. The Metro neon sign was as iconic as the Coca Cola sign on the side of the Fairhaven Hotel.

    • Rodney Coyne
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      Í also remember the ‘Mighty Wurlitzer’ rising out of the floor at interval.
      I may have a faulty memory on this point, but I seem to remember that this happened at both the Princes and the Metro Cinemas.

      One other point about the Smith Street cinemas which I don’t think has been discussed yet was how the clouds appeared to move across the ceiling at the Playhouse. I was told that this feature was the brainchild of the architect, a Mr.Power(s), but how it was done I have never found out.

    • IVAN BEAL
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      you are correct, it was buster wheatley rsing out of the floor, i remember the playhouse, i used to go along on saturday mornings as did a whole bunch of other kids to watch the hopalong cassidy films, tom mix, lash larue and many other westerns, lone ranger sometimes captain marvel and that chap with the flowing cape and the big black broadbrimmed hat. gerald, i think i read on one of your other posts that you were at marist brothers. i was at st henry’s from about 1949 until 1952 when we lived in durban, in umbilo at 263 fenniscowles road which was the last house on the very top of fenniscowles road opposite stellawood cemetry. then we moved to pietermaritzburg and went to st charles school, it was a coincidence that brother mccartin who was principal at st henry’s also moved to st charles. i was a boarder at st charles until around 1955 when i went to mansfield high school where i stayed until JC. one of my very strong memories of st charles was mrs ethel forsythe, who was known as ma fouffe, a very strict lady but a dam good teacher. i am not sure if it was at st henry’s or st charles but there was another very formidable teacher called mrs oelrichs (spelling?) who would come tearing down the aisle between the desks lashing out with her cane at all and sundry because someone at the back had been talking in class.

    • Gerald Buttigieg
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      Hi Ivan
      Yes I am a Marist Old Boy 1954 to 1961 so we just missed each other. In 1954 Eddie Barth was Head Boy and other seniors I remember were J Rock-Pering, Wally Davey, Julian Williamson, Jock O’Connor, Henry Galea Alan Montile ? Seneque, de Billot, Savage, Bardone. Not sure if they fit into your period at the school. When I arrived at St Henry’s Brother Maurice was Principal and I think he took over from Bro. McCartin. Yes caning was an institution at St Henry’s ; we used to call them flaps. A later principal was Brother Ezeckiel who would call an assembly at 2.30 pm when the school day ended. Every senior had to pass him with their trouser legs pulled up so he could see the colour of their socks. If they were not regulation, you bucked there and then in front of everyone and he flapped you to remind you what the regulation colour for ankle socks was!

    • Bryan Hurt
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      Walter Davey! was that perhaps the future Springbok weightlifter from the Durban YMCA ?

    • Gerald Buttigieg
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      Hi Bryan
      If I am not mistaken that is the Wally Davey. He matriculated at St Henry’s College (Marist Brothers) in 1957 so he would be in his late 70s now. He was my senior at school.

    • dorian J Collins
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      Hello Gerald….

      Just reading your note about the former Metro cinema in Durban and I was doing some research for a friend! you mentioned the Wurlitzer organ rising from the floor……well I hope you are pleased to know that I have that very organ installed in my house here in Worcester, England, long story but I rescued it around 12 yrs ago although the console your remember was in a poor state and in it’s original french polished and very damaged state….happy to send you a recent picture if you would like?

      Kindest Reg

      Dorian J Collins. Worcester. England.

    • Gerald Buttigieg
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      Hi Dorian,
      WOW! What can I say? Quoting Peter Sellars : Goodness gracious me. Now that must be a tale to tell. I will contact you about getting the photo to me to post.

