The first military cinemas were set up during the Second World War, to help raise the morale of British troops based in garrisons and in the field.
In more than 70 years, forces cinemas have entertained the military in peacetime and during deployments, from Borneo to Berlin, and Palestine to Salisbury Plain.
Today BFBS Cinemas continue the tradition, with a circuit of 12 static cinemas worldwide, a mobile ‘Movie Machine’, and the portable Cinelink system.
Actor and director Basil Dean plans to introduce live entertainment for the British Forces during WW2. ENSA (Entertainments National Service Association) planned to take cinemas to garrison towns and ‘mobile’ cinemas to troops in more remote locations.
The first showings of 16mm programmes in canvas tent ‘cinemas’ on Salisbury Plain. The service spread all over Britain, Northern Ireland, France and North Africa.
Military cinemas were controlled by ENSA, but as more bases were set up, the AKC (Army Kinema Corporation) and the RAFCC (RAF Cinema Corporation) – which had both been part of ENSA – began operating the cinemas.
In the aftermath of WW2
While the British Army were in Palestine, the AKC purchased 40 of ENSA’s cinemas. Films were transported in armoured cars to reach small pockets of troops.
In the Hook of Holland, the AKC operated the only cinema in the world that timed its films to meet the trains transporting troops – they were coming from Trieste and Vienna.
The AKC opened cinemas in Herford, Fallingbostel and Hohne, adapting previous German-built cinemas, gymnasiums and Nissen huts.
In Malaya, during the Communist Uprising, the AKC operated 29 mobile cinemas.
Chalfont Grove, a country house set in parkland in Buckinghamshire, was purchased by the AKC.
The AKC was administered by the War Office in London. Its HQ in Germany was in Minden, one of the BAOR (British Army of The Rhine) bases.
There were more than 100 static cinemas overseas – 58 on Army bases and 48 on RAF bases.
In Borneo forces cinemas had now become ‘air-mobile’ as helicopters were used to serve troops in eight forward locations during the ‘Confrontation’.
AKC and RAFCC cinemas in the UK and overseas started operating under one charitable organisation, the SKC (Services Kinema Corporation). The RNFC (Royal Naval Film Corporation) – which had been introduced by Lord Louis Mountbatten in 1939 – also had shore establishments administered by the SKC in the UK, Malta and Gibraltar.
Chalfont Grove became the registered head office of the SKC. The HQ of SSVC Forces Cinemas is still based there today.
SKC became SSVC Forces Cinemas as part of an amalgamation of services into SSVC (Services Sound and Vision Corporation). It included BFBS (British Forces Broadcasting Service) which still operates under the same name, providing radio and TV for service personnel and their families in the UK and overseas.
The mobile ‘Movie Machine’ was introduced. It’s an HGV containing an 80-seater cinema, which is also used for presentations and briefings.
SSVC Forces Cinemas introduced 3D digital projection and Dolby digital sound across its global network of cinemas.
The Ratz in Hohne, The Globe in Herford, The Jerboa, Fallingbostel, The Royal Theatre, Gutersloh, The Flix Cinema in Hameln, The Globe Cinema, Munster, and The Globe Cinema, JHQ, all closed due to rebasing of troops from Germany to the UK.
Portable Cinelink introduced by SSVC Forces Cinemas to provide entertainment for entitled civilians and troops on operations or small groups of personnel based in ‘remote’ areas, e.g. Kenya, Saudi Arabia, Ascension.
The Movie Machine partners with Sky Cinema to deliver screenings to their staff, VIPs and competition winners. The partnership also enables Forces Cinemas to provide morale boosting visits screening the latest films, free of charge, for service personnel and their families at military units across the UK.
SSVC, the previous name for the charity became BFBS. The rebrand introduced a new simplified brand hierarchy where all services to entertain, inform, connect and champion the armed services, their families and veterans are now known as BFBS.
We are keen to expand our archives about BFBS Cinemas, and welcome any recollections and photographs from former employees or customers. Please get in touch via Contact Us.