Tuesday, 16 March 2010

From Southend to Disney: The story of a life in movies!

I've said it before and I'll no doubt say it again, the Internet is an amazing thing! A couple of weeks back I was contacted by a guy called Stephen Pickard. He'd stumbled onto the site whilst searching for information on the Southend Odeon, and had came across my post. A few emails whizzed back and forth, and Stephen told me he used to live in the area. He has been a big film fan from a child, and eventually became a projectionist at the Odeon in the 60's. I chanced my luck and asked if he would be prepared to put a few words down from his time in Southend, and he kindly agreed. I found his story fascinating, and his recall of the times is simply amazing! Amongst many other tales you can hear about a Beatles world exclusive in Southend, an iffy 'initiation ceremony', and just who was that urinating in the Odeon dressing room??!
Stephen still remains in the industry, although rather than showing them, he makes them these days, and he currently works in LA for Disney Studios! So without further ado, over to you Stephen......



I moved to Eastwood with my family in January 1959, when I was 10 years old. At first my family took me to the various cinemas in Southend on the bus, but within a year I was going on my own. I had to find the courage to ask adults to take me into the cinema when they were showing 'A' certificate films, as being under 16 I had to be accompanied. As for the 'X' category, well that was a lot more difficult! I grew a liking for science-fiction fantasy and horror films as well as the traditional family films. I was a big Steve Reeves fan who was enjoying huge popularity around this time with his playing of Hercules and other muscular roles. I first saw Reeves in the initial "Hercules" film at the Southend Essoldo in mid 1959.
(Southend Essoldo, Warrior Square - Built 1909 (as a skating rink), Opened as a cinema 1911, closed 1960)

I recall walking down a long narrow alleyway off the high street which led to a tiny back road which ran down the side of the Essoldo. Directly opposite this alleyway was an alternative entrance with paybox to the auditorium. (the main entrance was on Warrior Square). I used to be fascinated by the walls of the alleyway and the walls of the cinema in the tiny side road as they were lined with glass frame cases of quad sized film posters of forthcoming releases. At this time, we were just coming out of the golden age of the fifties of science fiction and horror films and the Essoldo were running lots of them. What was distressing to me is that they were mostly 'X' certificate films and it would probably be years before I was able to see most of them. I did get to see "The Amazing Colossal Man", with my sister at the Essoldo, as it only had an "A' certificate. It's sequel, "Terror Strikes!" (aka: "War of the Colossal Beast") got an 'X'. Barred again!

In the early autumn of 1959, my family took me to the Southend Odeon.

(Southend Odeon, High Street - Opened 1935, closed 1998)

Each year the Odeon ran a live show of the crowning of the Carnival Queen, a Southend tradition. On these occasions the lucky lady was usually crowned by a member of the Film or TV Entertainment Profession. A new film was chosen, usually a new Rank release, and in this case it was "The Heart of A Man" starring Frankie Vaughan. He was also the guest chosen to crown the Queen. At this time I was a big Frankie Vaughan fan and was eager to see him live on stage. Right up to the arrival at the theatre we were expecting to see him but while sitting in the packed auditorium, a taped recording was played over the loudspeakers. It was Frankie Vaughan's voice in a very apologetic tone, apologising for not being present as he had been called away to Hollywood to star with Marilyn Monroe in 20th Century Fox's CinemaScope musical "Let's Make Love". So co-star Tony Britton took his place. We were all very disappointed that he was not present. It is also sad that Frankie's move to Hollywood did not prove successful, after only two films. On his return to Britain he did not find quite the level of success that that he achieved in the fifties.

Hammer Horror films were also achieving great success at this time, although I knew very little about them. They mostly ran at the ABC (Rivoli) Alexandra Street and the alternative Rank theatre on Pier Hill, the Ritz.

(The Ritz, Top of Pier Hill - Opened 1935, closed 1972, demolished 1981)


The Odeon rarely showed horror films as it was Rank's leading showplace in Southend. Hammer type films were distributed usually to the 'Guamont' circuit and the Ritz was the equivalent to that. My first exposure to Hammer Films was in January 1960 at the Rivoli.

(The Rivioli, Alexandra Street - Built 1896 (as the Empire Theatre), Opened as a Cinema 1920, Closed as a Cinema 1998, Now The New Empire Theatre)


It was "The Stranglers of Bombay" which had an 'A' certificate. My Mother took me to see it on the Monday afternoon before I returned to school on the Tuesday. I am ever grateful to my Mother for it was my official introduction to Hammer Films, I never got over it!

