A Cornishman with an infectious enthusiasm for the film industry
DAVID WILLIAMS is more than the owner of four cinemas – White River at Trinity Street, St Austell, the Plaza in historic Lemon Street, Truro, the Regal on the Platt at Wadebridge and the Lighthouse in King Street, Newquay – he is a connoisseur with an infectious enthusiasm for films and the cinema business.
We talked in the lounge of his Wadebridge home with views of the River Camel.
Over the years the Williams family has made a substantial contribution to Guardian Country life.
Originally a building firm, WT Williams, formed in 1878, creating the lovely stone church at Washaway "and a lot of other Victorian buildings in and around Wadebridge".
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It was David's father Ron and grandfather who took the family into the world of film. They were the original directors of The Capitol Theatre, St Austell, which operated in the postwar years as a theatre, cinema, ballroom and café.
David was educated at Truro School under the headmastership of Derek Burrell.
"I got the cinema bug," he said with a smile, "and my first work was at the Capitol in St Austell in 1966, moving on January 30, 1967, to take over the Regal in Wadebridge … last day of the railway run out to Padstow … the cinema was on the verge of collapse and 45 years later we're still here and managing to survive."
In 2012 it is, in fact, a magnificent cinema.
"The business is totally different from the old days," said David.
"You've got to move with the times and in Cornwall we have a family element, parents and children coming to the pictures en bloc."
His father is remembered on two local sports grounds. At Bodieve Park, the home of Wadebridge Football Club, the Ron Williams Stand was formally opened on the Easter Monday city finals day in March 2008, the glossy programme that day declaring: "The new stand is in memory of one of the club's finest servants, Ronnie Williams. A big thank you to David Williams and his family for sponsoring the costs."
While down on the Wadebridge cricket ground, alongside the Camel, is a superb electronic scoreboard, also given by the family in Ronnie's memory. He was a founder member of the club back in the Thirties.
David's own sporting contribution has centred on tennis in Cornwall. At a presentation in 2000, reference was made to "his encouragement of others and his energy has enabled the county's men's team to progress to previously unscaled heights … his ambition, drive and faith".
David also takes pride in the fact that his sister Lynne, an old girl of Truro High School, was made Dame of the British Empire, for her outstanding commitment as the chief executive of the British Library in London.
Any profile of him must acknowledge the fact he and his cinemas have done great work for good causes.
In February, for instance, 200 people packed his Newquay cinema for the screening of the Eighties' classic Dirty Dancing, raising £2,600 for the cancer charity CLIC Sargent and the Friends of Trenance Cottages.
David says of Newquay: "I believe it has the potential to become the best coastal resort in the South West, wonderful beaches and surfing.
"When we were building the Lighthouse (his latest creation), local people were very supportive. They genuinely wanted to see Newquay go forward … an enjoyable experience … Lady Long and Chris Blount were great supporters."
We talked about the state of British cinema today.
"The industry is buoyant," he said.
"The King's Speech, a great film, took £44,000,000 at the box office, a record for a UK film.
"I think that and The Queen have done a lot of good for the Royal Family.
"And, as for The Artist, I'm not surprised it's recently taken so many awards. It's a brilliant and fresh experience … a silent film, you can imagine the initial reaction of investors … a silent film going right back into cinema history. But it's making a big impact.
"We have this great British tradition of making excellent films. All David Lean's were beautifully done and we've had a stream of fine musicals, things like Evita and Chicago. And then, of course, we've had some successful films made here in Cornwall, productions that have done well at the box office, especially when they have a lot of extras.
"Ladies In Lavender, Saving Grace and Amy Foster (which was made in and around Port Quin), the last two we premiered at Wadebridge and the other in Truro. And I'm sure if the film starring Edward Woodward as the eccentric Rector Densham, at Warleggan, had gone into general release, it would have done well. It was the last thing Edward Woodward made. He wasn't well enough to come to the showing we gave it on a Sunday evening at the Plaza."
David considers the Plaza his flagship. In 2006 it was voted the best independent in the UK: a remarkable achievement for a cinema which seven years before had been in the hands of the receivers and closed down by Carrick for licensing infringements.
David's career is a story of ideas and investment, expansion and improving facilities. Nothing demonstrates this better than the creation of the White River in St Austell – Cornwall's first new cinema complex for more than seven decades.
"The opening was a fantastic milestone for St Austell," David said.
"There was a real buzz that night and we were proud to have delivered such a state-of-the-art building for the people of St Austell and the surrounding areas.
"A far cry from the mid-Eighties when nationally there was a slump in cinema attendance due to the rise of video."
Of St Austell in general, he reflected: "Though there was controversy surrounding the redevelopment of the town centre, it was essential and Dame Annette Egerton's leadership drove it forward."
He attributes the success of WTW Cinemas to the teamwork of family and staff, and the support of his wife Angela.
In February 2010 he went to the London Marriott Hotel, in Grosvenor Square, to receive the Cinema Industry Exhibition Award which noted: "During the past 50 years and under David's management, the Williams family has further developed the company into a leading independent circuit."
Here is a Cornishman, whose ancestral links go back to Williamses of Bodmin Moor, who has an outward-looking philosophy and who is working at the very heart of the industry.
He has been an active member of the Cinema Exhibitors' Association and had a spell of eight years as chairman of the independent sector.
Meeting David Williams is a reminder that cinema has a definite niche in society.