Tuesday, 18 August 2009

The Odeon - Southend

As a rule, I do try to keep self indulgence to an absolute minimum here, but I'd appreciate it if you'd let me have a day off so I can waffle on for a bit about one of the most iconic buildings from my childhood. I've always had a thing for old fashioned cinemas... There was something about their grand scale, plush seats and incredible interior design that used to fill me with wonder as a kid, and I'm genuinely sorry that my son wont grow up to experience it. Instead he will have wonderful memories of various insipid, characterless, soul-less Americanised multi-screen complexes... that all looked the bloody same!

Between 1898 and 1935, no less than 16 different cinemas opened in my home town of Southend. Add to that a further 14 within a 4 or 5 mile radius of the town! The cinema was big business in those days, and must have pretty much been the national pass-time of choice (well, the Nintendo Wii never really took off like they expected back then!!). By the time I started going to the cinema only 3 of those 30 cinemas remained.... guess how many remain now??!

But I will always have such fond memories of the Odeon in Southend. I can still clearly remember what it looked like inside, the smell, the cinema tickets on a roll (like old fashioned bus tickets), the queues round the block for the summer blockbusters, the usherettes selling goodies during the interval (ALWAYS a 'support film' before the main event in those days), the popcorn, the ice cream, those awful cups of warm, still orange juice that you had to pierce the top with the straw!, the distinctive 'sound' of the seats flipping up, even the soundtrack to the films and those cheesy adverts for local businesses ("ere Burt, this is the place..."), had a unique, stark twang to it. It was a real occasion to go there... And it was the venue for so many 'firsts' in my life too.... first time I ever went to the cinema (Disney's Robin Hood in 1973), first time I ever went to the cinema without Mum and\or Dad (Star Wars in 1977), first time I ever took a girl to the cinema (Airplane! in 1980) and first time I ever saw an 'X' rated film (Porkys in 1982). I spent 25 of my first 32 years going there, and have always been a little obsessed with the memory of the place. So I thought it was about time that I document this now defunct pleasure palace.

The Astoria, opened in Southend high street on 15th July 1935 (Brewster's Millions was the first film shown), on the site of the recently demolished Lukers brewery. The cinema was by far the biggest in town and boasted room for a whopping 2,750 punters (1750 in the stalls and 1000 in the balcony), and even had room for a large cafe area. The exterior was faced with polished stone and there were three very striking, large arched metal windows above the entrance. Here's a picture of it on the opening day:

Check out the luxuriously lavish foyer and auditorium:

Within a year it had been taken over by County Cinemas Ltd. In 1937 Odeon Theatres took over County Cinemas, and in the early 1940's the venue was renamed the Odeon. Here's a picture of it in 1948:

Here's a great picture of the Odeon in 1959, which really shows off those windows:

In 1960 it was refurbished, the seating was reduced to 2286 and the cafe became a dance studio. The venue had already made a name for itself for booking big name acts (Laurel and Hardy even played there for a week in 1952), but during the 60's they really upped their game.... Louis Armstrong appeared there in 1962, The Beatles played twice in 63, The Rolling Stones played in 65, The Who in 66... and many more besides.

In 1970 the Odeon was closed, and the building underwent major reconstruction to turn it into a two screen cinema. Screen 1 was built in the space of the old cafe\dance studio area and seated 500. For screen 2 the balcony was extended forward to create a 1350 seater auditorium. It was at this point that the entrance was moved from the High Street to the side of the building in Elmer Approach. This enabled the original High Street entrance and foyer to be sold off as shop space (I remember it as a Presto's supermarket in the 80's, and a shopping arcade in the 90's and later as an amusement arcade). My only recollection of this cinema is as a two-screener, and I only ever knew it with the much less glamorous side entrance. Here's a picture of the all new entrance in 1971:

Here is the original frontage in 1991, complete with 'Shop In Village' crappy indoor market!

The Odeon cinema eventually closed for good in 1998...rather fittingly, the last three films I saw there were the 'special editions' of the original Star Wars trilogy in 1997... twenty years on from seeing the original film in the very same auditorium.

The empty building hung around for a few years looking rather sorry for itself, and it's final indignity was for the old front entrance shop to be turned into a 'Poundland', until the whole building was finally demolished in 2004. Here it is in the last year or two of its life, those windows, despite now being broken and boarded up are still as prominent as ever.

Now in it's place stands the frontage to the University of Essex... nice.

Apologies if this piece has been of little relevance to you (quite likely!). I'm sure you all have a fondly remembered equivalent from your own childhoods, which was equally neglected and eventually torn down by the local council with little regard for architecture and\or local history. And it's that very attitude that is fast making every high street in every UK town look identical. There are no new character buildings, nothing to give a place some identity.... just bland, 'built as cheap as possible' boxes. But hey, look on the bright side, we do have some amazing white goods super-outlets, drive-thru takeaways and retail parks in their place, so it's not all bad. I guess in 40 odd years time my son will be writing a similar post, lamenting on the loss of his favourite KFC outlet "they served the best hot-wings money could buy".



