T H E   T R A V E L L I N G   B I O S C O P E


One of the most important kinds of film presentation in Britain before the First World War was the travelling fairground Bioscope Show. Early in 1897 showman Randall Williams started touring with a fairground film show, which he had converted from his popular Ghost Show. Many other showmen soon adapted their marionette shows and ghost shows to 'living pictures', competing with each other for the most elaborate showfront of carved and gilded decoration, the biggest and loudest fairground organ, and the best 'paraders' - dancing girls and barkers, who enticed the public inside. Showmen's steam engines with fitted dynamos provided electric current for the decorative showfront lamps and the projector arclamp. Alf Ball first dropped his boxing booth for a biocope show in 1897. The New Lyceum Show, with 110-key Gavioli organ and 10-meter wide carved front was built in 1907, and destroyed by fire after being struck by lightning in 1910. His paraders included Mme Paulina, 'the smallest married lady in England'.

Films could be purchased outright, and the travelling nature of the fair meant a continually changing audience. Some shows could fit in several hundred fairgoers, and the larger fairs often had several competing bioscopes. From 1914 the travelling Bioscope Show went into decline, as fixed cinemas became more prevalent, and by the twenties had disappeared.
Ref: Kevin Stevens and Stephen Smith

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