R.A.F Christmas Island Astra Cinema
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Previously operated by: SSVC Cinemas
My friend David Dearle has kindly provided these photographs of the open-air Astra cinema on the Christmas Island base for the British Nuclear test programme in the late-1950s and early-1960s. The base was staffed by Army, RAF, Navy and Atomic Weapons Research Establishment personnel and code-named Task Force Grapple.
During his National Service, David was a driver attached to the Royal Air Force Motor Transport section. He arrived on Christmas Island in November 1958 and departed back to the UK, for demob, in November 1959. There were no nuclear bombs detonated during that period as testing was suspended.
David says his vivid memory of the Astra Cinema was the showing of Tom & Jerry cartoons to support the main film. When the name of the producer, Fred Quimby, came up on the screen there was a universal chorus of “Good old Fred!”. I am grateful to him for sharing these images (taken from photocopies of photographs).
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Further to my ‘Overview’ comments, David Dearle has recently found, amongst his late mother’s personal effects, some letters that he wrote home from Christmas Island in 1959.
In particular, in this letter dated Friday 25th September (not long before he left that deployment in November 1959), he says “I saw the film "Tiger Bay” [J. Lee Thompson/1959] last night and it’s one of the best I’ve seen on the Island. The leading part is taken by a very smart girl of about 12 [who, of course, David now knows was Hayley Mills]. I don’t know whether I told you but I go to the pictures on Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday every week…in fact to every film that comes here! I’ve seen films that I wouldn’t dream of seeing if I was at home, everything from Westerns to Horror. We get them about six weeks after [his home town] Southend [in Essex] because by the time I get the ‘Southend Standard’, the films advertised are on here. Mind you we get a lot of old ones thrown in, like “The Sad Sack” [George Marshall/1957] which I saw years ago. Another annoying thing is that we invariably get colour films in black and white and, in a musical, that can ruin the whole impression of the picture."
My thanks to David for sharing this fascinating insight into the films on offer at the Astra. (Judging by his comment about colour films being screened in BW, presumably the Astra used 16mm projection, where the BW versions were much cheaper than the colour originals.)
I think the Astra Cinema might have a stamp(local or cinderella?) witha tab on the side which was taken off before entering the cinema?