Kolley Kibber said...

You're right, Piley, everyone reading probably DOES have an equivalent story of their own much-loved Trocadero or Rialto, and that's exactly why they're all so important.

Just look at the interior architecture in those original pictures - beautiful. Grandly designed as a place where people would actually want to spend time, reflecting some of the glamour they'd be watching on the screen. Contrast with today's sorry offerings, with their terrible lighting and suspended ceilings. And what was so wrong with body-temperature Kia Ora anyway? It had its place!

We've got one independent cinema left in Brighton - the Duke of Yorks - which has been sympathetically restored and retains some of the original ambience of those long-gone picture palaces, and luckily (Brighton being what it is), it's well-supported. It's actually an enjoyable experience to go there. But how an identikit multiplex could ever provide a backdrop for laying down of Magic Memories is beyond me.

Great piece.

Mondo said...

A perfect piece and a worthy tribute.

Westcliff's Classic was OK but shabby (great for a Friday late night double/triple bills though). The ABC always seemed half empty. But the Odeon was huge, spacious and space-age (and with purple velvet seats). It always felt as if you were on the bridge of starship Enterprise whenever watching anything there.

I've got the same soft spot for it even with those huge ques and the smell of old fish blasting from the Prestos air-vents (Mrs PM worked at Prestos for a while).

One of my highlights for me was first non-parents visit and seeing The Spy Who Loved Me aged 11, (with an older mate and two girls). We popped into Keddies department store before the film, as they had the Lotus from the TSWLM on display in the shop.

I think my first film seen at the Odeon, may have been Live And Let Die, but possibly the randomest Pirhana (with Carrie as a b-film) and a few years later Tentacles!

Have you got any of those ''ere Bert this is the place' ad's in your collection - buzzing to see one.

PS Southwold still has a picture palace, and Aldeburgh has a tiny cinema with an 'under-glass' sweets counter

Cocktails said...

That post wasn't boring at all, Piley, quite the opposite.

And it made me think of your other recent post about bad behaviour in the theatre. It's like movies and 'entertainment' really have been commoditized. Mainstream movie going is no longer a special event in a beautiful glamorous 'palace of dreams', but in a cheap atmosphere less bunker (even if the sight-lines are often better and there is somewhere to put your 10litre cup of coke).

We had a wonderful art deco cinema where I grew up and I remember leaning over the balcony, spilling my popcorn, excitedly waiting for the lights to properly go down and for that magic hush to overwhelm the cinema.

I love the movies and hope the medium never dies, but it's not looking good is it? And I haven't even mentioned the actual 'product'!

Mondo said...

PS - do you remember the Kingsway Cinema in Hadleigh? I mainly remember it being knocked down when we moved in , as I lived behind it. It's where the old Safeways/Lookers was - but had bands as well as films check this gig. ?

25.01.67 - The Who / The Roulettes / Sounds Around / She Trinity + DJ Tony Blackburn (The band played two shows 18:15 and 20:45)

The Who in Hadleigh. Did I tell you my Ron Wood Hadleigh incident

Dan said...

Piley, an absolutely fantastic post there, Sir.

I agree wholeheartedly with Cocktails post too. You see, back in the day, a visit to the cinema was, for me, comparable to going into a church. A huge, ornate, awe-inspiring space which it was always a treat to enter (the cinema that is, not the church...) and, when you did get inside there, just like a church, you never, ever spoke. Woe betide anyone who started chatting during the film - they'd receive numerous dirty looks, hissed shushes, and much disappointed tutting. Indeed, if they kept it up, they were asked to leave by the cinema staff.

Now, the cinemas have become depersonalised, generic boxes. Get 'em in and get 'em out again, don't worry about the fact that they've paid £8 for a ticket - if someone talks during the movie, so what, we've already got their money.

I remember winning a spot-the-difference competition in the Evening Echo back in 1983 for a pair of tickets to see Return Of The Jedi which, funnily enough, came out on my tenth birthday. Myself and my brother went to see it and, for reasons which I can't remember, missed the first ten minutes. Not a problem, we watched the film then, at the end, sat in our seats for 15 minutes and waited for it to start again! I can't remember what I had for lunch yesterday, but that cinema visit has stayed with me for over 25 years. How many youngsters will be able to say that when they're our age?

I have wonderful memories of the Odeon cinema but, alas, no more. All those moments will be lost in time...like tears in the rain... :o)

E F RICE said...

Nice post Piley, I was brought up there as well and saw Stars Wars there and a wealth of Bond stuff. Last film I saw there was Independence Day with Mrs Rice, and what a load of sh*te that was to crown off some memorable years.

