History of the Zonita

A short history of the original Zonita cinema, from the book "Early Closing On Tuesday", by Jeanette Waller, pp 110--112.

The Zonita cinema was built in 1937 with echoes of the Art Deco style in its architecture. There was a wishing well outside displaying still photographs from forthcoming programmes. The manager was Fred Valder. Apparently the films' sound could be heard outside by those queueing which must have spoilt the anticipation of waiting to see the film.

Eileen Potter was an usherette there in her teens, showing the patrons to their seats by torchlight on a rolling presentation. She particularly remembers Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon in a black and white film Mrs Miniver made in wartime. Gone With The Wind was also a popular film, well remembered. Apparently some sort of perfumed spray would be wafted around the auditorium, similar to the sprays for our homes nowadays but perhaps more necessary then.

They advertised as having Clean, Wholesome and Family Entertainment. Without television the cinema was a great entertainment besides bringing a wider world to a small market town. There were 138 seats at one shilling, 198 at one shilling and nine pence, and 220 at two shillings and six pence. The circle upstairs was posh and seats were three or four shillings. There were matinees for children at six pence or one shilling, this was when an average wage was three pounds ten shillings. Roy Rogers and his horse Silver were favourites on Saturday mornings.

In the late 50s Rose Bowler and her younger brother went every afternoon for a week at six pence each a time to see a serial about Tom Thumb. There were sales of ice cream, sweets and peanuts in the intervals between films when girls would stand at the front with trays hanging from their necks trying to cope with the rush of customers and giving the correct change. Much courting must have gone on there. Their telephone number was Ampthill 18.

For several years after the cinema closed in 1960, the building was used as offices for Roses Fashions. The building was an auction centre for furniture in 1984. It was later converted into shops on the ground floor, hence Rose Walk. There was an off-license where the cinema foyer would have been, and shops facing onto the car park included a fish and chip shop, a kitchen and bathroom shop, videos, pine furniture and shoes amongst others. Upstairs became the Snooker Hall. I was told that the billiards tables were left in place when it closed and must have been removed when the building was pulled down.