IAN SUTHERLAND and RUDOLPH KENNA offer an affectionate tribute to

Glasgow's famous art cinema which opened its doors 50 years ago and

still flourishes in its new guise as Glasgow Film Theatre.

SCOTLAND'S first moving pictures were shown in a tent at Glasgow's

Vinegar Hill fairground in December, 1895. The Green family --

proprietors of that particular ''geggie'' -- really didn't know what

they were about to do to popular culture north of the Border. In a few

years Scotland was movie mad. In 1898 the aged Queen Victoria summoned a

Royal Command performance of the flickering phenomenon at Balmoral.

The ''flicks'' didn't remain under canvas or a drawing-room novelty

for long. As crowds increasingly rolled up, the first recorded cinema

show in an actual hall took place in Edinburgh in April, 1896. By 1900

Glasgow boasted what appears to have been Scotland's first purpose-built

cinema -- Pringle's Picture Palace at Glasgow Cross, last seen in

service as a carpet warehouse.

If Scottish cinema was ''born with the century,'' so also were two of

the most remarkable men in its story. If some people are brought into

the world with silver spoons in their mouths or the sea in their blood,

Charles Oakley and George Singleton could be said to have been swaddled

in celluloid and cradled in pay-boxes.

George Singleton was born on New Year's Day, 1900. He describes his

family as ''left-inclined, working class, easy-going, and

non-religious.'' Female Singletons are reputed to have hidden two

suffragettes, ''on the run'' after setting fire to Ayr racecourse.

Members of the family accompanied a rising star called Harry Lauder on

Saturday night ''busts.'' George's father, Richard Singleton, ran a

printing business, producing publicity material for concerts and variety


An accomplished pianist, he also provided accompaniments for Saturday

night picture shows in Clydebank Town Hall. By 1910 Richard had taken a

lease on the former Masonic Hall in the mining community of Burnbank and

turned it into a makeshift cinema. His love of music led him to equip

his cinema with a piano of ''superior'' quality, and he was

understandably piqued when patrons failed to detect the difference.

Young George Singleton helped his father to run the rudimentary

picture shows and was deeply impressed by the impact which those early

flickering images made on the miners and their families. He never forgot

that the cinema was capable of widening people's horizons as well as

providing escapist entertainment. ''I was always uplifted by this -- I

knew a good film when I saw it, and I knew a real film when I saw it.''

In the early 1920s, after giving up a printing apprenticeship (''We

started work at 8am and I was the only person there; everybody thought I

was a spy for the boss''), he became part-owner of the Paragon, a

redundant Gorbals church.

When he sold it to J. Arthur Rank in the 1930s, it still had its

original pews. In his heyday as a cinema operator, George Singleton had

''more Empires than Napoleon,'' and the Singleton circuit was a by-word

for comfort and quality.

George Singleton's commitment was ethical as well as financial. He

still believes that ''films should help to improve things in the

world.'' This weekend, as the Glasgow Film Theatre celebrates the

fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Cosmo -- and toasts its own

fifteenth year of operation -- film aficionados will also be remembering

the Singleton philosophy, which made the Cosmo unique outside London

from 1939 until 1973.

Charles Oakley -- only one year younger than George Singleton -- is an

adopted Glaswegian who became the city chronicler par excellence. The

Second City, first published in 1946, is going into yet another edition

as the Cosmo/GFT moves forward into a new era, adding a second

auditorium, and keeping Oakley's beloved Glasgow in the forefront of

Scottish cinema development.

Before the First World War Charles Oakley helped his uncle -- a

founder of the Brighton Pioneers film company -- sell films to cinema

managers on the South Coast. His school pals were suitably jealous. When

Oakley arrived on Clydeside at the age of 16 to take up an

apprenticeship in John Brown's shipyard, Glasgow's fiftieth picture

house had just been opened. At 88, his proudest possession is a free

pass to every cinema in the UK, received in recognition of his role as

one of the founders of the British Film Institute.

The young Oakley plunged into Scotland's creative life. He still

writes for Glasgow Chamber of Commerce Journal. He penned a Sunday

newspaper column for six years, and cartooned for the long-vanished

Bulletin. After 1939, as Controller of Aircraft Production for Scotland

and Northern Ireland, he was responsible for the work of 100,000 people.

Cinema remained his first love. Documentary pioneer John Grierson was

his contemporary at Glasgow University. Charles Oakley's pen created

''Mr Cosmo,'' the engaging homunculus who remained the cinema's house

figure until 1973. He acted as the Cosmo's film consultant for 30 years,

and still makes his way to the GFT several times a week.

