Remembering James ‘Saronie’ Roberts (1872 – 1967)

Saronie

The building which houses Prestatyn’s Scala Cinema has an even earlier history prior to Saronie converting it to the Scala Cinema in 1913. The article and photograph below are courtesy of local historian Mr Harry Thomas who kindly gave The Friends of the Scala permission to share these previously published Memory Lane articles.

A picture of James 'Saronie' Roberts.
A picture of James ‘Saronie’ Roberts.

This early photograph of Saronie (left) was taken by his South Walian wife Joan (shown opposite with Saronie) who was also like Saronie, a professional photographer. Born in Liverpool in 1872, his real name was James Roberts but changed it to Saronie in 1912 as he felt it was more impressive in his work as a cinematographer.

He started his career with films in Birkenhead where he was regarded as a pioneer of something that was then almost magic. He once recalled that the audiences were so astounded at the sight of a train rushing at them from the screen that they jumped from their seats and ran back to the end of the hall. By 1910 Saronie was showing films at Prestatyn’s Town Hall which he rented for “An Exhibition of Animated Pictures”. By 1914 he had taken over the Town Hall on a semi-permanent basis converting it into what we now know as the Scala Cinema.

Scala owner James 'Saronie' Roberts and his wife, Jane.
Scala owner James ‘Saronie’ Roberts and his wife, Jane.

In May 1915 he showed the first colour film of Prestatyn at the Scala, showing his first “Talkie” there in 1930. He also modernised and enlarged the Scala in that year. Saronie was always seen at every performance sitting in the balcony to ensure that courting couples did no more than discreetly hold hands.

He ended his career in 1963 selling the Scala to Prestatyn Town Council. With his flowing locks of white hair and pointed white waxed moustache he was well known to generations of cinema-goers and Prestatyn people. He is still very well remembered to this day. Sadly he had no children to carry on his work and died in 1967 from a stroke at his home in Prestatyn. He is buried in Meliden church yard.

From Harry Thomas’ Prestatyn and District – A Pictorial Past Volume Two
©1994 Harry Thomas