“A ROLLICKING story with a strong appeal,” boasted the blurb. “Wallace Beery at his best. He heads the cast as a reprobate fisherman with a heart of gold.”

And for a few pennies, the escapist deep sea fishing scenes of ‘Barnacle Bill’ enabled Hampshire cinemagoers to forget the horrors of war as the Luftwaffe desperately tried bombing the country into submission in 1941.

But Katherine Bates had no need to pay and she could see the movie as many times as she liked. Even better she was being paid to do it.

Why? Simply because she was making history as Southampton’s first female film operator.

“It’s the ideal job for women,” she trumpeted of her novel role at the Classic cinema that stood in the town centre.

War had given women new opportunities and she was delighted to grab the chance.


Katherine at work in the projection room.

“After all, “ she explained. “It’s war work, for it’s a contribution to the entertainment of the people which the Government recognises is essential. It’s a distinctly interesting job and one in which you can retain your individuality.”

And some of her friends, she admitted, only wished they could be doing it.

“They are envious of my new career.”

Classic cinema, Southampton.

But didn’t it mess your social life about? Aren’t the hours a drawback?

“Not a bit of it,” she rebuffed them. “They forget about the entertainment curfew that keeps them in reasonable limits.”

Katherine was not alone.

Several other of Southampton’s many cinemas were also training women to do likewise and not confining them to traditional roles of the ticket kiosk, the manager’s office or usherettes.

The forward-thinking town had been among the first in the country to appoint a woman as a cinema manager when Mrs D McInnes took charge of the Broadway in Portswood four months earlier.

“And it’s a very nice job too,” she said.

The Classic also had the first woman commissionaire in Mrs Neville, very much a husband-wife partnership as she assisted her husband who was the foreman commissionaire, each looking resplendent in their bright matching uniforms.

A E Neville incidentally had a unique claim to fame. While serving for many years as a warrant officer in the Royal Artillery, he rode the tallest horse in the British army. It stood at 16 1/2 hands high.

Sadly, both cinemas belong to history books.

The Broadway with its towering facade was a dominant feature in Portswood Road.


The Nevilles in their matching uniforms.

It opened on June 6, 1930, with the showing of ‘Rookery Nook, starring Tom Wallis, and could accommodate more than 1,500 patrons. Its ABC Minors Club presented Saturday morning entertainment for children for just 6d.

It closed on October 26, 1963, with the film ‘West I1’ which featured Diana Dors, making way for bingo.

The Classic in Above Bar was completely opposite in design, compact with a small square screen and operated beneath a cafe.

Opened by the mayor Harry Chick under the title of Cinenews on March 12, 1937, its name was changed to the Classic the following year with George Formby in the lead role in ‘Keep Your Seats Please’ as its first full-length film.

Though damaged by the bombing, as were others in the war, its doors never closed during the hostilities. In the early 1970s, it expanded. A second screen was added under the guise of the Tatler Private Cinema which principally featured racier continental material.

However, like many of its ilk, it lost its popularity and closed to eventually make way for a fast food outlet.