My top moment there was secondary school visit (St Thomas More for local readers) in about 82 to see Gandhi. While we were waiting for the picture to start someone discovered that by pounding the back of your seat with your hand you could gets loads of dust into the atmosphere. Cue 300 brats pounding there seats and creating an interior fog of outstanding quality !

I will always remember this as long as I live. Unfortunately the fog cleared and we were able to watch Gandhi (sorry I just didn't rate it as a 12 year old).

E F RICE said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
FitForNothing said...

Excellent post and a fascinating read. It's the same story everywhere. Here in Nottingham the old ABC cinema went a decade or so a go. The old Odeon shut in 2001 and will be demolished this year. Thankfully we still have a few out of town classics left but it's all very sad and so wrong.

Nearby Derby have at least preserved their Odeon as a nightclub although their still beautiful (despite being closed) Hippodrome theatre was damaged beyond repair the other year in suspicious circumstances and now apparently needs 'redeveloping'.

James Harrod said...

Absolutely brilliant piece - would like to feature it on my local, Southend website www.longpier.com

I've sent you an email with regards to this - congrats on a top piece

Mark said...

Great blog mate, good information. now i'm not as old as you, but i have to agree that its a lifeless building now, as are all of them. my boy will never enjoy the dizzy highs of the old Canon, or dare i mention it the ABC, they are still around but not as a cinema, Bo's Rds, oh god if i wasnt drunk i could mention some more, there are right there..... damn O2 took them over, anyway, its sad that my boy wont get to see a true cinema or me again, i'll pay my money and go and sit with the chav's in the multi screens we have now.
i miss going to Halfords and watching a good film, i remember my dad (cock) taking me to see die hard 2 when i was under age, good times.

well played mate, great post.

off subject but writing this with a bit of captain Jack. x

sorry if its messy.

Anonymous said...

What a brilliant piece P. Brilliant. I too saw many films there from a very young age, i don't remember the first but i do remember the first on my own which was Convoy (Ali McGraw and Kris Kristofferson i think). Good times with Ma n Pa , dates with girls etc. There also used to be a cinema in Rayleigh P The Reagal i think it was and i remember going there too and i remember standing in a launderette in Hadleigh while my Mum did the washing watching a cinema being demolished (i must have been about 3 or 4)it was where Safeway later was. I liked the Classic in westcliff and saw Led Zeppelin's Song Remains The Same there one Friday night with my mates. What a great bit of writing that has really taken me back and got me thinking. Bloody hell .

Carl (my f**cking google account keeps telling me WRONG PASSWORD even when i've re set it back to anon for now)

Anonymous said...

Just read the other comments and Mondo remembers that cinema in Hadleigh being pulled down too , blimey , no one my age i've ever mentioned it to remembers that, i'm gobsmacked Mondo. Wicked.


phsend said...

Nice memories there Piley.

Southend and the surrounding area was always well catered for in terms of cinemas. There used to be a great video from Southend museum all about them - not sure if its still available though.

Other sites that used to be cinemas were Icelands in leigh, another was on the London Road next to Beedel Avenue and which used to be that amazing Scientific and Technical store and that camping shop in Shoebury.

I remember queuing for hours to see Star Wars at the odeon, and Jaws. My first cinema film was Robin Hood too but that was at the Classic.

My best odeon memory was at the age of about 9 going to see the Hindenburg movie with a mate but accidently walking in to a showing of the soft core sci fi porno Flesh Gordon.

We compounded our mistake by staying in the cinema for the next showing to watch the start of the movie which we had missed - well we had to find out how Flesh Gordon actually arrived on planet Porno didn't we!

I do remember us being too scared to leave but in retrospect I'm sure the usherette was more worried than we were when she saw us coming out with a variety of dirty old men and other assorted pervs:)

Happy days :)

E F RICE said...

I've heard it all now phsend, a likely story although it does explain quite a lot .......

My best memory of the Classic was watching the original 'Gone in 60 seconds'. Cracking film and no 'mistaken' entrance into soft porn films that I can recall!

Mondo said...

Remember it well (ish) Carl as I lived in the flats behind (I was about 4 or 5), but the workmen would always talk to us while we hung around watching.

Funnily enough the first non parents visit to the Odeon I mentioned earlier (Spy Who Loved Me), was with Andy Hampson whose parents ran the Newsagents opposite Safeways.

Had a few post-Grand late ones at The Classic myself, but mainly horror or Mad Max though..

Piley said...

thanks everyone for these fab comments!! I was fully prepared for a big fat zero on this one, so am really chuffed you enjoyed it! and am delighted to see i'm not the only one with a soft spot for these great old palaces.