In 1960 my parents took me to the Empire, Leicester Square to see "Ben-Hur" in the West End of London and introduced me to big screen presentations. Southend at this time had no 70mm installations, so I visited the West End frequently from then on where they had plenty in supply. I saw most of the big 'Roadshow' reserve-seat presentations in the West End such as "How the West Was Won", "Lawrence of Arabia", "It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World", "Mutiny on the Bounty", "Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm" etc.

I used to go to the cinema two sometimes three times a week as, unlike today, there was a lot to choose from. By the time I was 14, in 1962, I could usually get into 'A's without much trouble. During this transitional period I was attending the 'Saturday Morning Pictures' at the Regal, Rayleigh and was caught up in the Batman serial.

(The Regal, Bellingham Lane, Rayleigh - Built 1937, closed 1973)


At the same time on Sundays they were running 50's science fiction and horror 'X' films (nobody under 16 permitted). So one Sunday afternoon I went along to the Regal and mustered up the courage and went up to the paybox and asked for a ticket. The little Scottish lady took one look at me and asked if I was sixteen and I replied yes. Immediately the ticket spat up out of the flat tray in front of me and I took the ticket and wasted no time in getting into the auditorium! The Regal was just a small cinema with no balcony but it had plenty of atmosphere. Soon, I had the courage and was able to get into 'X' films at most of the cinemas!

When the ABC (or Odeon) in Southend had finished their run the films would usually move to Westcliff (Essoldo) then Leigh (Coliseum) then Rayleigh (Regal) then Hadleigh (Kingsway). When the Rivoli closed for redecoration, most, if not all their releases went to the Westcliff Essoldo. The Mascot across the street usually ran 'B' films. All the 'roadshow' releases on the Rank circuit had unlimited runs at the Ritz on Pier Hill. The normal 'A' releases went to the Odeon. I kept a log, from 1963 for a year or so, of all the local cinemas and what they showed and I still have them.

(The ABC, Alexandra Street. Formally The Rivioli... see previous photo!)


(Westcliff Essoldo, London Road (picture taken when it was still the Metropole), Opened 1939, closed 1991)


(Leigh-on-Sea Coliseum, Elm Road - Opened 1914, closed 1965. Became a Bingo hall, and is now a hairdressers)

(Kingsway, London Road, Hadleigh - Opened 1936, closed 1970)


(The Mascot, London Road, Westcliff - Opened 1912, burnt down in 1964)


Movies were firmly in my blood and I knew that I wanted to get into the film industry. Due to the limitations set-up by the film unions it was a closed shop. The only way in was to enter a cinema training programme at the Wandsworth College once a week for 4 years and I would be employed at a cinema which would enable me to join the NATKE projectionist's union.

In January 1964 I started as a trainee projectionist for Granada Theatres at the Century Cinema in Pitsea.

(Century, Pitsea - Opened 1930's, closed 1970. No picture of the Century seems to remain. Here is a shot of it as a bingo hall in the 1990s).


It was a quaint little 'stalls only' theatre that ran 'second-run' films. I learned how to clean the projection room, which was no easy chore, polishing floors and brass, dusting everywhere. It was like being in the army. I worked twelve hours a day five days a week. The lavatory had an opening at the bottom of the door and my initiation ceremony was to be locked in and be exposed for a short time to the smoking burning fumes of nitrate film wrapped in burning newspaper! As it turned out, the Century was an ideal training ground and amongst the interesting experiences was to see a fellow projectionist partially mangle his finger in the intermittent sprocket, during the screening of the Norman Wisdom Comedy "A Stitch In Time", in an attempt to avoid stopping the film when the film ripped on the projector. The only time I saw this film in colour was when the film was being repaired on the rewind bench stained with his blood! During my time at the Century Cinema I had an offer to work at the Odeon in Southend, but felt I wasn't ready. In September 1964 I finally accepted and, looking back, spent the two happiest years of my working life there.