  3. Rodney Coyne
    | Reply

    The main cinemas in Cinemaland were, as has already been mentioned The Embassy, The 20th Century (revamped as the Cinerama), The Metro, The Playhouse and The Princes (which also underwent a revamp and acquired a different name – The Colliseum?). I never knew the Empire in Gardiner Street behind the Post Office but I was once taken to The Criterion on the corner of Gardiner Street and The Esplanade. On the opposite corner stood, as I recall, one of the grand old ladies of Durban, The Marine Hotel. The film that I saw was called ‘Where eagles dare’ or something like that. We sat in the circle upstairs and I remember the rather uncomfortable hard downward sloping chairs.The topic of the film was one still of current importance – ivory smuggling in Africa. For me the highlight of the film was when the bad guys went over a cliff edge in their jeep.

    The cafe bioscopes were the Oxford and Roxy in West Street where I remember going with my younger brother to watch a Tarzan film, and the newer Capri (?) in Smith Street opposite Greenacres.

    On the outskirts of the CBD, there was a cinema in the Lido, South Beach but I cannot recall its name. The O’Conner Theatre was somehow shoehorned into the Ice Rink Building. I went there twice – to see ‘Alfie’ and later ‘Love Story’ – the latter film I remember as being nauseatingly sentimental. The Alhambra Theatre at the bottom end of Berea Road was also used as a cinema when not being used for live shows. The manager for a time was a Mr ‘Blackie’ Swart. One must not forget the Shah Jehan Cinema which was, I think, in Grey Street. This was for the Indian community and I remember being told that its luxuriousness made all of the ‘white’ cinemas seem dowdy. I think that there was another older ‘Indian’ cinema nearby – perhaps other FAD regulars will know about it.

    To the south was the Planet Cinema in Umbilo Road which was revamped as the Lyric Theatre. To the north was The Rex on the corner of Broadway and Kensington Drive, Durban North.

    I do not ever recall there being cinemas in the Glenwood, Berea or Morningside suburbs or elsewhere in Durban but then that would have been less familiar territory to me. There was of course the Drive-In in Brickhill Road as well. I have no doubt missed mention of more than one Durban cinema so I await with interest corrections and additions from other FAD contributors

    • Rodney Coyne
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      Oops I have already spotted one omission – The Piccadilly in Aliwal Street.

    • Brian Hurt
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      First avenue….where Setaro motors used to be…called…The Avenue…

    • Jen
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      I remember the Capri in Upper Smith Street, went there often, but dunno if Greenacres was opposite it. I thought that was in West Street. Could be mistaken about that though. But Brickhill Road Drive-in. Now that was wonderful. We went every single time there was a new movie out in the 70’s. Maybe even twice e week sometimes. No TV back then, Would take a picnic basket with us for supper. Sound was not so good those days, with the speakers, but better than sitting at home. Don’t know if the sound actually ever got any better, after the years, as we moved out of town, stopped going to the drive-in, and then had TV.

    • Gerald
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      Hi Jen
      Greenacres’s main frontage was in West Street but the shop extended through to Smith Street where it had a frontage as well. Greenacres Passage was a thoroughfare between Greenacres and The Hub from West Street through to Smith Street. The passage had Greenacres on the left hand side with small shops lining the other side. Boulevard Cafe was one of them. There was also a pet shop amongst others. The Brickhill Road Drive in was actually known as the Durban Drive-In.

  4. Gerald Buttigieg
    | Reply

    Hi Rodney
    Thanks for the posting. If you go to the top of the page under the banner, there is a label , Contents. Click on this and search down till you come across my marathon “What we did for fun in Durban” . I have written up in that screed just about all the cinemas I remember in the late 50s/60s. I did not not include the Indian cinemas as I never entered any but now that I have an old Durban Directory I would like to list all the cinemas just for the record. I do not know how many posts there are now on this website but some topics are hidden amongst replies and other headings. This is where the SEARCH tool (also under the banner above) comes in handy so that one can see if what you want to post about may not have been already covered.

    • Rodney Coyne
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      Gerald, I did use ‘search’ when looking at what FAD had to say about cinemas
      but your marathon ‘what we did for fun’ did not appear. I have a book ‘The Natal Tourist Guide 1951-52’ which lists most of the cinemas that you mention
      so to avoid further duplication I will just mention a few minor discrepancies.