ISBW - you are so spot on... it was a little bit of sparkle, a piece of magic for the punters. These places were designed for OUR pleasure not theirs. A place to escape for a couple of hours and be transported to somewhere else. Today’s cinemas are depressing little holes that you go to in spite of it all... like walking into Halfords or Currys. There is no love for these buildings, and I honestly think there won't be in 70 or 80 years time either. There is nothing to love about them. We are known to visit Brighton once or twice a year, so really much check out The Duke of Yorks.

Ta Mondo - I saw Live and Let Die there too!! My dad took me (my mum hated Bond movies!). I also remember my dad taking me to see the Rescuers one school holiday... he promptly fell asleep within a few minutes and started doing the loudest snoring you ever did hear!!! Don't think I do know your Ron Wood incident, is it clean? Can you tell us here or is it one for the next podcast?

Hi Cocktails - thank you, i'm really glad you didn't find it boring! Yes there is a redundant word that used to go with things like the cinema, the theatre etc etc... now what was it... "ah yes, 'entertainment'. The word was officially retired in 2001, when the whole industry became a bit of a chore! There is nothing magical about doing these things anymore - more just 'something to do' - not an event like it used to be. And you are just as likely to come home with the 'ump due to someone else’s selfish behavior as you are floating on air having had a divine time!

Dan - Oh yes!!! That was common practice back in the 70s wasn't it? You just went to the pictures and started watching... it didn't matter how much you'd missed!!! I remember staying in the cinema all day just watching the same film over and over with my mates!! The staff knew you were there, but never ever turfed you out.

EF - I obviously need help, but i'd MUCH RATHER those dusty old seats than today’s hoovered model! Brilliant! I can just imagine that picture too!

FFN - Welcome, thanks for dropping by! It's amazing just how many people love these buildings and care about them, but councils will always find a good excuse to get rid of them anyway. Often just letting it go ro 'wrack and ruin' until it's not cost efective to repair... Grrr! That’s a classic though that you mention... I've seen that a few times (ISBW - didn't the same thing happen with the West Pier in Brighton... man I LOVED that pier... as soon as it got a grant to restore it, it mysteriously got torched? Whats the deal with the West Pier now?). Don't be a stranger FFN!

blogger won't let me type all this in one comment, so cutting here...


Piley said...

i'm back!!

Longpier - Welcome to you too! Really pleased you like the article. It took a few hours in the library, an afternoon in Southend museum and three nights on the computer to create it... so it really makes it all worthwhile to know you enjoyed it. You are of course more than welcome to link to the post by the way.

Mark - (thanks for rubbing in the 'old git' bit!!) On first read I was alarmed at your comment, particularly this bit "its sad that my boy won’t get to see a true cinema or me again" all of a sudden I thought I was reading your suicide note ;-) Then I re-read it... pheww! Yeah quite right, who needs a cinema when you can have a great big lovely Halfords... sigh...

Carl - we are the same age (almost exactly I think... 2 days init??) yet I don't recall the Hadleigh cinema at all (but then you ARE older than me!!). I've heard about it, seen pictures of it, but never saw it (well, don't remember seeing it either). It's amazing the amount of cinemas that were around here... THIRTY of em!! PH mentioned The Mascot (London Road at the top of Beedell Ave), There were 4 in Leigh alone! The Coliseum was the biggest (was a Bingo hall in the 80's, now a bleedin hairdressers). The Kingsway in Hadleigh opened in 1936, and was closed and demolished in 1970. Spot on with the Rayleigh one too... The Regal (opened in 1937, closed in 1973 and again, promptly demolished... retirement home now).

PH - That’s something else I’d forgotten (no, not creepin in to watch hard core porn!!) the fact that as you were walking along, you could always just walk up and have a peer in to the other screen to see what was going on... nobody was there to stop you, and of course, you never mad a nuisance of yourself, just a peep and off!

EF - I enjoyed the 'flea pit' (Classic) too. Like Mondo, I used to do a lot of the Friday late nighters, ideal after a bellyful of beer! Went to see all 3 Mad Max films there one night... i saw the opening titles and the first 5 mins of Mad Max 1 and that was it!! Got woken up when they were clearing up about 5 in the morning!! Another £3.50 well spent!! They used to show the Rocky Horror Picture Show once a month and I’d always be there with my bag full of toast, rice, newspapers etc etc... i used to feel sorry for the cleaners... ugh


Piley said...

Mondo - weird... you must have added your comment whilst I was typing mine.... I too used to get beered up on a Friday (in Southend ot like you at the Grand) and go the the late nighters at the classic. I also did the Mad Max marathon!! but not very sucessfully(See above!)


Anonymous said...

I used to go in that nes agaets all the time and vaguely remember Andy Hampson. I remember the flats too , a long shot here , did you know a family over there called Campbell , three kids , Dave (a biker) , Ronald and Fiona ?. I saw Spy Who Loved Me there and many other Bonds i remember being in the Grand one night and going to see Brainstorm (Natalie Wood , Christopher Walken) at the Classic , i was so mullered i rented the film on VHS the next day so i could make sense of it all LOL !!!!.


