The Little Theatre
January 27, 2012, 7:52 pm
by Upatissa Attygalle
The above named institution had its origin in the Amateur Cinematic Society which was inaugurated in 1945. One of the principal persons who was for it having been mooted was the revolutionary, the wittiest, the most discerning, the most integrated and now legendary teacher of English, Ceylon ever had - the late R. C. L. Attygalle popularly known as ‘Dickie’. He persuaded the then Principal of Royal, the late J. C. A Corea to allocate funds for the purchase of a 33mm film projector and a copy of the film Henry the V for the Film Society. Dickie Attygalle had hoped to build up a library of films for the Society, regrettably Royal being a government school he was unable to obtain funds to buy more films.
Dickie had the extraordinary ability to make the classics of English Literature come alive and kindle the interest of all his students. Therefore the Technicolor 1944 version of William Shakespeare’s Henry the V produced directed and starred by Sir Laurence Olivier was a big hit with the students. Dickie Attygalle had many students in his class who acquired a love for the humanities thanks to his skill not just as a teacher but as an educator. Most of his students in later life excelled in their respective fields. One such student who distinguished himself as a politician was the late - Felix Dias Bandaranaike then known as Felix Dias.
Just after a year since the commencing of the Film Society, Dickie Attygalle left Royal for Paris as he was appointed as the chief of the division managing all UNESCO’s adult education programmes. The mantle of continuing the Film Society then fell on the able broad shoulders of another brilliant teacher and multi-talented master Mr. Bevii St Elmo de Bruin, who passed away on his 80th birthday on the 28th of August this year in Montego Bay, Jamaica. Mr. Bruin who was fondly referred to as ‘Bruno’ by students was a teacher of Mathematics English and English Literature, Cricket and Athletics during his tenure at Royal College. He, too, like Dickie Attygalle had the unique ability to make students who never read anything but comic books to take anything but comic books evince an interest in English and English Literature. Many students, who did science as I did, took up English Literature as a subject thanks to Mr. Bruin showing us the beauty, the might and the grandeur of the English Language.
Mr. Bruin arranged with the British Council to hire films from their library to be screened at our Society’s film shows. During my stay at Royal Mr. Bruin screened a number’ of top grade films on a variety of subjects and themes. Some of them I remember are Nanook of the North, a documentary on the life of an Eskimo and his family made by the very influential American documentary pioneer Robert Flaherty, Scott of the Antarctic, the Technicolor film about the ill fated 1912 expedition to the South Pole starring Sir John, Mills as Captain Scott, and Kind Hearts and Coronets, a first class British Ealing comedy. Sir Alec Guineas who was one member of the admirable cast played eight roles in the film. Out of all the films I saw at Royal, there is one particular film that I shall never forget and that film was Arsenic and Old Lace. It was the screen version of the immensely popular comedy written by Joseph Kesserling for the stage. The film version was directed by the legendary Frank Capra and starred the inimitable Hollywood star Cary Grant supported by a distinguished cast who played their parts brilliantly to make the film one of the funniest rib—tickling comedies ever made up-to-date. I recall the film was screened in one of the Science lecture rooms which had pews of tiered seats and, we were all rolling in the aisles clutching our stomachs in uncontrollable laughter. Many of us had to walk slightly crouched the next morning due to the pain in our over strained abdominal muscles. I have seen the film over a dozen times since then and even today have the same reaction to it.
I am not sure whether there is a film Society in Royal College today but in our time at College we enjoyed the film shows and had a lot of fun during the breakdowns of the rather old film projector. I am sure all old Royalists who attended these film shows must-be fondly remembering those wonderful hours spent in the darkened lecture room watching the silver screen unfolding great films.