When I worked at the Odeon, everything was done right. I was trained properly. Showmanship and presentation really mattered. At first it was a frightening thought that I would be involved in presenting films to a maximum crowd of 2200 people, but surprisingly enough I gained confidence very quickly and moved up from trainee, who would 'float' between two shifts, to being assistant to Leonard Himsley, the second projectionist. The chief projectionist was George Gorham. Among the first films shown when I first started were Hitchcock's "Marnie" and Wilder's "Irma La Douce". We took a pride with presentation back then. We had 'carbon-arc' lamps for the screen light source. It was a sin if we showed the bare screen, or showed the film temporarily 'out-of-frame'. We had an 'act-drop', as it was called, instead of traditional curtains. These curtains floated to the top of the stage, although they could be opened the normal way which we did for live shows. There was 2,284 seats in all and they were often filled. It was a wonderful atmosphere. Audiences generally knew how to behave and they respected each other and as a result made a much more enjoyable cinema going experience.

We had a 52 foot CinemaScope screen and it looked great when we ran films like "Lawrence of Arabia", "It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" and the Fox films. Unfortunately we weren't equipped with stereo or 70mm, which came later after I had left when the theatre was twinned. We screened "Goldfinger" for five weeks, and I remember we had a new screen during that time as the old one was thick with cigarette nicotine. I also had my first and only film rip on that one. It was quite an experience as it played to packed houses for days. I would often go downstairs to the back of the circle on my break to hear the enormous crowd reaction. Audiences in large numbers knew back then how to behave and enjoy a film together. The Head projectionist's office had a glassless porthole so you could hear crowd reaction, quite something to behold when you had a full house with 2000 plus people!

As time went by and I gained experience, I would voluntarily come in early (7 to 7:30am) on the first day of the new week's films (Thursday) and put the entire program together. This involved taking the individual elements, (feature, second feature, short - usually "Look At Life" - adverts and trailers) and splice, examine and make out a condition report. Usually, being a 'pre-release' theatre we would get our films just after the London West End and, before the first leg of general release which was North London, they would be brand new 35mm prints, some I.B. Technicolor and others De-Luxe or Eastman.

In 1965 on July 29th we ran the Beatles' film "Help!" concurrently with the World Premiere run at the London Pavilion. They started the film in the evening, so we showed the first ever public screening of the film in the world! I made sure I made up the program that morning, screen the first performance entirely and the watch the next performance from the auditorium before the World Premiere performance that evening! The week prior we had a live show with Cliff Richard, and all the staff had their picture taken with him in the circle foyer. Afterwards I walked down the stairs to the main foyer with Cliff in full view of a huge banner of the following Thursday's program of "Help!" and he expressed great enthusiasm in seeing the film.

Stephen has kindly provided me with the following two photos taken at the Southend Odeon from his personal collection (he is standing next to Cliff Richard in the first photo, and standing in the middle at the back in the second) I remember helping out on the stage shows, either on the spot lights in the projection room or down on stage with the artistes, often walking in with the curtain so it wouldn't get caught on stage equipment. As well as Cliff Richard, I remember meeting Lulu and seeing one of the Hollies peeing into the wash basin in the dressing room, not always a luxury meeting pop stars!

By early 1966 I had the urge to move on. I had viewed many films first run in London's West End and visited many of the luxurious theaters' projection rooms. I visited the Dominion when they were playing "The Sound of Music", the Metropole, during it's run of "Lawrence of Arabia" and the Odeon Leicester Square when they showed "What's New Pussycat?". The Odeon Leicester Square was the Rank Organisation's 'flagship' theatre, it's beautiful interior and top notch presentation impressed me the most and I was determined to find employment there. Unfortunately, this was not to be. Due to the fact that the suburban and West End theatres were separate divisions I was prevented by Rank to cross over into the West End. Instead, in September, 1966 I went to work at the Odeon, Dalston to train on the new projection technology called 'projectomatic'.

By December, 1966 Rank would have ready a brand-new theatre in Elephant-and-Castle in South London, to replace the luxury Trocadero. This new theatre was intended as a preview of the future. No screen curtains. Instead, a 'floating screen' with no visible signs of support. The houselights turned off first from the rear and progressively worked their way toward the screen, leaving the floating screen filled with multi-colored lighting. Gone were the stalls and circle, instead, a stadium designed auditorium was built. The projectionist's duties were changed dramatically. Gone was the manual showmanship approach. In it's place was the latest in automatic projection technology. A large console stood in the middle of the floor which contained a rotating drum. It was full of holes where split pins would be strategically placed which would then trigger relays as the drum turned. Each relay controlled lights and all projector operations. Tiny pieces of metallic tapes placed on the edge of the film would pass over a roller and rotate the drum once. We still had carbon arc lamps, but each film reel ran a whole hour which enabled us often to have to leave the projection room to check heating and air-conditioning levels. This was a one-manned show which meant the projection room was often left empty for short periods of time, previously unheard of, if any technical problems arose in the theatre as there were no engineers. During this time we had a personal appearance of Oliver Reed to promote his film "I'll Never Forget Whats'isname".

