The Fairground Bioscope Shows

Bioscope Show

Moving Pictures first appeared on the fairground at the King's Lynn Mart on 15th February 1897 introduced by Randall Williams. Williams 'the King of Showmen', adapted his Ghost show at the end of December 1896 in order to introduce the latest novelty into his presentation at the World's Fair Exhibition in Islington. Within a few months showpeople across the country were exhibiting moving pictures to the fairgoing public.

From 1897 onwards the showmen played a significant part in the development of moving pictures, playing to largely provincial audiences whose chances of seeing this new form of entertainment and technology were limited. For the next seventeen years, these enterprising showmen travelled around the country, adapting and building portable booths in which to exhibit the films and prominent showmen of the day soon incorporated living pictures into the fairground shows. By 1898 the early cinematograph shows dominated the fairground landscape, under names such as; Biddall's Royal Bioscope, Ball's Living Pictures, William Taylor Coliseum, Green's Cinematograph or Arnold Bros Picturedrome.

The earliest form of booth or show for the exhibiting of moving pictures was the ground booth show. These were ghost shows, adapted by the showmen to became lavish early forerunners of the walk up bioscopes of the early twentieth century. However the showmen soon concentrated on the bioscope shows and either adapted, improved or ordered purpose built shows in which to show the early films.

From 1902 onwards these shows were transported by traction engine, allowing for greater loads to be carried, and making it possible to transport a complete cinematograph show with six or seven loads at one time. The portable electric Savage dynamo was replaced by a large dynamo fixed onto the smoke box of the traction engine, allowing finer illumination. William Taylor's show was reputed to have had over 4,000 electric lights, on different circuits, which changed colour in sequence with the action of the organ. These elaborate walk up shows reached their zenith between 1906 and 1912 with the shows becoming bigger, more intricate and holding a greater capacity.

By the end of 1914, the fairground cinematograph shows gradually started to disappear and finally vanished from the fairground landscape by 1915. The main reason for their decline was the growth in popularity of the cinema, which resulted in the building of permanent locations for the showing of moving pictures all over the country. However, showmen such as George Green of Glasgow, Pat Collins and the Holland family, anticipated this development and opened or built their own permanent cinemas with George Green and his sons achieving great success as cinema exhibitors with the construction of the Playhouse cinemas at Glasgow and Dundee.