Clarence Patrick (Paddy) Baker (1898-1986), picture-show man and theatre proprietor, was born in 1898 at Matlock, Victoria. Around 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. At Sandstone, Paddy attended the local convent school and worked for fourpence a night at Charlie Hebbard’s magic-lantern show.
By the summer of 1916 Baker was assistant-projectionist at the Coliseum picture garden at Subiaco. In 1919 acquired a second-hand picture-show plant and motorcar. He named his enterprise Baker’s Photoplays Deluxe, and headed for the country. 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.
Baker was cheerful, energetic and innovative, but was also stubborn. 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. In 1984 he restored the building to its original art deco elegance. Widely known as `Mr Showbiz’, he lived on the top floor. 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 1986.