I remained at this theatre for about fifteen months, but decided that the changing ways of theatres was not for me. So in April 1968 I moved into the film studios, at MGM Studios, Elstree in Borehamwood, Herts.


A big thank you to Stephen for a really interesting piece, and what a great memory too!! Stephen has also kindly provided me with a copy of his log of films shown in the Southend area in 1963, and I'll add a sample in a future post.

Piley

29 comments:

Dan said...

That was absolutely fascinating.

Unfortunately, I'm of an age where I only remember three cinemas in the Southend area - The Odeon in the High Street, The ABC in Alexandra Street, and another cinema which I think was also an ABC in London Road.

To have such a rich variety of cinemas to choose from, each one a stylish, architectural feast for the senses, must have been wonderful.

I'm astounded at the staff picture from the Southend Odeon - I count 26 people - which is astonishing when you consider how many people currently man the new Odeon in Southend.

Last night, I went to watch Martin Scorcese's new film 'Shutter Island'. There were so few staff that the ticket office had been closed and you could only purchase them from the ice cream stand, at which stood a queue of at least 25 people, with only 2 staff serving. In all, I spotted only 6 members of staff, each one clearly unhappy and stretched thin. The Odeon looks like it's slowly crumbling and bears no resemblance whatsoever to the mighty churches of film that once thrived in this town.

Once inside, we wedged ourselves into cramped seats and, when the film began, the aspect ratio was wrong with the picture squeezed together and spilling off the top and bottom of the screen. It stayed this way for almost five minutes before someone in charge noticed and corrected it. Compare that with Stephen's statement that "it was a sin if we showed the bare screen, or showed the film temporarily out-of-frame"

I yearn for those days where cinema was such an important part of the town of Southend - such an integral element of its structure. A time when professionalism was paramount and where a genuine love for film was extraordinarily evident.

This post delighted me, yet saddened me greatly.

Thanks, Piley, for posting this. And, most importantly, thanks to Stephen Pickard for taking the time to write down his memories and share them.

A stunning tribute to the halcyon days of cinema in Southend that brought a tear to my eye and made my heart ache for what has been lost.

Anonymous said...

Great recollections from Stephen. It's amazing to think back to those days, with 2300 people turning up for 1 performance of 1 film! Nowadays it's impossible to concentrate on a film alongside just a handful of people with the conversations on mobiles and the like to contend with. Also great that Stephen mentioned the Rayleigh Regal. I spent half of my informative years inside that place. And I well remember the little Scottish lady he refers to. I also remember plucking up the courage to get into the A movies and being as scared of the staff as I was of the police! Great memories, and thanks for sharing your time with us Stephen.

Warble

Mondo said...

What a great, great piece from someone who clearly loved their job. Southend getting in first with the Fabs film is real piece of buried treasure And what an insight into a different cinema experience.
Films playing Southend first and then the suburbs or showing for five weeks to capacity houses. A total contrast to Neils recent piece where one recent Sunday, just one person in Britain went to see Uma Thurman's latest.

Looking forward to the film-log. Bit of a long shot, but do you think Stephen may have the elusive 'Ere Bert this is place' ad in the collection

PopCultureCarePackage said...

Really great read, that. Good to read about an era when going to the cinema was a truly magical experience. Say what you like about Avatar, but at least it rejuvenated the wonder of cinema that Stephen's piece is chock full of. Only remnants of that grandeur around now. If only that disused Empire could be put to good use...

That Westcliff Essoldo looked a thing of amazing art deco beauty, even more stunning than the Halfords that's there now. i remember the night that it closed (was it an Odeon then?), i think they were showing an all-nighter as a finale. I'd just DJ-ed nearby and had to head home to Basildon, Gutted to miss out. I think that knowing I'd missed that, along with knowing there'd be nothing like it locally again, made me idealise places like the old Scala and the grindhouses of New York.

Again, top stuff, Stephen. Oh, and you too, Piley (only a bit though - he did all the hard work)

Anonymous said...

