Singleton Snr and The Burbank Picture House
When the Cosmo cinema opened in 1939, it was part of a chain of cinemas owned by the Singleton family. The circuit, which now included some of the newest and most prestigious venues in Scotland, had rather more humble origins. It all started in 1910, when Richard Vincent Singleton, a printer by trade but a talented cinema pianist in the evenings, decided to go into the trade for himself. He leased a Masonic hall in Burnbank, South Lanarkshire, and started advertising his show to the local miners. Along for the ride was his ten-year-old son George, who would grow up to become known as 'Mr Cosmo'. But back at the Premier Pictures in Burnbank, young George's role was to help his father carry home the films and the sacks of coppers, on foot all the way back to Glasgow through the dark winter nights after the trams had stopped. Hard work, but it bore fruit: By 1919, Singleton elder sold off his printing business, and the following year George was running his own theatre. By then, the Singletons already controlled several venues, including the Paragon in Calton, the Blantyre Electric Theatre, and the Airdrie Pavilion. An accounts book for one of these cinemas also survives, for the year running up to the start of the First World War. It shows how difficult it was to thrive in the cinema business, at the mercy of fickle audience preferences that could result in significant profits one week and losses the next. R.V. Singleton got it right, alongside making sure he selected the right films, and implementing an efficient way of splitting the cost of film hire between his venues, R.V. Singleton knew surefire ways to build a clientele: He engaged three musicians, printed thousands of half-price passes to slide under doors, and offered children's matinees on Saturdays, in which the young patrons would get ice cups and liquorice.
While George Singleton became the best known character of the family, his father continued to be a highly respected figure in the Glasgow cinema trade. So next time you enjoy a cinematic treat at GFT, remember Mr. Singleton and the Lanarkshire miners of a hundred years ago, who with their hard-earned tuppences built the foundations of this family business and shaped Scottish cinema history.
Read More: Andrew Young, ‘Family pictures’, in From Limelight to Satellite, ed. by Eddie Dick (London: Scottish Film Council and British Film Institute, 1990), pp. 83-90. Singleton Papers, Scottish Screen Archive 5/26