Electric Theatres

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Electric Theatres is can refer to a specific company, e.g. the British company Electric Theatres Ltd. (1908) or to a generic term deriving from the company name, referring to all cinemas offering a continuous show (sometimes called repertory cinemas in England, and known in South Africa as bio-café at one time).

Not to be confused with a number of other companies known by this name, e.g. The Electric Theatre [1], founded in an abandoned electricity works building in Guildford, Surrey, England, in 1997 or the Electric Theatre Company[2], a non-profit, regional, Equity theatre company located in Scranton, Pennsylvania.


The first American theater using a variation of this name and devoted solely to films was The Electric Theater in Los Angeles, which opened in 1902. Shortly after so-called "Nickelodeons"[3] developed, offering both movies and live acts.

In 1908 the Electric Theatres company was founded in London by Joseph Jay Bamberger, a New York City stockbroker who not only brought the name and concept of Electric Theatres with him, but had financed the building of nickelodeon theatres in the USA through the Electric Theatre Company. One of the early directors of the British company was variety theatre impresario, Frederick Mouillot (1864-1911).

Electric Theatres (1908) Ltd, in common with most of the London cinema circuits, did not restrict itself to the capital. By 1914, it managed three cinemas in Birmingham, and one each in Southend, Gloucester, Brighton, Norwich and Plymouth. It had established a subsidiary company, Provincial Electric Theatres, by the end of 1908.

Electric Theatres in South Africa

In 1909 the company expanded overseas by initiating the establishment of permanent cinemas in South Africa through Natal Electric Theatres Ltd., which opened the first Electric Theatre in South Africa in Durban on 29 July 1909. Frederick Mouillot went on to run the South African theatre chain and the company eventually had at least five bioscopes (or cinemas) in South Africa, including a Theatre de Luxe in Cape Town, and a dedicated cinema in Durban for "Coloured People Only" (primarily Indians).

Unfortunately badly advised short-term policies (such as the importing of films worn out through use on the English circuit), and possibly the death of Mouillot in 1911, led to the particular company’s demise by 1911.



Luke McKernan. 2006. "Unequal Pleasures: Electric Theatres (1908) Ltd. and the early film exhibition business in London" (Paper given at the Emergence of the Film Industry in Britain conference, University of Reading Business School, 29/30 June 2006)[4]

Gertrude Mouillot biography, The Palace Theatre Club website[5]


Thelma Gutsche, 1972. The History and Social Significance of Motion Pictures in South Africa 1895-1940. Cape Town: Howard Timmins: pp. 95-97.

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