Really enjoyed that. It's always fascinating to hear about the area you have lived in your whole life. I live in Eastwood and I remember the cinema in Hadleigh being pulled down as a small boy and i also went to a cinema in Rayliegh and at least 3 in Southend and one in Westcliffe. Now we have the choice of ONE in Southend and thats it !. It's nice to see some one get on in the film world who is motivated purely by his love of films. Nice one.

Carl.

Cocktails said...

I'd like to echo Dan's post that this was fascinating, yet saddening. The idea of cinema being not just as a money making exercise, but a whole 'experience' has disappeared from so many venues - especially the standard cinema chains where one person is expected to be responsible for 8 screens. I really admire and respect Mr Pickards dedication to his profession.

phsend said...

Wow -that was a fascinating read. I loved going to the Odeon, ABC & Classic when I was around nine or ten.


Saw a great mix of movies too including Earthquake, The Towering Inferno, Jaws, Grizzly, and more bizarelly Man

About The House, The Likely Lads and Steptoe & Son :)

My first movie was Winnie the Pooh & the Blustery Day at the Ritz.

I too saw Ben Hur on the big screen at the Classic - amazing movie but looking back on it now had a few dull patches in between the spectacle.

I would love to see the film log too!

Piley said...

Thanks everyone for your wonderful comments....

Dan - Glad it hit the spot for you, I know exactly what you mean about the delight\sad vibe. I too yearn for so much of the 'old school' days. Sure I know its progress, but why is progress so often worse that it was originally??!

Warble - amazing! You remember this Scotish woman too eh??! I wonder if she's up for an interview! I all but missed these glory days, but at least I did go to 'proper' cinemas as a kid, and have witnessed seeing a film in a big auditorium (AND with people who could behave themselves). Thats so true what you say about being scared on the staff!! I remember if someone did happen to mess about, all it took was a flas of the torsch and a stern look from a staff member and that was it!

Cheers Mondo - I loved that Beatles snipet too. Amazing to think that a film as iconic as that was shown in southend before anywhere else in the world!

Will be upping a selection of Stephens film log in the next week or so, it makes facinating reading.

PCCP - thanks for popping by! Yes, the last two names for that cinema were 'The Classic' at the end 'The Cannon'. I saw loads of stuff there, and was a regular at their Friday Night (after the pubs had shut) Rocky Horror screenings!

P

Piley said...

Carl - delighted you enjoyed the post, it's a really great bit of local history isnt it??

Cocktails - yes we've come a long way from Stephens days, and not for the better either. The weird thing is, sure every business is about making money, but I don't think it was the ONLY thing back then. They really wanted people to enjoy themselves and allow them to escape for a few hours. Today it's just about ripping you off and making as much money as quickly as possible. Must have been a wondeful time to be involved in the cinema world.

PH - thanks for your comments. Will certainly post some of those film logs soon. They too are also a great piece of local history. Lets be honest, without Stephen capturing them at the time, that information would have been lost forever. They make interesting reading.

Don't know about anyone else (and I'm SURE i'm just being greedy now), but I am more than a little interested in the post Southend years of Stephens career! Love to know what films he's been involved in and how he ended up going to LA and working for Disney!

P

Heff said...

Such historical fodder !

Now for some reason, the "Southend Odeon" just doesn't resonate as powerful to me as the term "Hammersmith Odeon" which is a name I'm somewhat familiar with thanks to both Black Sabbath, and Iron Maiden.

Happy St.Paddy's day, dude !

Cocktails said...

Well, I would definitely like to know more about Stephen's later career and how he came to be working for Disney. Does he work in THE Burbank studios?! Find out Piley!

Dan said...

In a lovely bit of synchronicity, someone on Twitter posted a link to this 3-minute film about a cinema projectionist working in London. It's a lovely little short and just seemed to fit very nicely with your post.

http://vimeo.com/8972758

Oh, and I echo yours and cocktails desire to know a bit more about Mr Pickard and how he came to be where he is today.

Martin said...

What a great story. Can't help feeling that there's very few cinema employees that show that level of commitment and enthusiasm for the job these days. Although I grew up in Grays, where we still had the State and The Ritz left to go to when I was a boy, I had the same feeling of being scared of the staff. Must be a common theme. Hats off to Stephen for sharing this. As a dedicated film man I'm sure he's planning the sequel already. There certainly seems to be a demand for it.

phsend said...

You might like this link too.

Its a thirty minute radio documentary on the history of cinema advertising. (mp3 format)

Unfortunately Ere Bert..This is the place is not recalled!

http://www.box.net/shared/14fx61gry4

Piley said...

