Eric Leaver hears another story from Blackburn's golden age of cinema

RIALTO reminiscences keep rolling in - proof of the fond spot the old Blackburn super-cinema still has in the hearts of picturegoers even though it's been gone 25 years.

Looking Back's recent recollection of how the cinema's luxury impressed audiences when it opened in 1931 brought from Rishton reader Peter Knowles a copy of the special booklet issued for that event, listing down to the last detail all the appointments and facilities that the 2,000-seat picture palace boasted - from the 6ft-high neon sign that shone its name across Penny Street to its first-floor caf capable of catering for 150 customers.

"No stone has been left unturned to secure the comfort and entertainment of the patrons," it said.

From the booklet comes this picture of the giant auditorium, with its 42ft-wide and 28ft-high proscenium which, said the forward-looking owners, would "admit of the wide screen being employed should this development take place."

Also featured is the ornate ceiling which housed powerful fans that gave the auditorium a complete change of air every 10 minutes while the decorative organ grilles either side of the screen contributed to the effect that the book described as "at once Eastern and entrancing."

Mr Knowles, of Chapel Street, Rishton, was given the souvenir booklet by his grandmother, but wonders if readers can tell him more about it.

"I would like to know more as, being brought up in Blackburn, I am very interested in its history," he says.

Two really special souvenirs of pre-war picturegoing at the Rialto are owned by Mr William Miller, of Oswaldtwistle - in the form of two books autographed by British film star Anna Neagle. Later Dame Anna Neagle, the blonde screen beauty played Queen Victoria in two films - "Victoria the Great" and "Sixty Glorious Years" - which the Rialto had recently shown when, in March, 1939, it ran a competition for schoolchildren for the best essay on either of the films, with a ten-shilling book tokens as prizes for the winning boy and girl.

"After reading my entry, I decided it was no good and it was thrown away," says Mr Miller, of Coopers Close, Peel Street, Oswaldtwistle. "So imagine my surprise when I received a letter informing me I was the winner of the boy's prize."

Surprise, indeed - for, unknown to him, his mother had retrieved his discarded essay and sent it in. A further surprise was that, on meeting the Rialto's manager, young William was told that on a recent visit Anna Neagle had promised to autograph the book prizes, which she did.

"The books I chose were two by Romany of the BBC. Needless to say, these prizes with the autograph of the leading lady are truly my prize possessions," Mr Miller adds. "Sadly, Dame Anna Neagle is no longer with us."

"The two books, along with the letter from the Rialto, are a wonderful memory of my favourite cinema."

Converted for the new archive on 14 July 2000. Some images and formatting may have been lost in the conversion.