THE secret history of the forgotten cinemas of Pembrokeshire has been rediscovered in a new book.

Legendary names such as Shanly's in Tenby, Haggar's in Pembroke and the Astoria in Milford Haven come to the fore when the heyday of the silver screen is recalled in the county.

But who could say where the 900-seater Cinema de Luxe plied its trade? What little market town boasted two cinemas in the 1920s? And where was the Super Cinema, with its 450 red velvet-covered seats, fancy murals and ceiling decorations?

Former cinema projectionist Alan Phillips has delved into the history of these picture houses, which brought the magic of the movies into towns and villages in The Cinemas of West Wales.

Western Telegraph:

The entrance to the Palace cinema in the fifties.

"In days gone by, a weekly visit to the 'flicks' was as common as watching the television is today," said Alan. "It was a chance to step back in time or to the future, a chance to forget daily toils and, for an hour or two, be transported to a make-believe world."

Over 30 towns in west Wales - eight of them in Pembrokeshire - once had their own cinemas, and the book is illustrated with more than 100 pictures of the buildings in their prime and their sites today.

Still standing is the Temperance Hall in Haverfordwest's St Mary's Street, where the Cinema de Luxe opened nearly a century ago.

Western Telegraph:

Haverfordwest's Temperance Hall.

But long gone is Narberth's Grand Cinema on Market Square, which closed in 1936 and the High Street Victoria Cinema - although the building is still providing entertainment in its role as the Queens Hall.

Tenby's luxury Super Cinema in Warren Street later became the Little Theatre, then an amusement arcade, and subsequently was converted into apartments.

Ahead of the first indoor cinema screenings before First World War, moving pictures had been brought to the people of Pembrokeshire earlier in the 1900s, when pioneering showmen, including William Haggar and his Royal Electric Bioscope, visited Portfield Fair in Haverfordwest and Pembroke Fair.

Haggar went on to set up cinemas throughout south Wales, including the one which took his name in Pembroke Main Street. It eventually closed in 1982 and now houses Paddles Nightclub.

Western Telegraph:

Crowds at Haggars.

The book also recalls Neyland's solo picture house - the New Cinema (later the Plaza) on St Clements Road, virtually where the library stands today and Fishguard's Cinema, converted from the Temperance Hall in 1926, which now houses Theatr Gwaun, Milford Haven, where the Torch Theatre now continues the cinematic tradition, has been home to a variety of cinemas since the wooden-built Wadbrook Cinema and Variety Palace opened in 1910, with the Astoria being the last to close.

Western Telegraph:

Milford Haven Empire Cinema. PICTURE: S Thomas.

Pembroke Dock, with its military connections, boasted a number of entertainment venues over the years - the Grand Cinema (whose site is now occupied by St Govan's Shopping Centre); the Queen's Theatre; the Picture Palace in Queen Street and the Astra Cinema, which operated in the Garrison Chapel.

And still fondly remembered is Tenby's South Beach Pavilion, a six-storey entertainment centre, the vision of the ambitious Mr Shanly. It was built in 1929 and in its prime, featured a 660-seat cinema, dance hall, roof gardens, skating rink, amusement arcades, confectionary booths and shops. It closed for good in 1975 and was demolished three years later.

*The Cinemas of West Wales by Alan Phillips is published by Y Lolfa (£6.99) and is available now.