While George Singleton touted ''Caramels! Toffee! Chocolate!'' in his

father's cinema, and Charles Oakley helped his uncle to sell reels of

film, the cinema habit was sweeping Scotland like wildfire. A film

school flourished in 1920s Glasgow. Early movies were turned out by the

long-forgotten Ace Producing Company of Thornliebank. Panache was the

order of the day. Showman A. E. Pickard erected a model of the Forth

Bridge above one of his picture houses. And serious interest in film

blossomed on Clydeside as in few other places.

Charles Oakley regards the novelist John Buchan -- who also wrote film

scripts -- as the real moving force behind the creation of the British

Film Institute. John Grierson all but invented the modern documentary

film. Glasgow Film Society -- certainly one of the largest and most

enthusiastic groups in the UK -- appeared in 1929, establishing its

International Amateur Film Festival in 1932. In 1934 the city became the

home of the Scottish Film Council.

Scotland had an Educational Film Association by 1935. By 1939 there

were more than 400 projectors in schools. Under SEFA auspices, the

Scottish Central Film Library opened in Glasgow's India Street in 1938.

By 1942 it distributed 5000 reels every month; 39,000 went out in 1945.

On the eve of the Second World War Glasgow was indeed ''Cinema City,''

boasting 104 screens -- more per head of population than any other

Scottish city.

Puritanical forces were disturbed by cinema's growing influence. In

the 1920s the Labour Party protested against cinema construction while

houses were needed. More than 50 years later members who mocked their

party's ban on The Life of Brian were threatened with expulsion.

Clergymen were equally alarmed as the punters increasingly took

communion in the ''super cinemas'' of the 1930s -- not for nothing

called ''cathedrals of the movies.'' C. Day Lewis paid tribute to their

popular appeal: ''Enter the dreamhouse, brothers and sisters, leaving

your debts asleep, your history at the door: This is the home for

heroes, and this loving darkness a fur you can afford.''

''Supers'' were unashamedly populist. Their ''twice-nightly''

programmes, with glamorous art deco or moderne mise en scene, coloured

halogen lighting, and recitals on mighty Compton or Wurlitzer organs

were the poor person's Gesamtkunstwerk. Their sheer size meant that they

could scarcely be anything other than mass entertainment venues. But by

the late 1930s discriminating film-goers clamoured for more substantial

fare. The road to Rose Street beckoned.

One of the Glasgow Film Society's most influential members was

chartered accountant James Gordon -- a regular patron of London's

specialised Academy and Curzon cinemas. With Charles Oakley's help,

Gordon planned to turn Cranston's Picture Palace, where the film society

met, into a Glasgow equivalent of his favourite London art houses. He

died of a heart attack before his dream could be realised.

Like James Gordon, George Singleton and his brother Vincent enjoyed

the Continental films on offer in London's specialised film houses.

Charles Oakley had already worked at Elstree -- and made a singular mark

in cinema history. None other than Afred Hitchcock turned up at

Glasgow's 1938 Empire Exhibition. Oakley was in the press club with The

Master, when the movie mogul ''looked strangely'' at him -- and made a

quick note on a scrap of paper. Which is why the murderer in Hitchcock's

1943 Shadow of a Doubt is a Mr Charles Oakley.

The Singleton brothers wondered why high-quality Continental movies

weren't available to Scots -- and they believed a specialised cinema

could be successful north of the Border. George Singleton sought out

Charles Oakley. ''Do you want me to build your cinema for you?'' ''Mr

Cosmo'' was about to take his first steps.

Hearts didn't entirely rule heads. George Singleton insists that his

decision was essentially a commercial one. He was convinced that he

could exhibit the best of British, American, and Continental films --

and still make a profit. Architects James McKissack and W. J. Anderson

designed a cinema with just 825 seats, for a sloping site at the corner

of Renfrew Street and Rose Street.

The influence of the Dutch architect Marinus Dudok, whose Hilversum

Town Hall was one of the inter-war period's most admired buildings, was

apparent in the new cinema's geometric brickwork. Charles Oakley even

combed Paris newspapers, looking for a suitable name. Then, by chance,

he noticed a Cambridge cinema called the Cosmopolitan. A little

re-arranging, and Glasgow's first-ever art house was born.

Other Scottish film exhibitors thought George Singleton must be mad.

No-one could hope to show foreign films in Glasgow -- and live to face

his creditors. They couldn't have been more wrong.