      You say that The Theatre Royal was in Smith Street – The Natal Tourist Guide
      says that it was in West Street. I remember once going into a furniture store in West Street near its Berea Road end, it may have been a branch of Beare Brothers, and it was clearly a former theatre with a gently raked floor and a stage with curtains. My father told me that this used to be the Theatre Royal which was used mainly for live performances. Theatre Lane runs diagonally behind which is supporting evidence.

      One suburban cinema that Gerald missed was the Park Cinema in Greenwood Park. I don’t ever remember going there, but I do vaguely remember it as being in North Coast Road, just about opposite the Coronation Brick Works.

      The Natal Tourist Guide lists four bio-cafes :
      The Kenilworth, Beach
      The Oxford, Commercial Road
      The Roxy, 456 West Street
      The Palace, 362 West Street
      I never knew that there was a bio-cafe at The Kenilworth. I was taken there once when it was a rather seedy amusement arcade. My grandmother did not approve of it – she said that The Kenilworth used to be a good restaurant in her younger days. Gerald says that the Oxford was in Pine Street. I thought that it was in West Street near the Roxy, but possibly I am confusing it with The Palace, or possibly it had been moved yet again. (I don’t ever remember
      a bio-cafe called The Palace though).

      Two other cinemas that aren’t mentioned are the Avalon and The Workshop. I never went to The Workshop cinema, but I seem to remember that it was a fairly short lived branch of Ster Kinekor. The Avalon is the other Indian owned cinema whose name I could not recall when I posted about the Shah Jehan. The following information is from their own interesting website
      http://www.lenzinfo.co.za/?p=4793 :
      “The first movie screened at the Avalon Theatre in Durban in 1939 was a 20th Century Fox film called “The Road to Glory” and what a Road it has been! “ said AB Moosa, current CEO of the Avalon Group as he continues a proud tradition following in the footsteps of his father Moosa and his namesake grandfather Aboobaker Moosa.

    • Gerald Buttigieg
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      Hi Rodney
      First mea culpas. Yes the Royal was in West Street and was converted into a furniture store as Richard has indicated. From West Street near the West St. Cemetery gates was a diagonal lane called Theatre Lane which alluded to the Royal Theatre. The Oxford yes was in Commercial Road opposite where the Pessao statue is. Not Pine Street. I have an idea the Govan Mani store is in its place today. The Palace was not around in the 60s and I never knew that one. Nor the Park in Greenwood Park. Here are the cinemas as listed in the 1968 Lawrie’s Directory.

      (I) indicates Indian owned

      Adelphi Theatre (I) 180 Sparks Road
      Albert Cinema (I) 37 Albert Street
      Alex Theatre cnr Bluff/Lighthouse Road
      Alhambra cnr Berea Road / Warwick Ave
      Avalon (I) 56 Victoria Street
      Bluff Drive In Grays Inn Road
      Capri Cinema Cafe 1st Flr Essex House 409 Smith Street
      Cinerama (ex 20th Century) 215 Smith Street
      Colosseum (ex Princes) 237 Smith Street
      Durban Drive In Brickhill Road
      Embassy 219 Smith Street
      Lyric Theatre (ex Planet) 922 Umbilo Road
      Metro 221 Smith Street
      Natray (I) Bombay Walk Merebank
      Oxford Cinema Cafe 22 Commercial Road
      Piccadilly 26 Aliwal Street
      Playhouse cnr Smith Street / Albany Grove
      Raj (I) 44 Prince Edward Street
      Rani (I) 9 Jacobs Road Rossburgh
      Rex 64 Kensington Drive Durban North
      Roxy Cinema Cafe 456 West Street
      Scala (I) cnr Warwick Ave / Mansfield Road
      Shah Jehan (I) 275 Grey Street
      Shahrezad (I) 110 Bellair Road Bellair
      Umbilo Drive In Oliver Lea Drive
      Vijay 5 Tulip Place Springfield

      The Avenue in Stamford Hill Road, The Alvin in Berea Road,
      The Park in Greenwood Park, The Royal in West Street are not listed so one assumes they had closed down by 1968.

