Royal Princess

Royal Princess

Royal Princess
Mitchell Street, Bendigo

Also known as: Princess’ Theatre
Films shown from 1900

The Royal Princess was probably Bendigo’s first permanent picture house. Before films started to be shown at the Princess’ Theatre (built in 1874) it was more commonly known as a venue for live performance. However it was not long before the Princess’ Theatre started to introduce ‘animated pictures’, as film was often called in its early days, into the theatre programme.

One such programme hit the Bendigo Advertiser headlines in 1900. Under the heading of ‘War by Biograph’, the reporter was immensely impressed by capability of the ‘biograph’ to record ‘magnificent scenes’ and ‘stirring pictures’ that would leave nothing to the imagination about the desperation of war. The Advertiser ended by congratulating the Princess’ Theatre management on the success of the biograph.

By 1910 the Royal Princess was regularly showing films. As cinema technology progressed the Royal Princess kept up too. Sound equipment was installed and the first ‘talkie’ was screened on Easter Sunday, 1930, it was The Desert Song (1929, dir. Roy Del Ruth with John Boles and Myrna Loy). The film was advertised as a ‘Warner Brothers Vitaphone Singing Picture’. The Vitaphone was an early development in sound film that used separate phonographic records that would be synched to play with the projected film.

In 1936 the Royal Princess was redesigned following the popular art-deco style that was common for cinemas of the time. It had seating for approximately 1800 people. By the end of the 1930s the Royal Princess, determined to keep up with the cinemas of Melbourne and Sydney, introduced a regular programme of ‘continental films’, which were accompanied by English subtitles.

Was the Royal Princess a victim of television, like so many cinemas? Perhaps so, given that Bendigo got its own local TV station in 1961. The cinema closed in May 1963 a month after the ABC TV station opened, and the final film that was screen at the Royal Princess was The Guns of Navarone (1961, dir. J Lee Thompson, starring Gregory Peck, David Niven and Anthony Quinn).

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Archive images thanks to Harold Paynting Collection, State Library of Victoria.
Photographer: Commercial Photographic Co. 1936 ca.

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14 Responses to Royal Princess

  1. My uncle Jim Hoar owned the cinema in and around 1952 onwards.

    He also had his own program on 3BO

    One show I can remember as a child was Disney on Ice, it was the first time us kids had to sit on the stairs – it was a full house.

    As a kid you have of course memories, and as a child you get to interpret from hearsay. It would as though make sense, but not sure of what it meant.

    It was that my aunty Eve ran off with the local Priest.

    Loved Jim Bannard-Hoar he was always a great character.

    He always had a plan or project – ended up selling Bibles and Encyclopaedias around Philippines and Asia.

  2. As a child living in the late forties in the Bendigo suburb of Ironbark, I travelled by tram down the View Street hill to attend Saturday morning films as a card-carrying member of the “Juniors of the RPT”. You were allocated your own seat! There were cartoons, the latest episode of “Batman and Robin” (black and white one-reelers with podgy actors in 1930’s cars screaming around corners) and G-rated fare such as “Lassie Come Home” etc, and westerns with Tom Mix, Hopalong Cassidy and Gene Autry. The Princess, as we knew it, was like an art-deco cavern at the time with a huge chandelier over the stalls and dress circle. . I also remember it being packed out for a visit of the Horrie Dargie Quintet, and a special “Top Town” concert- both in the fifties. And I think it was 1955 or 1956 I saw “Blackboard Jungle” there as well, but that’s another story.

  3. I lived in Bendigo from June 1950 to early 1957 and the Royal Princess (or just ‘Princess’ as we knew it) was one of three cinemas in the town (not that the word ‘cinema’ was used much in those days: one went to ‘the flicks’ or ‘the pictures’. The other two cinemas were the Lyric, which is the site where Bendigo Bank HQ now stands, and the Plaza in Hargreaves Street.

    Entry price for kids at all cinemas was one shilling and threepence (1/3 in the old terminology) or 12 cents in decimals; presumably half-price as compared with adults

    As well as movies, the Princess put on stage shows and I recall seeing ‘The Tintookies’ there in about 1955.

  4. Fond memory of going to thr Princess theatre to see The guns of Navarone staring Gregory Peck. There was even a colour booklet. Great stuff when you were only 10 or 11.

  5. My husband Kevin Carney played at the Princess either 1959 or 1960.
    Coburg Teachers College in conjunction with Melbourne Uni put on two Gilbert and Sullivan plays. Pirates of Penzance and Trial by Jury.
    Kev was both a Pirate and policeman in the Pirates of Penzance and he played the Judge in Trial by Jury. They did several shows at the Princess.
    Kev having been very struck by the revolving stage. When we came back to Bendigo some years later he was horrified to find the Amaco service Station there!!! When I investigated why it was pulled down. Was advised that the theatre belonged to an elderly woman who lived in England. Had not paid rates for many years so Council made decision to demolish.!!!!

  6. My parents both worked there in the early fifties. Dad a projectionist and mum as an usherette and on the candy counter. Both had left prior jobs for the higher wages offered here. They had both left before the sad day it was demolished in1963.

  7. My great great grandfather, Thomas Atkinson, supervised the building of the stage at the Royal Princess.
    Tom lived in Ballarat and he built many stages in Melbourne, Ballarat and many of the gold field towns in Victoria.

  8. My father was a projectionist at the Princess in the 30s,40’s and early 50’s My mother was an usherette there,and they married in the Sacred Heart cathedral in 1939.after WW11,they separated Mum moved to Melbourne,he followed her and worked at the Sun Theatr Yarraville,until he died in 1953.

  9. I have the original mirror from the princess theatre which stands3metres tall with ornate carvings of fish and birds surrounding the mirror. Its magnificent and can send photos if interested.

    • in my comment i forgot to leave a contact for those wishing to see a picture of my mirror from the Princess theartre . brian judd 0439667144

  10. Hello

    This is a beautiful facade, and fortunately, it is still there on the corner of Mitchell Street and Bath Lane in Bendigo.

    However, please check the reference to its having been built in 1874. Princess Theatre that was built in 1874, stood on the corner of View and MacKenzie Street. Below I have provided the website for a photo of the Princess Theatre by Vincent Kelly, Punch Magazine 11th May 1905.

    The Princess Theatre on View Street was backed by one of the original owners of Bendigo’s Shamrock Hotel, reference https://hotelshamrock.com.au/assets/files/History+of+an+Icon.pdf.

    The Bendigo Youth Choir’s current conductor recalls that: “The stage was big enough for six horses and a carriage.”

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