The times were scarcely propitious for innovative artistic or

commercial departures. Only cock-eyed optimists -- and Mr Neville

Chamberlain -- believed that war could be avoided. Glasgow announced

plans to recruit 2000 emergency police officers. While the first ARP

college opened for business, Glasgow Corporation discussed evacuation

plans. IRA men appeared in court, steel shelters were installed in

Greenock -- and darts were banned in Glasgow pubs.

A few days after ''Mr Cosmo'' welcomed his first customers, cinema

proprietor George Green arrived back from Hollywood -- where there

existed ''deep anti-Nazi feeling.'' As General Franco's victorious

legions paraded in Madrid, Lord Provost Patrick Dollan toured Clydeside

cinemas appealing for ARP volunteers.

The Glasgow Herald welcomed the new cinema's advent in its editorial

columns. It would be ''a real intellectual centre.'' The paper warned of

the need to entertain as well as instruct -- adding that documentaries

needed to be accompanied by Chaplin and Hitchcock.

The Cosmo's first offering was Julien Duvivier's Un Carnet de Bal.

George Singleton's critics were confounded. The film ran for weeks. Of

his early films, ''Mr Cosmo'' wrote: ''They must be of first-rate

quality.'' His 1939 leaflets insisted that cinemas should be ''more than

a tuppenny library.''

War overshadowed the screen. While other Glasgow cinemas showed the

deeply forgettable Arrest Bulldog Drummond (probable charges:

over-acting, near-racism, and stereotyped story line), the Cosmo's

programmes reflected the times. Alert en Mediterranee showed ominous

posturings by British, French and German fleets. Jean Renoir's La Grande

Illusion -- one of the first portrayals of male homosexuality on film --

underlined the absurdity of war.

''Mr Cosmo'' assured his patrons that ''no knowledge of foreign

languages is necessary for the complete enjoyment of superb films.'' The

customer was king -- and market research the order of the day. ''Do you

dislike American commentaries?'' ''Would you like a further series of

French war newsreels to be booked?'' ''Do you like Mr Cosmo's Music For

Your Pleasure interludes?''

When war was declared on September 3, 1939, the Cosmo closed, along

with all the other Glasgow cinemas -- part of a panic measure which saw

poisonous snakes in zoos put down. People really believed Edinburgh's

city architect, who warned that aerial bombardment would reduce

humankind to ''a primeval and troglodyte existence.'' By September 15,

when the emergency restrictions were relaxed and picture houses

re-opened, 5000 people had been laid off -- a potent symbol of just how

important cinema had become. No queues were to be permitted. This inane

bureaucratic stricture scarcely survived the first rush for the stalls.

On his first anniversary ''Mr Cosmo'' looked forward to continuing his

policy of providing foreign -- especially French -- films. Within weeks

France fell and Britain stood alone. Yet, even in those dark hours,

Messrs Singleton and Oakley contrived to feature at least one

foreign-language film in every monthly programme. The bill was certainly

varied. In June, 1942, patrons could choose from A Musical Story (USSR),

Love on the Dole (UK), Le Roi S'Amuse (France), The Scoundrel (USA), and

The Scarlet Pimpernel (UK). Some people appeared not to have noticed

there was a war on -- demanding to know why the Cosmo wasn't running new

French movies.

In February, 1946, ''Mr Cosmo'' presented Nous les Cosses, Britain's

first showing of a French film made under Occupation. Cosmo audiences

also saw wartime German features, including -- in breathtaking Agfacolor

-- Baron Munchhausen.

The Cosmo's tenth anniversary was celebrated with a festival of

international films, including Monsieur Verdoux, Henry V, Alexander

Nevsky, The Blue Angel -- and, appropriately, Un Carnet de Bal. Hamlet

ran for 11 weeks.

In the 1950s, despite TV, Scots still went to the cinema an average 36

times a year. Glaswegians went once a week. By the 1960s, the Cosmo was

an institution -- its visitors' book contained names like David Niven,

Henry Hall, Dame Sybil Thorndyke, and Will Fyffe. It always maintained

its community links. In 1962 a special film sequence marked the passing

of Glasgow's trams. A Cosmo Club -- offering films ''unblessed by the

Censor's certificate'' -- opened in 1960.

And the word had spread. The Cosmo 2 opened in Aberdeen in 1964 --

replacing the innovative Curzon (formerly the Granite City's news

cinema). The Curzon was somewhat under-used -- occasionally only one

person constituted the audience for a Continental film. Sadly, ''Mr

Cosmo's'' only offspring closed in 1977.