    • Rodney Coyne
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      So many unknown cinemas coming out of the woodwork! This got me to wondering which was the first commercial cinema in Durban. The website

      http://www.cca.ukzn.ac.za/index.php/durban-international-film-festival/archive/58-30th-diff-2009-historic-events

      gives the following information on this :
      A festive gathering Toasting 100 Years of Cinema in Durban is planned at the site of Durban’s first cinema, The Electric Theatre – where the Medwood Gardens Pool is currently situated (city centre). This event takes place at midday 12h00 on Wednesday 29 July.

      The same website also mentions the existence of another early cinema :
      Cinema in Africa originated as early as 1909 in the town of Durban, South Africa, only four years after the world’s first cinema opened in America. The following year, Africa’s first cinema for “coloured” persons opened on the outskirts of Durban. Little is known about these two pioneering cinemas in Durban and the role they played in encouraging film-going as a social phenomenon in South Africa

      So Durban had the first cinema in Africa! I am impressed. I wonder what other cinemas existed in Durban between 1910 and 1940 (other than those already mentioned on FAD).

    • Peter
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      Some small corrections/additions please:

      Natraj ( not Natray )
      Vijay was Indian owned.
      You can add the Shiraz ( I) in Victoria st. It was owned by the Rajab family who also owned the Shah Jehan.
      The Royal Picture Palace was one of the oldest cinemas in the Indian Area. It was in Prince Edward St, commonly known as the “Royals”. There was also the “Mayville Theatre” in Mayville and several cinemas in the Chatsworth Indian township which are not mentioned, two of them being the Majestic and Odeon, which are not mentioned.

    • Moira Badstubner (nee Williams)
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      No it was Tommy Mclelland…

      The Palace was also called “The Pop” where you could see the film all the way through and the next showing, if you came in late and missed some…You also received ice cream – coffee – etc for the price of your ticket.

    • Moira Badstubner (nee Williams)
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      No it was Tommy Mclelland…

      The Palace was also called “The Pop” where you could see the film all the way through and the next showing, if you came in late and missed some…You also received ice cream – coffee – etc for the price of your ticket.

      I saw a film that changed my life – Scherezade at the Kenilworth. The film was about Rimsky Korsakov and I fell in love with Jean Pierre Aumont and all the Russian composers like Borodin, Tchaikowsky.

  5. Mike Hogan
    | Reply

    There was the Alex on the Bluff. Old bus seats for seating. It operated when I was at Grosvenor Boys High in the seventies.

    • Moira Badstubner (nee Williams)
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      After it was a small and informal cinema, it became a gymnasium. I don’t know what the hall is used for now. The hall on the Bluff – previously Alex Theatre.

  6. Richard Holmes
    | Reply

    I can state with absolute certainty that the Theater Royal was in West Street more or less opposite the old Beares/Relyant Head Office building at 539

    I worked at Beares from 1984- 99 about 7 years of which at Head Office

    For years Beares had store at 560 with the centralised accounting function above and it was a well known part of the Beares “history” that the building was the old theatre

    • Moira Badstubner (nee Williams)
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      Yes I can remember the Theatre Royal – but I can’t remember what show or film was shown – I can even remember how the interior looked.

  7. Des Ramsay
    | Reply

    I don’t see anyone mentioning “The Gaiety” in Compton Street, Pinetown, not that Pinetown was part of Durban at that stage, but it was somewhere that my family went to very frequently, living in Queensburgh. It was open from the mid 50’s to the mid 60’s but I’m not sure when it opened or when it closed exactly.

    • Paul Tormey
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      Hi Des…yes the Gaiety was also called the bug house and other names. We had great times there through to the early 70’s.

  8. Penelope
    | Reply

    Trying to work out when Margot Fonteyn danced at the Alhambra in Durban, probably the 50’s .. does anyone remember or know. I have tried searching her on the web but no mention.

