The Roaring Twenties brought the Oak Cinema to Selly Oak, opened in 1923 as the area’s second cinema after the Pavilion. The architecture of the cinema was impressive, capturing the imaginations of local people before the films had even started rolling. Reportedly, the first film shown was ‘Chun Chin Chow’, a British-German silent adventure film involving enough kidnapping, deceit, romance and action to rival James Bond. Silent films would be accompanied by a live orchestra to play the movie score.
The cinema was undoubtedly a huge success in the 20th century. In the 1950s, films like James Dean’s ‘Rebel Without a Cause’, Audrey Hepburn’s ‘Roman Holiday’ and Disney’s ‘Peter Pan’ would be shown on the big screen in three day stretches with one film shown from Monday to Wednesday and another from Thursday to Saturday. On Sundays, local people would gather at the Oak to watch reruns of old movies.
One local person remembers going to the Saturday morning ‘minors’ where the Oak would show cartoons, travelogues and shorts of the likes of Laurel and Hardy and Flash Gordon. Reportedly, over at the Pavillion Cinema, they used to invite birthday children onto stage at the end but white lies told by eager children led to far more people on stage than could possibly be having birthdays!
The coloured lights in the domed ceiling added to the cinematic experience but cleaning them was dangerous work. In the 1920s, Arthur Moppet was working hard on cleaning these domes but got stuck up there, with his legs dangling over the audience. Little did he know that his future wife was a member of the audience. Luckily he was rescued and his comical mishap didn’t stop his wife from marrying him! The dedication of the cleaning team at the Oak must have continued through the decades because it was voted the second cleanest cinema in the country in 1951!
In 1979, the cinema showed the slap-stick time travel adventure of ‘The Spaceman and King Arthur’ and Disney’s classic ‘Dumbo’ before it closed its doors forever with countless memories preserved behind them. The cinema was demolished in 1984 and replaced with Sainsbury’s, which then moved off the site to leave behind another empty building. Some students say they would welcome the return of cinema to Selly Oak for closeby date nights and outings with new friends.