Anonymous said...

God i meant to say NEWS AGENTS , look at that spelling , i've had a few beers tonight LOL , sorry.


Mondo said...

Carl - 'mazing. I knew Fiona, Ron and Dave Campbell really well, we were always in their place. My 3rd floor bedroom window looked on to their house. Dave was the dad, but also the oldest son's name and yes a hairy biker. He used babysit when my mum and dad went out but we'd stay up late and watch horror films. Ron and me used used to set fire to his Airfix model planes in their back garden pretending they'd been shot down and we both had a mad Bobby Vee buzz summer of 76 - Fiona is a barmaid at The Ship in Leigh now. Amazing.

Andy Hampson was a top bloke, but a bit of a tearaway though.

Anonymous said...

As the saying goes "it's a small world" eh ?. My sister went out with Dave the biker for a bit and we used to hang out at John Boroughs Park with Ron and Fiona. We lived in Westwood Gardens right down the other end of the park out of town ( later moved to Oak Road South opposite Pontons ). I remember i had this big airfix Spitfire and Ron took it home and painted it for me and he did a brilliant job of it , doing all the cammo paint job etc. Unbeleivable eh ?, i've not seen any of them or even thought of them for years, this whole post and the comments have really sent me off down memory lane.


Mondo said...

Incredible - Ron used to have all his model planes suspended from the ceiling with invisible cotton.
I was always over John Burroghs (still am sometimes, but with my two tots now) , with Andy Hampson, Chor (runs the chip shop now) Kurt Davies, Andy Parmenter, Peter Seargent (Barge) - and my two oldest mates Dave Williams (Whitlow) and Dave Wright who lived in Westwood Gardens

You should pop into The Ship and catch up with Fiona

Anonymous said...

I had all my planes on the ceiling too ha ha. Andy Parmenter was in my tutor group at King John (a Genesis fan if memory serves) , I knew Dave Wright to say hello to in passing ,he lived up the road from me, a tough nut but a nice guy if memory serves again. Is Dave Williams a West Ham fan and was a punk rocker/ skin back in the day ? , if it's who i'm thinking of i think i knew him too ( i heard he'd been very ill if it's who i think it is). I remember Chor only from going in the take away though , i did'nt know him. I remembered some one else last night who lived near you Jani Brown ? ring any bells ?. Sorry Piley didn't mean to high jack this post mate :-).


Mondo said...

Dave Wright was one of my closest mates, and his family were great - but yes him/they did have a reputation. Unfortunately he died in 96. I first met Whitlow when I was 4 (he was 3) yes a Hammers fan, but hasn't been to well (long story).

Jane Brown - knew her really well. Her dad used to drive a Robin and we'd sing 3 wheels on my wagon, when he drove into the flats. Her mum was lovely and had a beehive. Jane was nuts about horses - I only saw her a recently at the Folk Festival. Mad! You'll have to come to one of Piley's Elms nights and we'll have a proper catch up.

Did you know Debbie Levett or Angela Richards in Westwood Gdns?

Anonymous said...

I'm really sorry to hear that mate. I think it was Piley who told me whitlow had not been well. Again i only knew Jane to talk to from passing through that way a lot, i doubt she even knew my name, she was really nice. I knew both Debbie Levett and Angela Richards (and her two sisters) , i used to knock about and play football with Paul Levett Debbie's brother , apparently Debbie married another mate of mine from those day's called Paul Humphries. I never got on that well with Angela back then , very hit n miss she was LOL, i think her sister's were Lynn and Beverly. We must have crossed paths back then Mondo and may be even spoken :-) but my first memories of you are from the Pink Toothbrush. Blimey you sure mate :-) , i can talk for England you know Mondo :-).


Mondo said...

Crazy - I went out with Debbie (I was 12) until I caught her copping off with someone else at the top of Peter Peirman's stairs - at a party in his place in Westwood Gdns..

I went out with Angela too, summer of 82. And her oldest sister Lyn was a bit sniffy They used to live next door to Steve Turner. I think his name was.

Must have crossed paths mate, especially of you were passing through the flats, knew the Campbells, Jane etc..I used hang around with both of them.

Mad innit!

Piley said...

Mondo\Carl - blimey this is all very freaky!!! You sure you two wernt best mates, and each other is the only person you've forgotten??!!!

Carl - you should deffo come out on the next Elms bash with the boys (erm... make that old boys!).


Anonymous said...

Bloody hell Peter Peirman , his Dad did the pools round, round our way , i saw him go though every fashion stage , punk , skin , long hair , biker, ted you name it. When he was a punk i saw 3 skins kick shite out of him at a Southend United match. My sister always said he was wierd but he seemed ok when i spoke to him. You actually might have known my sister Kim Adams ??. I remember Debbie as being really nice and most boys fancied her. Lynn was sniffy, so was her Mum, Beverly was a wet blanket and Ang was bitchy (thats the way i remember it any way LOL)thier Dad was a nice guy though. It's crazy mate innit , i cant beleive how much this has brought back.