    • Moira Badstubner (nee Williams)
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      I have her autograph (Margot Fonteyn)

    • Moira Badstubner (nee Williams)
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      It was signed in 1957 – when the Arts League of Youth spent two weeks taking over the City hall under the auspices of Edward Dunn. free bus rides, free lunches, free accommodation with residents who opened their homes to the teenagers from all over South Africa (even Windhoek!) and overseas.

  9. Penelope
    | Reply

    Oh yes Des – I used to go to the Gaiety on Saturdays with my brother .. what a treat, mostly cowboy movies which scared me to bits. This in the early 50’s.

  10. Roger-London
    | Reply

    What was the name of the 1950-60s bio in the centre of Crompton St in Pinetwon please?

    • bret arntzen
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      The Gaiety cinema near the wishing well in Pinetown, the lady manageress was called Dorothy, she had a huge bee-hive hairdo.

  11. Robin Percival
    | Reply

    Robin Percival. I started working as an assistant projectionist at the Piccadilly cinema in February 1972. I still remember the first film, it was Cross and the Switchblade. Those days we would start the supporting program with the S.A. mirror and as soon it was finished we showed the cartoons and at that time i would run to the Embassy to fetch the British Movietone news, and give them the S.A. mirror to show just in time for the cartoons to finish. A few months later the Cinerama burnt to the ground, there last film was Jeremiah Johnson. The Piccadilly closed in 1973 for a complete renovation and opened as Kine 500 with the film Cabaret. At that time I was transferred to the Colosseum theater. Then after a year working their showing some great films like, Poseidon Adventure. Deliverance. and Bonnie and Clyde. I decided to resign from Kinekor and started work for Ster Films at the Ocean City. the first film I showed was The Day of the Jackal. Then a year later I passed my trade test. yes those days if you wanted to become a projectionist, you went through a 3 year apprenticeship course. I was so excited as the first film I showed as a licence projectionist was the 70mm Earthquake with sensurround sound what made the cinema shake, and at that time it was Christmas and their was an ice show taking place next door at the ice rink, and the skaters were complaining about it. Well I could tell you stories, but in a nut shell. in 1980 did sound for Boswell Wilkie circus for 8 months then transferred back to Kine Centre 1,2,3 in Johannesburg worked their till 1989. The other projectionist who worked their. Brian Gibbons and myself built ourselves up in becoming the best projectionist of the company and the best cinema complex. but unfortunately in 1987 they renovated the complex and made 10 cinemas out of it, and we both hated working their, then Brian left and I managed to get a transfer back to Durban. To open The Wheel. I worked their till 1999. Then was asked to come back to johannesburg and work in Sandton City. Then in 2012 came the crunch. Sandton and Gateway in Durban went digital, no more film. and I spent the next year in training projectionists to program digital projectors. For when all the other cinemas to go digital’ After that I turned 60 years old and the pressure was to much. So after 41 years I asked for early retirement. Some great memories, and cinemas I work in. All I did was sell dreams.

    • Morag Holder
      |

      Hi Robin. Sent you a message on Facebook asking if you worked at all with my gran, Gladys Herbst. She was manager at the Kine 600 and The Embassy up until they were demolished in 1989. My gran is 91 now and her memory is not as good as it was. I mentioned you to her and she said something about you being a projectionist…..but I was interested to know if you knew her personally. Also did you know Bernie Ball, Dave Bristow and Paddy Hawks? I know Paddy passed away but have been trying to track down Bernie and Dave as my gran would like to know what became of them. Any information you could give me would be very much appreciated. 🙂

  12. Gerald Buttigieg
    | Reply

    Hi Robin,
    Great story. You must have seen a hellava lot of movies in those 41 years. Do you remember at the Piccadilly there were two paintings hung either side of the screen. Rather large one showed Piccadilly Circus and the other a shipping scene on the Thames. I do not know if it was my imagination but I am sure they glowed after the lights went down. Maybe fluorescent paint. One thing about the Piccadilly I recall is that if you did not manage to get tickets at the cinemas which were bunched together in Smith Street you would see people running to the Piccadilly as the last resort to catch the start of the show there. Can you remember when the 20th Century, corner Smith and Aliwal, closed. It became the Cinerama if I recall. The 20th had a big red neon “20” on the side wall. Please record any other Durban memories. Your last line is quite apt.

