Bioscope Presenters: Pat Collins

Pat Collins, like his contemporary George Green, was a lessee, roundabout proprietor, and bioscope exhibitor, and also went on to build up a chain of over thirteen cinemas. He was born on May 12th 1859 and until his death in 1943 he was the most successful showman of his generation both on and away from the fairground. However, although Pat Collins went on to travel at least five bioscope shows and open thirteen cinemas, his involvement in the cinematograph business appears to that of a investor and proprietor. Unlike his contemporaries, for example, Richard Monte and Richard Dooner, he never joined the Cinema Veteran's Association.

Pat Collins first presented moving pictures in 1899/1900 when he took over the ex-Wall and Hammersley's ghost show. According to Ned Williams, in his detailed biography of the King of Showmen, this show was first included in the advertisement for the Bloxwich Wake Fair in 1900. His second show was a two-wagon fronted show, built by Savages, and may have been the one Savages made in 1898 for the King's Lynn Novelty Company, a group of investors from Norfolk, and which appeared at the 1898 fair in Hull. This show with its 87 key Gavioli, and electric light engine was sold to Pat Collins in c1901-02. The exhibition booth had been designed to travel on rail and formed part of the Collins Amusements attraction until 1905 when it was acquired by Sagar and Scott of Otley. The third show that the firm presented was reputedly an organ-fronted show with illumination provided by over fifteen hundred lights. However, no photographs of it survive to prove the authenticity of Father Greville's account in the Merry-go-Round magazine.

By 1907 it appears that Pat Collins had decided that the cinematograph shows on the fairground were apparently lucrative enough to invest in what would become known as the Wonderland Shows. Both Wonderland No 1 and the No 2 show were built by Orton and Spooners of Burton upon Trent and were part of the great organ-fronted parading shows that would dominate the fairground landscape until 1914. The first Wonderland was a show constructed around a 104 key Marenghi organ, with an art nouveau proscenium, and made its debut on the second Saturday of Wrexham Fair in April 1907. With the introduction of the Gaumont Chronophone in 1906 sound was added to the films on show in the bioscopes and both of the later exhibitions utilised this latest innovation. The No 1 show continued to travel until the First World War, when it was put in store.

By the end of 1907 a second Orton and Spooner great show had been delivered to Pat Collins, the No 2 Wonderland with its mammoth 112 key Marenghi organ. The second Wonderland show made its debut at Olympia over Christmas and New Year 1907-08, and until 1914 it dominated the skyline of Nottingham Goose Fair. The distinctive decorative work of the No 2 exhibition included a figure of Boudicea in a chariot with horses surmounting the organ facade and four enormous Corinthian columns which supported a carved top above the platform. The show was essentially a cinematograph, but from 1910 a circus act formed part of the attractions.

With the demise of the moving image on the fairground and the transition to permanent cinema, Pat Collins ceased travelling both shows by 1914 and then expanded into the cinema business. By the mid 1920s, Pat Collins claimed to own fourteen cinema or assorted variety establishments; these included three cinemas in the Black Country, of which the Grosvenor in Bloxwich is the only one still remaining, the purpose built Cinema De Luxe in Chester, the Waldorf Skating Ring in Birmingham, and many others throughout the Midlands.

Other aspects of Pat Collins' illustrious career included being the longest serving President of the Showmen's Guild and councillor, Mayor and Member of Parliament for his adopted home town of Walsall in 1922. He was known as the King of Showmen by his contemporaries and the news of this death in 1943 was reported in the World's Fair with the headline 'Showland loses its G.O.M', with the whole of the front page dominated by tributes and reports.