Piley , i wouldn't want to intrude , being an out sider and all that :-). Could be fun though , cheers !.


Anonymous said...

PS i think it was Sean Turner next door to Angela !!!!.


Heff said...

31 Comments ? HOLY BALLS !!!

Anonymous said...

Yeah, he's really packing them in over here! Another fine piece Piley, felt like I had been there myself. "Porky's" was X rated over there?

marmiteboy said...

I loved that cinema. I remember queuing up the stairs (two queues dependent on what film you were seeing) I saw my first film there too (it must have been 1970!!) when I saw The Tales Of Beatrix Potter when I went on a trip from infants school.

I'd like to put in a good word for the Classic in Westcliff too. A fine cinema in the old tradition which is long since gone and replaced by a Halfords.

Piley said...

Heff - is that holy or hairy??

Wil - thanks dude.. Porkys was indeed an X back in the day!! Looking back tho, it was so tameQ

Heff/Wil - I've always assumed that the golden era of cinema must have been even more mazing over in the US. So what was it like in the 70's and 80's for you guys? was it all faded glory like here, starting to make way for the multi-plex or did the old cinemas fair better?? be really interested to know.

Marmite - gosh yes, queues up the stairs!! Had forgotten that!. So you were there in 1970? was that still the oroginal front entrance or the side one I wonder?



Heff said...

Faded Glory. The new multiplex theaters seem more awesome (and more packed) than back in the day, in my opinion.

You're not talking to a dude that hits the theater often though, lol.

Mondo said...

Carl - Bloody Hell, you're right I forgot his old man was a pools man. He was always giving Pierman a bollocking for something other. We used to shout out Peeeedddder whenever we saw him (his dad that is). He was a really nice bloke, but got a few wallopings - dunno why?

Bev was a drip. Angela got cocky as she did some modelling for a bit. And yeah Debbie was ok. Kim Adams know that name really well - who did she hang around with?

You've got to get yourself down the Elms matey. Just to save up Pileys blog-space

Axe Victim said...

When Eight Bells Toll is my second favorite movie after Where Eagles Dare. Both written by?

Piley said...

Heff - thought as much, Ta anyways tho!

Mondo\Carl - an Elms trip in September is on the cards boys!

Col - Its either Jordan or Alistair MacLean!!! What do I win??!!


Kolley Kibber said...

"Bev was a drip". Made me laugh out loud. Fantastic.

Piley, as regards the fate of poor old West Pier in Brighton, there was all manner of skullduggery. Preceded, I must say, by years and years of poncing around by Brighton bloody Council. Successive administrations dominated by self-serving egomaniac local 'politicians' on vanity trips (Simon Fanshawe for one), all fannying around mindlessly and failing to reach a decision about the site, during which time it continued to degenerate.

Around the time it finally burnt down, there were rumours that the Noble Entertainment Group ("Every Night is Party Night at Barry Noble's Astoria! Come and Join the Fun!") were in fairly energetic disagreement with an Eastern-European backed 'leisure' consortium, who were close to a successful bid to redevelop the West Pier and adjoining seafront area (Noble's owned the nearby Palace Pier at the time and were not happy about the competition aspect).

Just before the fire began, a back speedboat was seen driving erratically and dangerously between the two piers, and something was apparently thrown or fired from it. The ballroom of the pier, which was battered and decrepit from years of gales and neglect, went up in flames and the entire structure was burnt back to its current metal skeleton. The boat was never found, nor was anyone ever apprehended.

The latest ludicrous project for the site involves the building of a massive observation tower, a bit like the Seattle Needle, which nobody seems to want and which will alter the character of the seafront forever. Another bit of vapid, irrelevant overdevelopment, in a town already packed with it. God I'm turning into a sour old fart.

Dave Whit said...

Hello Piley, as a Southend boy growing up in the '60s I frequently went to the Ritz, ABC, Essoldo (later renamed the Classic)and of course, The Odeon. I used to watch the Saturday morning kids matinees at the Odeon, but have forgotten the names of the feature films that I saw there. My older sister camped out overnight to watch the Beatles perform there - she must have been 15 at the time. I remember when it closed down and think I went to the opening of the two-screen Odeon conversion too, but they were a bit pokey compared to the original Odeon.

There's a book published, which might interest you; a privately produced A5 softcover book called 'The Dream Palaces of Southend' by a local man named Dilley. I've got a copy somewhere, but can't lay my hands on it right now. All the Southend cinemas are featured in it, from the very beginning of cinema to the 1980s. Well worth tracking down.

Dave Whit

Anonymous said...