  13. Morag Holder
    | Reply

    Hi All
    Been having such a walk down memory lane reading all the comments on the cinemas in Durban. I lived at the cinemas during my childhood. I went through my entire teens during the 1980s and saw hundreds of films since my return to Durban from the UK in 1981. My gran, Gladys Herbst, was manager of the Kine 600 and The Embassy when they closed late in 1987. She was also, at some point, manager of the Broadway Cinema in Broad Street. On the 19th September 1987 I spent one day taking photos of all the old Ster Kinekor Cinemas I knew, including those mentioned above as well as Cineland and West Kine. I live in England now and my gran is 91 years old and still has many happy memories of the more than 40 years she worked in cinemas in Durban. When The Embassy closed my gran was given the red velvet curtains that used to cover the screen and she made curtains for our lounge out of some of the material. The last movie to be shown at The Embassy before it was demolished was The Sound of Music. The Embassy doors were opened first thing in the morning and I was one of the stewards dressed in a red skirt and white top. We greeted the patrons as they entered the auditorium. Popcorn and cooldrinks were charged at prices from the 1960s. The movie was played over and over until 22H00 that evening. It was sad to see the end of an era. My gran was the Public relations Officer and responsible for promoting movies. I remember her promoting Herbie Goes Bananas by arranging with The Blue Waters Hotel to hold a competition for children whereby bananas were thrown into the hotel’s pool and children had to dive in and collect as many bananas as they could. My gran was also in charge of the SKJ (Ster Kinekor Junior) Club and I enjoyed watching movies at The Embassy every Saturday morning and taking part in the many competitions they would hold. I still have my SKJ card and smile whenever I look at it. We went into all the shows for free and the same was true when we went to the drive-in or the ice-rink. I remember watching E.T. for the first time at the Durban Drive-In….sitting on a blanket with my cousin eating loads of chips, sweets and fizzy drinks and having loads of fun. Those were the happiest days for me and when I give my gran her weekly call, we take a walk down memory lane and have long discussions on the cinemas and all the fun times we had before The Wheel came along and the old cinemas I knew and loved were all done away with. So sad.

    • Allan Jackson
      |

      I have responded to Morag via email and invited her to contribute more of her and her grandmother’s memories.

    • Brian Hurt
      |

      Hi, Did your Gran know Fred Viljoen? I knew a Gladys that was the manager of the Playhouse,she took no nonsense in the sometimes rowdy Saturday ….arvie….shows,she lived in Cape Fair Smith Street.

  14. Ivan[ Holman] Sibilant
    | Reply

    What memories ///I worked as an usher in Metro cinema Durban in January 1950 an left in April 1951 and Tommy Maclennon rose from under the stage and played music which words were pointed out onscreen with a ball on top of words which audience sang We were dressed in red waist high jacket white shirt black trousers x waist coat x bow tie we were inspected before the doors opened and if anything was not right we were sent back to get smart we also had white gloves and torch shone under fingers to see if nails were clean It taught us discipline we were the smartest boys in cinemas Margot Fonteyn did not come to durban before 1956 but Nadia Nerina came to celebrate the Durban centenary in 1955 at city hall. Intimate theatre was also in existence then So pleased to read about Durban as I moved away in 1956and do have happy rememberances Thank you ..

  15. Louis van Rensburg
    | Reply

    Did anyone know Ian Stuart, manager at the Embassy?

  16. Akram
    | Reply

    Hi

    Does anyone think of The Wheel cinemas and want it to reopen.

    They closed recently and let people provide their feedback on those cinemas.

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