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Baker, Clarence Patrick (Paddy) (1898–1986)

by Wendy Birman

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Clarence Patrick (Paddy) Baker (1898-1986), picture-show man and theatre proprietor, was born on 11 September 1898 at Matlock, Victoria, fourth of seven children of Victorian-born parents Henry Baker, an itinerant miner, and his wife Arabella, née Friel. Accounts of `Paddy’s’ life before the 1940s vary, but it appears that in 1901 he moved with his family to Western Australia, living first at Gwalia and then at Yundamindera. His parents separated and at the age of 8 he went with his father to Mount Morgans on the Murchison goldfields, north of Kalgoorlie. Eventually the pair set up camp at Sandstone, where Paddy attended the local convent school and worked for fourpence a night at Charlie Hebbard’s magic-lantern show. His father died in 1914 and he rejoined his mother and three sisters at Subiaco, Perth. Sent to board for two years at Christian Brothers’ College in the city, he learned `a lot of Latin’ and showed films to his fellow students.

By the summer of 1916 Baker was assistant-projectionist at the Coliseum picture garden at Subiaco. He and his sisters also sold tickets, `lollies’ and ice-creams. During the day he worked as a mechanic at a nearby garage; after the premises were destroyed by fire he repaired cars at customers’ homes. Abstemious by nature, he saved £4 a week and in 1919 acquired a second-hand picture-show plant and motorcar. He named his enterprise Baker’s Photoplays Deluxe, and headed for the bush. Screening at a different venue every night, he showed silent films from Esperance to Geraldton, then travelled south through the wheat-belt. Times were tough and his patrons paid either by coin or with produce. Baker assembled and dismantled his equipment in weatherboard halls, rough canvas tents and makeshift sheds. Sometimes he used a sheet for a screen, mounted the projector on the bonnet of his car, and ran the engine to generate light and power.

Endowed with characteristic Irish geniality, Baker was cheerful, energetic and innovative, but was also stubborn. His habitual dapper appearance and slight build belied a steely strength. After showing his first talking picture in the Bassendean Town Hall, he successfully tendered to show films at the Metro and Capitol theatres in Perth. He trained his projectionists; initially he developed his own sound equipment but later bought the best on the market.

In 1946 Baker purchased the Regal Theatre, built in 1938 on the site of the old Coliseum, to show 35-mm films. He continued to service regional cinemas, and from 1962 established a chain of drive-in theatres in country towns. In 1977 he renovated the Regal as a venue for live productions. Seven years later he restored the building to its original art deco elegance, but was careful not to make it `too posh for Sir Les Patterson’. Widely known as `Mr Showbiz’, he lived on the top floor in `a nice little flat with every convenience’. The Regal Theatre was reputedly the inspiration for Dorothy Hewett’s play Bon-Bons and Roses for Dolly (1976). In May 1986 he formed the Baker Theatre Trust to administer the Regal in perpetuity. Baker, who had never married, died on 11 August that year in his theatre and was buried with Catholic rites in Karrakatta cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Sunday Independent (Perth), 10 June 1984, p 21
  • West Australian, 16 July 1984, p 20, 27 May 1986, p 2, 12 Aug 1986, p 12, 19 Aug 1986, p 18
  • Sunday Times (Perth), 8 June 1986, p 19
  • Subiaco Post, 19 Aug 1986, p1
  • Kino, Dec 1986, p 22
  • P. Morris, taped interview with C. P. Baker (1978, State Library of Western Australia)
  • Baker memorabilia (Subiaco Museum, Regal Theatre Trust, Subiaco, Art Deco Society of Western Australia, West Perth).

Citation details

Wendy Birman, 'Baker, Clarence Patrick (Paddy) (1898–1986)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/baker-clarence-patrick-paddy-12163/text21795, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 20 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

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