The invention of movie films at the end of the nineteenth century opened up all sorts of possibilities for mass entertainment. Silent movie films did not reach Dartford until c.1910, although optical entertainment was available in the early years of the Edwardian era in the form of the P & O Bioscope which was based at 61, High Street. Little is known about this Bioscope, which probably comprised two magic lanterns worked in tandem and capable of showing slides with built-in moving features. There was a performance every evening and admission was 1d. Patrons were able to view "the very latest subjects" and also were eligible to enter a weekly raffle with a prize of 5 shillings.
The Picture Palace established at 60, High Street in October 1910 was Dartford's first proper cinema showing movie films. Mr. Leopold Brilliant took a lease out on these premises and spent £600 converting them into a cinema. The venture was short-lived, closing-down just seven months later.
The Cinema, Lowfield Street, opened on 19 November 1913 just before the First World War. This cinema could accommodate 950 people with seat prices at one shilling, sixpence, and threepence. Refreshments in the form of tea and biscuits were served during the intervals. In 1933 the cinema was redecorated and refurbished and re-opened as the Rialto. In 1952 it was renamed The Century but closed in October 1960 and the site sold.
The Gem Cinema in Spital Street was another of Dartford's well-known cinemas. Originally a music hall owned by Dan Barnard it began having regular Bioscope presentations interspersed with variety acts. The cinema building, which was approached by a long entranceway, was sold off in 1943.
The Scala in Kent Road, Dartford, opened in November 1921, but in 1947 became a theatre for many years, eventually ending up as a ballroom. By the end of the twentieth century the building was occupied by Zen's nightclub. Around 4,500 people a week danced the night away to Zen's 14,000 watt stereo system accompanied by a computer-driven light show.
The State Cinema, which opened in December 1935, stood adjacent to the Gem in Spital Street. In 1949 it changed its name to the Granada and continued as a cinema until 1975 when it reopened as the Granada Social Club. The State was equipped with a Compton theatre organ (later transferred to Gunton Park, Lowestoft)
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LOCAL FILM SOCIETIES
The earliest film society appears to have been the Dartford Co-operative Film Society who held their first show in the Co-operative Hall, Westgate Road in September 1948. The object of this society was to 'foster interest in the art of the cinema by showing films from around the world both old and new, which were not readily available in the commercial cinema.' In 1976 the Fleet Screen Film Society was formed to fill the gap left by the lack of a commercial cinema in Dartford. Screenings took place at the Fleetdown Community Centre. Later in 1979 SMUFFS were formed (Saturday Morning Under 11s Film Fans) who met at Temple Hill Youth Club on Saturday mornings.