Harry Kemp (1886 – 1972) Preston-born businessman and travelling showman. Opened the La Scala cinema in Saltcoats.
Harry Kemp was born in Preston, Lancashire in 1886. Harry was part of the Kemp family who provided entertainment for the people of North Ayrshire for over 60 years.
He was baptised as Henry Kemp on October 21st 1887 in Market Harborough, Leicester. His father, George Henry Kemp, is listed as a “Travelling Showman.” George was a solicitor’s clerk prior to becoming a travelling showman in 1882 and adopting the name ‘President’ Kemp. He opened his first Bioscope show – a music hall and fairground attraction with a travelling cinema – in 1901. His brother Walter would narrate the stories for the benefit of the audience as the films were silent.
George retired from the road in 1911 and opened his first cinema in Johnstone and 2 years later his second, the La Scala, in Saltcoats. Harry took over the business and introduced a series of concert parties – the renowned Kemp Summer Shows in which ‘Scotch Broth’ performed up and down the Ayrshire coast. Many music hall stars made their debut in one of Harry Kemp’s companies including the Scottish comedian and actor Dave Willis (1895-1973).
Harry built the Casino in Saltcoats during WW1 which was used as a dance hall before being converted to the Regal cinema in 1919 just across the road from the La Scala. He also began showing films in the De Luxe in Stevenston. He was one of the first in Scotland to introduce Cinemascope too. He was a member of the Saltcoats Town Council and one of the founding members and first club president of the Adrossan and Saltcoats Rotary Club. He was married and had 2 sons and 5 daughters.
The Regal closed in 1985 and for the next 22 years was the “Metro” nightclub. The La Scala closed in 1993 and is now “The Salt Cot” a Wetherspoons pub where there is a blue heritage plaque dedicated to Harry and pictures of the Scotch Broth entertainers.
Harry Kemp died in Ardrossan 1972.