Poor old Pete eh ?. Ha ha ha she was a drip , bloody polly anna LOL. I never really liked Ang i have to admit.

My sister hung out with Debbie Ellis and Debbie Palmer (i think it was Debbie Palmer certainly Palmer) and she knew two other Hadleigh girls Claire Fortisque (f**k knows if i've spelled that right) and Alison Withey. Ohh and Tanya Cutting (you may remember her brother Rupert a nice bloke) Many of the other names have faded , i remember thinking Debbie Ellis was alright tho (know what i mean :-). Did you go to Deanes ? , she went there.

Yeah looks like i'll have to come out or this blog will become planet Mondo n Carl talking about thier child hood in Hadleigh Essex LOL .


Piley said...

ISBW - thanks ever so for the update on the West Pier, it is\was genuinly one of my most loved old building (Oddly, I have little love for our own pier). I used to take photos of it every time I visited, and each set look just that bit worse than the last. I remeber spending ages looking at it with binoculars one time... you could still read some of the signs that were displayed on there. Was weird... bit like videoing the Titanic type weird... It was 'dead' but the signs of a previous 'life' was still in evidence. They deffo shoulda used it is an episode of Scooby Doo!! Maybe they coulda found that pesky speedboat?! A real shame though, and sad that it's no longer possible to restore it.

Dave W - thank, I think I may well have used that book in my research... quite a small 'home-made' style book, but packed with info. It's weird, but despite living here all my life, I don't think I've heard of anyone who actually went to either of those Beatles gigs... (I had a old boss who camped out to wsee the Stones there). I'm sure the 2 screener must have looked pretty small in comparison, but it still looked huge to me!

Carl - you're on the invitation list ;-)

Dan said...

All this talk of various cinemas has got me thinking: didn't the Cliff's Pavillion used to show kids films at one point?

It may be that I've got it all mixed up in my old, grizzled head, but I recall seeing some Children's Film Foundation stuff there back in the day.

Of particular interest was one serial called Chico The Rainmaker (aka The Boy With Two Heads) which featured a talking shrunken head. For those who don't believe me, here's a link to the opening sequence: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AvfFia7QEVg

I also recall another CFF film where the main character was some sort of man-seal who could only drink water if it had a cardiac-arrest-inducing amount of salt stirred into it.

Does anyone else remember the Cliffs showing Saturday morning movies, or am I talking out of my backside?

Piley said...

BLOODY HELL DAN!!!!! I do not believe that!!! For about the last 20 years I've been banging on about 'chico the rainmaker' and never once found anyone who had the foggyist what I was on about!!!

My mum and dad used to drop me and a mate off at the ABC in Southend or Basildon while they went shopping. I remember we had to sing a song something like "we are the boys and girls of Warner...." cant remember the rest, but it ended with everyone shouting "ABC!!!".

You used to get a badge ever week too... i THINK it was the alphabet so each week you worked your way through.... dunno what happened after the 26th week tho!

Don't remember the cliffs doing kids films tho mate...

Can't believe you remember Chico tho!! Top work fella!


Dan said...

So glad you remember old Chico! You're the first person that's ever remembered him.

For years, whenever a conversation turned to talk of the Children's Film Foundation, I used to mention Chico the rainmaker and got nothing but blank stares. Everyone always remembers stuff like Sammy's Super T-Shirt but nobody could remember poor Chico.

Great site here which has a nice piece on the old CFF films: http://www.tvcream.co.uk/?p=9252

I've got to say, your post seems to have stirred a lot of memories for people!

Piley said...

With you all the way there Dan!

Forgot to sat, the kids flicks I used to get dropped off at were always a Saturday morning thing.. few cartoons, short film or 2 and then a Childrens Film Foundation 'feature'.

I clearly remember the closing titles to Chico too... the same theme tune but i'm SURE there was a 'bouncing ball' (or maybe a bouncing Chico head??!) bobbing along to the lyrics so we could all sing along! All together now...



Martin said...

Another great post that seems to have dug up a lot of memories for people. Not being a local lad I can't really claim to know anything about the Odeon but we did have several old cinemas in Grays. By the time I started going to the pictures there was only the Ritz and the State left. Of these two the State was the last to close and is probably more well known for it's famous organ and the fact that it has been a grade 2 listed building for some years now. I can't remember when it last showed a film but attempts to turn it into a music venue as well as a nightclub seem to have been unsuccessful so far. The place holds a lot of memories for me. Some good, going to see Dr Feelgood there during one of their first attempts at selling it as a music venue, and some not so good, crying my eyes out at the end of Old Yella (not sure about the spelling). I even went to see Flesh Gordon there, and I have to confess it wasn't an accident as it was for phsend. Great film though. Also went to my first all night party there held in the foyer/hall upstairs. Quite an experience for an innocent young kid. A great post that brought back some great memories

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Bernardine Kennedy said...