Heff - Hmmm, yes don't think 'the maiden' or 'the sabbath' ever played the Southend Odeon!! But the Beatles and the Stones did in the 60s... you must give it a few points for that eh?!

Thanks Cocktails, looking back at the e-mail conversations I had with Stephen over the last week or two, I do believe he does work at Burbank yes!!

Great link, thanks Dan... Oh the good news is I received an e-mail from Stephen today and he said he had been very moved by the responses to this post... so much so that it has motivated him to work on a sequel!! So keep an eye out for that!

Glad you enjoyed Martin, I really love stuff like this... This is real local history as far as i'm concerned. You are right, it sounds like it was a job to go into because you had a passion for it in those day... today it's just another choice between McDonalds or bar work.

PH - two great links in one day! Many thanks for that. Will grab that in a minute.

P

marmiteboy said...

Really interesting article. Seeing the picture of the cinema in Rayleigh brought back memories. I never visited it but I remember seeing kids queueing up for Saturday morning pictures whenever we went shopping in Rayleigh as a child.

I also discovered that the premier of Help was shown on the day before I was born so it is highly likely my Mum was in labour at the time of the showing and was probably shouting "Help...I need somebody" along with Lennon.

Great post and fab photos.

Istvanski said...

I really loved this post and enjoyed reading about Stephen's memories, what a fantastic contribution.
All of these picture houses that have burnt or closed down...it's a sin. I love the art deco architecture and there doesn't seem to be that many about nowadays. We get faceless Vue multiplexes instead.

Piley said...

thanks Ist, and yes, you are spot on sir... I just don't know how some of these buildings have been allowed to be demolished... Look at that fabulous Art Deco cinema in Westcliff (Essoldo). Only demolished in the early 90's - surely that should have been a listed building??

But then I live in Southend, so it's all too believeable... this council doesn't have a clue.

P

Anonymous said...

Ahhhh Heff Hammersmith Odeon now we are talking , not films though. I saw so many bands there in my youth they could have charged me rent. BOC , Quo , Rainbow , Gillan , Ozzy , Robert Plant , Priest and Maiden (bit embaressing them two) ,REO Speedwagon , Metallica , the list goes on and on and on.......

Carl.

Carl.

Ishouldbeworking said...

I've been to the Regal in Rayleigh! One of my big sisters lived in Chalkwell after she got married and I can remember being taken there when I was about eight - so not long before it finally closed its doors. Wish I could recall what the film was.

That was another great post - and the majestic beauty of some of those buildings brings a tear to the eye. There's a sense of wonder in the whole thing that we'll never, never get back. Thank you for keeping the memories alive, though.

Piley said...

Carl... you should worry, the Odeon has played host to some downright iffy gigs in my past!!! I've Velvet Revolver, CSN and even Vick n Bob.... I saw Meatloaf there once which was actually bloody good (but don't tell anyone ok??!!)

Thank you ISBW. You've beaten me, I can't even picture the place! you actually visited it!! I've said it before above, but why on earth were some of these places not 'listed' buildings?? (because the council didnt want them to be perhaps??!)

P

sap said...

that was such a good story. it make's me fill very lazy stephen went from the odeon southend all the way to disney i gone from benfleet to hadleigh how sad

Dan said...

BREAKING NEWS:

The Southend on Sea Film Festival takes place in April/May and I've just seen these two gems advertised.

Sunday 2nd May 8.15 pm @ The Palace Theatre
Entry £2
Let's All Go To The Picture In Southend
"Come and join us as we shamelessly wallow in nostalgia and take a look at Southend’s cinemas over the years. Settle back in your seat and enjoy an evening in the company of local cinema historians Chris Izod and David Simpson, together with their very special guest Ron Stewart. Known as “Uncle Ron” to thousands of children who went along to Saturday morning pictures at the Regal at Rayleigh and the Classic at Westcliff, this legendary cinema manager will look back over a lifetime spent working “at the pictures”. A real treat for anyone who’s ever enjoyed a night in the ‘one and nines’!"

