The covert theater tucked away in a basement apartment in Edinburgh

Stephen Emm

A hidden cinema is housed in a basement apartment on a residential street in Edinburgh's New Town. The apartment's secret dates back almost 90 years.

Unaware of what was inside, people have been passing the Georgian townhouse at 23 Fettes Row for years.

Since the Waverley Cine Society was established in 1936 by a group of amateur film enthusiasts, it has been the location of a theater.

The club once had a waiting list for membership, and the Queen Mother frequented it following a significant renovation in the 1970s.

But since the 1980s, numbers have decreased due to changes in technology, and now the club is getting ready to welcome guests in an effort to grow its membership.

Stewart Emm, the organization's secretary, gave BBC Scotland a behind-the-scenes tour of what is now known as the Edinburgh Cine and Video Society.

Secret cinema in Fettes Row
how the cinema currently appears.

We enter the basement apartment through a corridor that passes a kitchen, a number of dim rooms, and former studio spaces before turning left.

Old wooden doors on the right lead into the 52-seat movie theater, which is covered in embossed wallpaper from the 1930s.

A large room with movie awards on the wall is on the left. The projector room is up some narrow steps through a small door on the opposite side.

The 76-year-old Mr. Emm claims, "We are quite a secret cinema because nobody knows we are here.

Shortly after the society was established in the 1930s, the New Town building underwent its initial conversion to a cinema.

The plan was to screen the club members' amateur cinema productions at regular meetings or during various summer outings.

It accumulated a collection of film footage over time, creating a priceless archive of social history in Edinburgh's daily life.

Sometimes, all of us would come together to create a travel, fiction, or club comedy, according to Mr. Emm.

Members had the opportunity to show their finished films and learn editing techniques in the club.

23 Fettes Row in Edinburgh
The sub-basement beneath 23 Fettes Row, which was accessed through the white door, as well as the ground floor, were sold.

The club's first location for the society consisted of three floors, with a sub-basement being rented out to cover the mortgage.

The club's filmmaking activities were impeded by the start of World War Two, but female members kept the society going by planning fundraising events to assist with the mortgage payments.

After the war, it experienced a revival. Regular meetings were held on Friday nights in newly renovated club rooms, and film-making groups met on the weekends.

The old bus seats that had been used in the theater since the 1950s were replaced with stock from a nearby theater that was closing.

A 78-seat auditorium with a separate projection box was thus created.

The club, according to Mr. Emm, "flourished" in the 20 years following the war, growing to 150 members, with a waiting list.

In 1959, the mortgage was fully repaid. Though three of the original five investors were located, they chose not to accept repayment.

When the then-150-year-old structure was made a listed building in the early 1970s, extensive renovation work was done.

Queen Mother
In the 1970s, the late Queen Mother unveiled a plaque at the society.

The Queen Mother, who served as the conservation committee's patron, unveiled a plaque on the members-only cinema after those renovations and took a tour of the club rooms.

According to Mr. Emm, "like many earlier incidents in the society's history, this was documented on film.".

Due to a decline in membership and the need to raise money for the club's share of the building's renovations, the club decided to sell off the ground floor and sub-basement, keeping only the basement between the two floors, where it built a smaller 52-seat theater.

The members completed all of the joinery and painting work necessary to move the theater to the basement.

The society was left with just the basement after selling the floors to pay for roof repairs. Previously, the theater was located in a space above the cellar.

Videotape then appeared in the 1980s, posing a threat to cine film.

Many of the members expressed their strong dislike and rejection of this new format.

They divided into two groups, with Thursday nights turning into video nights and Friday nights being reserved for the main club events with cine films.

Stewart Emm
Mr. Emm claimed that the society now required fresh, younger members.

With only 14 members left—two of whom are in their 90s—the society will open its doors the following week in an effort to draw in more people.

The current members don't like to be called old, but they are now too old to keep it going, according to Mr. Emm.

"I believe that we now require some younger members.

"We have the technology and the knowledge, but the creative component is currently lacking.

"We require actors for our films and a drama group that can write scripts.

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