It’s often pointed out by journalists who have nothing better to do that far fewer people visit the cinema than was once the case. I’m reliably informed that Exmouth once boasted two picture houses, and irksomely the one which has closed and been demolished was nearer my home than the one we still have. Obviously the advent of the twenty-four-hour film channel, surround sound and wide-aspect plasma screens has raised up competition that the small theatre can ill afford, so clearly my entirely unqualified and uninformed thoughts on possible improvements are required to remedy the situation.

The most obvious problem with cinemas is the absence of comfortable seating. Films are best watched stretched full-length on a chaise longue or Ottoman, and the predilection of picture-house proprietors for hard collapsible seating is clearly not to be borne. I know that at least one person agrees with me, because it was a conversation over cigarettes with my neighbour that inspired this train of thought. The latest Harry Potter film, which is approximately the same length as the Ring Cycle, had, I discovered, revealed the deficiencies of the cinema’s seating arrangements with numbing starkness. Ticket sales might improve with the addition of arm chairs and possibly some footstools.

Another thing that always makes a welcome addition to the cinematic experience is alcohol. A large gin and tonic, glass of Chablis or cask ale, particularly when followed by another, softens hard edges, smooths over deficiencies in the directing or script and encourages a general sense of well-being and benevolence. It also helps to erase the memory of the entrance fee, which is more than the cost of a second-hand frigate in some markets. There was a cinema in Whitstable that boasted a licensed bar, and I remember it being very popular with the undergraduate community. Ideally, said alcohol would be brought to one’s chair by a white-aproned steward, but at a pinch I’d settle for well-stocked bar. Always provided, of course, that it was suitably rich in very old single malts.

Then there’s the issue of film length. Back in 1959 they had the right idea when Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer made Ben Hur three and a half hours long. This supplies value for money even at today’s inflated prices, so more films should be ridiculously long. Of course this might mean cutting down on those endearing advertisements for the local Indian restaurant that seem always to have been made in 1973; but that is a sacrifice I’m willing to make. Armed with a comfortable chair and a glass of something fortifying, the civilised cinema-goer can face even the most ludicrously protracted celluloid dream with equanimity, if not pleasant anticipation.

Of course the simplest change that can be made concerns air conditioning. I’ve noticed on successive visits to the multiplex in Exeter that it’s necessary to take an overcoat even in the middle of July. This is extremely silly, and I feel compelled to point out that sitting on a block of ice was good enough for our colonial forebears when facing the daunting rail journey from Calcutta to Benares. Naturally I hesitate to recommend that particular measure, but I know from experience that air conditioning units are fitted with temperature controls. Perhaps something a little nearer comfortable room temperature would be a good idea. Nice though it was to watch The Fellowship of the Ring outdoors at Glastonbury festival, I prefer to experience alfresco temperatures when actually outside.

This has gone on far longer than it deserves, so I shall end there. In fine, if my proposals are adopted I predict a 700% increase in box-office takings within the first year, with the possible total demise of the Shopping Channel within five. Some might take issue with the optimistic nature of this prediction, but it’s no less realistic than those of a government contractor.

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