Monday 3rd May 12.30 pm @ The Park Inn Palace Hotel
Entry £2
The Ultimate Laurel & Hardy Picture Show
"We are thrilled to be associated with the Park Inn Palace Hotel, and that the hotel is extremely keen to acknowledge the part it has played in the cultural life of the town over the years. In August 1952, when Laurel and Hardy performed live at the Odeon cinema, they had suites in this hotel. Now, those suites have been transformed into function rooms. The Ultimate Laurel & Hardy Picture Show will illustrate their extensive careers, with special reference to their visit to Southend. The show will run approximately 90 minutes, and will culminate with a screening of the classic short Helpmates. "

All the details are here: http://www.southendfilmfestival.com/

I think it's hugely important to support the film festival and will be trying to sort my diary out to fit as much in as possible.

Piley said...

Sap - I faired a little better than you, I managed to get from Benfleet to Leigh... I win by about 3 miles!

Dan - top spot fella, thanks for this. Let's All Go To The Picture In Southend sounds like a must see doesn't it? I'm guessing the Southend branch of the L&H fanclub must be involved in the second event.

Will get the word out about them both - nice work, not sure i'd have found out about this.

P

gba1968 said...

Used to go to the Regal in Rayleigh when I was a young kid. Saturday morining pictures, and saw 'Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines' before it closed when I was 5. So sad when it shut down, and its former site remained derelict for so long...

Richard said...

Thank you very much for your blog. It brought back great memories
I moved from East Ham to Thundersly Park Road in Benfleet in 1947- our only entertainment was the cinemas and I think nearly all those mentioned were in operation – our “local” was the Kingsway at Hadleigh and I always was intrigued that the Balcony wasn’t really a balcony because unlike other cinemas, there were no stalls beneath – the underneath being occupied by the ballroom and restaurant.
As I was only 4 years old when the family moved, I was a member of the ABC Minors – the Saturday morning show for children at the Kingsway – Gus was the “MC” and manager and had to keep the noisy crowed in check – the normal cinema house lights weren’t used – just ordinary “cleaners” light bulbs. After the show – 3d worth of chips and crackling from the local chip shop - yummy!
I also went to the Rayleigh Regal for a period in 1952, for “Saturday Morning Pictures” – Flash Gordon was the favourite during this period – and after the show – a doughnut from the bakery where the brown buses of the City Coach Company to Southern and London stopped.
Once my mum took me to the Mascot in Westcliffe to see a Marx’s Brothers film but it was so bad, we left early!
We once went to the Eldorado to see the 1950’s film - “Blue Lamp” twice in a few days – there was no television then!
I remember queuing to get into some performances and seeing many people standing at the back of the stalls – particularly at the Odeon Southend, which considering its seating capacity must have been amazing.
The first “naughty” film I saw was on a Sunday at the Essoldo, I was 14 at the time! – I remember being shocked by a naked female getting out of a bath – the film was black and white and in Danish – though language wasn’t a problem – nor were the sub titles!
My family moved back to Ilford in 1959 and I never went back to a cinema in the Southend area except around 1965 when I met a projectionist at the Century in Pitsea to discuss life assurance.
Thanks once again for bringing back the memories.
Richard Hayden
Brisbane
Queensland
Australia

Piley said...

Great memories Richard, thank you SO much for sharing them - it makes it all worthwhile when I hear feedback such as yours.

I lived in Hadleigh in the early 80's, but have no memory of the Kinsway. I know where it was, and what it looked liked, but alas never saw it for myself.

There are a few other posts on local cinemas on my blog - do please have a look through (think they are all listed in the index down the right hand side in the 'odds and sods' section!

Thanks again,


Piley

Ches said...

Wonderful. Thank you for this amazing archive, which I came across whilst researching for the colours of council house doors in Southend in the 50's!

Hahaa don't ask:)

I spent my formative years in Southend. Wont say 'grew up' because I'm still learning that life-science. lol

Oh…the memories….sitting in the back seat of the Odeon smoking our first cigarettes aged 13. And when the Teddy boys tore up the cinema after the release of Rock around the Clock. They used to have bands come to play on Saturday mornings before the A and B films were shown.

Thank you again. I shall be back.
Cherri Gilham

Ches said...

Wonderful. Thank you for this amazing archive, which I came across whilst researching for the colours of council house doors in Southend in the 50's!

Hahaa don't ask:)

I spent my formative years in Southend. Wont say 'grew up' because I'm still learning that life-science. lol

Oh…the memories….sitting in the back seat of the Odeon smoking our first cigarettes aged 13. And when the Teddy boys tore up the cinema after the release of Rock around the Clock. They used to have bands come to play on Saturday mornings before the A and B films were shown.

Thank you again. I shall be back.
Cherri Gilham