By the late 1960s times were getting harder for cinema proprietors.

George Singleton can still manage a wry smile when he recounts how he

was offered ''a licence to print money'' with STV pioneer Roy Thomson --

but turned down the opportunity, convinced the new medium could never

succeed. In the end, he gladly sold the Cosmo to the Scottish Film

Council. There were other offers, from inquirers who clearly didn't know

George Singleton. A man convinced that cinema had a moral purpose in the

real sense of the term wasn't going to sell out to soft pornographers.

That said, he does confess that ''earthy French films'' helped to keep

''Mr Cosmo's'' audiences queuing for many a year.

''Mr Cosmo'' took his last bow on April 21, 1973. Champagne flowed

after a showing of Fantasia -- a long-time Rose Street favourite. ''Mr

Cosmo's'' alter ego Charles Oakley made his exit in style. ''Mr Cosmo''

''will watch with pride and affection this new development of the old

tradition.'' Rose Street's famous cinema re-opened as the Glasgow Film

Theatre on May 1, 1974.

One film buff bridged both eras. Manager Charlie Watt -- ''a juvenile

convert to the silver screen'' -- worked at Rose Street from 1968 to

1988. He reckons that ''sheer enthusiasm'' has reigned supreme

throughout inevitable changes in emphasis. His commitment remains

wholehearted -- even in his retirement role as foster parent to Tigger,

the cinema's resident cat for the last 15 years. Tigger worked strictly

behind the scenes in a pest control capacity -- only once making a bid

for stardom. When the curtains opened one evening Tigger sat centre

stage, revelling in rapturous applause.

Patrons could occasionally be as surreal as some of the movies. One

lady wanted to raise a complaint with the projectionist. She felt that

the sub-titles ought to stay on the screen a little longer. That odd

customer was only equalled by the ''rather dominant'' woman who claimed

the auditorium was cold. She appealed to her meek companion for

corroboration. ''Yes,'' her friend replied, ''it was freezing --

especially during the snow scenes.''

''Sheer enthusiasm'' continues unabated. GFT director Ken Ingles got

the cinema bug via Edinburgh University Film Society. GFT development

officer Liana Marletta made her screen debut as a prostitute in Bernard

Tavernier's Death Watch -- shot in Glasgow, its production offices

located at the GFT. If further opportunities beckon, she only hopes she

doesn't get typecast.

The new team's target is a second screen at the GFT by May, 1990. Says

Ken Ingles: ''One screen isn't enough. Much modern work is geared to

smaller audiences and needs a smaller, more intimate auditorium.'' ''Mr

Cosmo's'' successors are keeping the faith -- and thinking big. Liana

Marletta hopes that massive participation by the GFT in Glasgow's City

of Culture Year celebrations will lay the foundations for a future

Clydeside film festival.

Entirely appropriately, history will play no small part in the GFT's

contribution to 1990 celebrations. All being ready in time, Ken Ingles

envisages a ''gala of silent cinema'' at Glasgow's new international

Concert Hall. In summer, 1990, a season of ''Media Images of Glasgow''

will be shown. A ''Music and Vision'' presentation will explore the

links between film and musical forms. Ken Ingles promises one

performance no film buff can afford to miss -- Eisenstein's Battleship

Potemkin, complete with live piano accompaniment.

If Glasgow remains ''Cinema City,'' it's also Elvis territory. In July

the GFT plans an ''Elvis Event.'' Given recent assurances that ''the

Pelvis'' is still alive out there, the management assure patrons that a

couple of tickets will be left at the box office should ''the King'' be

lonesome that night.

A second screen -- and provision of a bar/restaurant -- doesn't come

cheap. Rose Street's wheel has come full circle. Again an independent

company, the GFT is looking for commercial support for its new venture.

Prospective donors should note that Ken Ingles and Liana Marletta are no

more mad than George Singleton was in 1939. #50,000 is needed -- and

already unions, hotels, restaurants and (inevitably) actors, have

sponsored GFT seats at #350 a time.

Sir Richard Attenborough has endowed a Steve Biko seat. Another source

has ensured that Nelson Mandela's name will always be remembered in Rose

Street. ''Mr Cosmo's'' internationalism and democratic impulses are in

good hands.

''Mr Cosmo'' hasn't shuffled off to the old folk's home. He's

middle-aged and looking forward to his next 50 years. Cats and all, it's

bowlers raised to George Singleton and Charles Oakley -- two stars who

gave their city an enduring dreamhouse it can afford.