Bioscope Presenters: Charles Thurston

The first mention of the Thurston bioscope shows is at Oxford St Giles Fair where it traded under the name of Barker and Thurstons Electric Veniscope. However, by the time of the 1904 fair the show was advertised under the name of Thurstons.

Charles was the eldest son of Henry Thurston, a brickmaker, who found success on the fairground. His first venture, independent of his father, was his Royal Show, a two-waggon fronted bioscope which he travelled with his wife Charlotte. Between 1902 to 1907 the show was extensively adapted and refitted to keep ahead with the latest fashions. Finally a long-case 89-key Marenghi organ was added, and with this larger instrument the show was extended, with a larger central arch, and a canopy over the organ and engine. Around 1911, this organ was then built into a new parading fronted show, possibly using the original booth.

However, despite the alterations made by Charles Thurston to his show, the appearance of his arch rival William Taylor at Cambridge Midsummer Fair with the latest Orton and Spooner show, resulted in the ordering of new equipment. With the purchase of the cinematograph which became known as the 'Great Show from Orton and Spooners' in 1908, Thurston had two Bioscopes on the road. However, the description of the Great Show at St Giles's Fair in 1907 refers to the No 1 show which by then had been extensively refitted. Thurston's first show is described as having shuttered walls, draped black cloth ceiling and walls adorned in gold braiding.

However, this first show never achieved the extravagance of Charles's second show. The design of the Great Show was similar to Pat Collins Wonderland exhibition as they were both built around a 120 key Marenghi organ. The exhibition was new in 1908 and its distinctive heavily gilded carved work, and countless coloured incandescent lights on the showfront, caused a sensation when it appeared at the 1908 Kettering Feast. Unlike William Taylor who was often seen on the front of his show, Charles Thurston's role was more distant and he employed a manager by the name of Jim Norman to oversee the performance and manage the variety acts. A World's Fair reporter writing in 1932 recalls Thurston's show with its latest novelty in the form of Colormatography appearing at the 1910 Kettering Feast. The films on display included the Pearl Fishers, and were reputedly all in colour.

In the years leading up to World War I, the show expanded and incorporated more variety acts which included Paulos and Mystic, an illusion act with Egyptian magicians. Like William Taylor and George Green, Charles Thurston had anticipated the decline in popularity of the fairground bioscope shows and had previously invested in static cinemas in 1911, when he opened the Electric Palace in Harwich. His cinema concerns were further consolidated in 1913, when he built the Empire Cinema in Biggleswade, a purpose built affair which seated six hundred people, and the Palace Cinema in Norwich. By the 1920s Charles sold his cinemas and concentrated solely on his travelling concerns. After this death in 1928, the firm was continued by his sons. However the cinemas he built in 1913 still continued to be used for the presentation of movies until the 1960s when finally they Empire Cinema in Biggleswade was converted into an electronics factory.