Movie Magic: The Sterling’s Ceiling

Kidlington resident John Chipperfield has sent us an article he wrote for the Oxford Mail’s ‘Memory Lane’ section about the Sterling cinema’s impressive painted ceiling, mentioned by Phil Bennett in his article ‘Memories of Sterling Cinema’. The text of John’s article is reproduced below.

Oh what a feeling…a host of Disney on the cinema ceiling

FROM the outside, it looked an ordinary building, but it had a special feature inside. The Sterling cinema in High Street, Kidlington, boasted a superb painted ceiling with some of the best-loved Disney characters. It was the work of Disney fan Paul Raymer, who spent six months of his spare time and holidays creating the mural in the cinema bar. The bar reopened in 1972 as the Disney Lounge during a week when the cinema was showing a double Disney programme – Sleeping Beauty and Treasure Island.

Mr Raymer, of Brasenose Drive, Kidlington, who worked as a salesman and painted in his spare time, drafted the mural from a small sketch. He improvised as he went on and painted it in emulsion.

Cinema projectionist John Gilman said at the time: “We kept the ceiling covered while the work was going on and got a lot of comments from customers about having a leaking roof. They were amazed when the covers came off and several of them did not believe it was painted.”

Mr Gilman persuaded Mr Raymer to take on the project after it was decided the ceiling looked too blank painted white.

We were reminded of the special ceiling by Memory Lane reader and former Oxford Mail colleague Andrew Bossom, of St Mary’s Close, Kidlington.

The cinema, on the site now occupied by Tesco, opened in October 1938 and closed in December 1977. It was owned throughout by Lawrence Huddleston, who also ran the Palace cinema at Witney. Manager Cyril Hawken was also long serving, joining on Boxing Day 1939, 14 months after the Sterling opened, and staying until the end.

According to Kidlington Historical Society, the opening ceremony was held in a field opposite the cinema, where the fire headquarters and St John Ambulance are now based.

The society’s History of High Street booklet records: “The cinema had 730 seats in stalls and circle. When it opened, it had a café open to the public. In the early days and during the war, it was well supported. On Saturday afternoons, there was a train from Woodstock which arrived at Kidlington in good time for the show.”

The Sterling’s closure was put down to competition from TV, soaring costs, lack of films and lack of public interest. The final film shown on Near Year’s Eve 1977, The People that Time Forgot, was watched by about 100 people, a much bigger audience than usual.

John Chipperfield

The caption to the photos reads: MOVIE MAGIC: The Disney ceiling created by artist Paul Raymer in the bar at the Sterling cinema, Kidlington; below, manager Cyril Hawken and his wife Kathleen, who also worked at the cinema, reflect on its closure in December 1977; the Sterling cinema in High Street, Kidlington, now occupied by a Tesco supermarket