Obituary: George Singleton

George Singleton, cinema-owner: born Glasgow 1 January 1900; CBE 1967; married Jean Wands (died 1964),1967 Marjory MacDonald (died 1991); died Edinburgh 4 April 1995.

George Singleton was one of the great characters of the cinema business. He had the style of the showman but also much more.

He was born in Main Street, Bridgeton, in Glasgow, on the morning of New Year's Day 1900. His introduction to the cinema trade came when his father, who played the piano for silent films as a hobby, gave up his printing business in favour of the new entertainment. The young Singleton learnt every aspect of operating a cinema to the point that he could do every job in the place, including covering for absent pianists (using a repertoire of three tunes).

His first venture on his own was in what had been a United Free Church in the Gorbals. By 1924, he had, as he said, "two Empires - Napoleon had nothing on me!" They were cinemas in Coatbridge and Dundee and formed part of a group made up of 14 halls throughout Scotland.

In 1937, Oscar Deutsch (founder of the Odeon chain) acquired the Singleton circuit, whereupon George Singleton started again by building the huge and stylish Vogue cinema in Govan, which had a capacity of two and a half thousand and was famous for its neon lighting. But the cinema with which his name will always be associated was the Cosmo, in Rose Street. An admirer of the Curzon, in London, he built his own art-house to show the best of "continental" films - "Cosmo" being short for "cosmopolitan". It opened in May 1939 with Un Carnet de Bal and generations of cinemagoers have been the beneficiaries.

It was the strength of the Cosmo that, although its speciality was foreign- language films, it was never regarded as litist. The atmosphere was always entirely friendly and never exclusive. It was even referred to as "the working man's education".

Its greatest days were after the Second World War and it flourished for three decades until economic circumstances dictated that it could not survive in its original form. However, thanks to its sale to the Scottish Film Council in 1972 - a move that pleased Singleton greatly as it ensured that the audience he had developed and cherished would still see films beyond the commercial mainstream - the building still operates as the Glasgow Film Theatre, one of the most successful regional film theatres in the UK.

Early on, the late Charles Oakley (another Glasgow nonagenarian) drew a cartoon figure of Singleton as "Mr Cosmo", dapper and bowler-hatted, the symbol and presiding genius of his cinema. It was a felicitous idea that reflected the spirit of the place and, indeed, Singleton's deserved reputation as an extremely smart dresser. Only two weeks before he died he bought a new Armani suit.

Although cinema was his business, and his love (his favourite film was Jour de Fte), Singleton had a wide interest in the arts. He was a member of the Lloyd Committee (1965-67) which led to the setting up of the National Film School, and was prominent on the Scottish Film Council, the Films of Scotland Committee and the Cinematograph Exhibitors' Association (of which he was UK President in 1957-58). He was on the board of the Scottish National Orchestra and one of the founders of the Citizens' Theatre.

A committed socialist, but also a successful capitalist, Singleton was completely at ease with all manner of people. He was extremely courteous and gregarious and was the central figure in what he called a "mob" based at the Glasgow Art Club. Known as the "Tuscany Boys" (average age, over 80), they made expeditions to see works of art in other countries. Last year, at 94, George Singleton revisited some of his favourite French Impressionists in the Hermitage in St Petersburg.

His contribution to cinema as culture as well as commerce, and his special feel for what audiences wanted, and how best to present it to them, was greatly admired. But above all, he was one of the most genuine of men.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...

Surrey County Council: Senior Project Officer (Fixed Term to Feb 2019)

£26,498 - £31,556: Surrey County Council: We are looking for an outgoing, conf...

Recruitment Genius: Interim Head of HR

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources and Payroll Administrator

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003