I well remember the Odeon, I also remember sleeping out for tickets for the Beatles in 63! I saw many live acts there in the sixties including Cliff Richard twice but I don't remember the Beatles being there twice? I saw them in 63, when was the other time?
I remember Victor Sylvester's Studio being upstairs and going 'up vics' on a saturday night! No ballroom dancing though. Lots of 'pop'.
I could go on but won't.
Nostaligia Rules!

Piley said...

Martin - Great comments, thanks. It's amazing how strong these memories are isn't it?? So glad that it's not just me"

Hi Bernardine, thanks for stopping by! Yes, the Beatles played Southend twice in 1963... 31st May (with Roy Orbison) and 9th December (which one did you go to?). Loved your memories of the Odeon, don't ever be sorry about 'going on' here, i'm facinated by it all! Nostaligia does indeed rule!


Furtheron said...

great piece

Out of interest on our recent USA tour we found loads of little old style cinemas in the USA - at least where we were there seems to still be enough business for them to keep going and not that obvious that the big multiplexers are taking over

Unknown said...

Great article, lovethe comment about the 'ere Bert this is the place' adverts.

Does anybody know the history of that cartoon clip? Was it only shown in Southend? Who created it? Does it still exist somewhere?

I seem to remember it was used by several companies, one of them being a jewellers I think.


Piley said...

Further - thanks, nice to hear that you found some nice 'old school' ciemas on your travels. Precious few over here :-(

Hi Mitch, thanks for stopping by. I've looked everywhere for that damn 'ere burt' cartoon!! It is not mentioned anywhere, apart from on a couple of 'local' forums, so I'm guessing it was a local only ad. I'm sure all 3 cinemas used to use it tho... i can still see Burts feet flying into the door of the establishment his friend was so keen to show him!


Stephen Pickard said...

Your post brought back some great memories. I worked at the Odeon as a projectionist from September, 1964 through 1966. 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. Remember meeting Lulu and Cliff Richard and seeing one of the Hollies peeing into the wash basin in the dressing room, not always a luxury meeting pop stars.
It was far more interesting projecting movies. We ran "Goldfinger" for 5 weeks. 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.
We took a pride with presentation back then. 20 minute reels, carbon arc lamps. We had a 52 foot CinemaScope screen and it looked great when we ran films like "Lawrence of Arabia", "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.
The Head projectionist's office had a glassless porthole so you could hear crowd reaction, quite something to behold when you have a full house with 2000 plus people!

Piley said...

Hi Stephen - thank you so much for taking the trouble to share your memories of the Odeon, wonderful stuff.

As you can see from the comments, it was a post that triggered a lot of feedback, and your tales of actually working there complete the picture.

Love the glamour of the Hollies peeing in the wash basin!!

Thanks again, and I do hope you'll pop back from time to time?



Stephen Pickard said...

Thanks Piley. If I think of anymore stories of the Odeon I will post them here.

Anonymous said...

Hello, this is interesting. I have to say that the Odeon/Astoria Southend was by far the finest cinema I'd ever visited; on a par with the best in the West-end in London. I have had an interest in cinema architecture and having visited the theatre (for it was fully equipped for both stage and film before 1970)as a child to see The jungle book when it was a single-screen venue, then awaiting the transformation to twin-auditoria after closure for a while, I remember that the art-deco 'stepped-arches' ceiling with the concealed lighting was still in place in Odeon screen two. That feature alone and the large sweep radius of the front of the auditorium's proscenium and the serenely slow opening of the curtains with the purple to green sequenced tab lights made for a most up-market standard of cinema experience compared to the other venues. House lights went down slowly, leaving the ceiling's atmospheric lights to remain whilst the curtains opened up, tab lights fading and ceiling arches slowly dimming by this time. Presentation was first class; overseen by the strict but most professional managerial standards of one Arthur Levenson. He was at the theatre in 1951 for a while, went to a London cinema (Gaumont Kilburn?), and returned to Southend and managed both the Odeon and the Ritz (opposite Palace hotel)from the early 60's until his retirement in about 1987. Unlike many cinema's, the Odeon was managed with high standards to the end (Diane Brissenden, formerly A. Lev's deputy) remaining in a good standard of condition, never tired looking or any sign of 'tattyness'. James Bond was always a pleasure to see there, full 1350 seat capacity audience with the atmosphere of a theatre. In 1985, the venue celebrated it's 50th anniversary with a stage put in place in front of the screen curtain to facilitate a parade of 50-years of Southend 'Carnival Queens'; the annual crowning ceremony used to take place in the pre 1969 theatre when it had full stage facility and 2,750 seats and standing for 250!). They went from 1985 queen right back to 1935 and flew the quenn for that year all the way from Canada! Westcliff cine club put together a 16mm film of the history of Southend using old footage from around the town. Also, at this time, Roger Moore's last Bond film was released and Arthur Levenson wanted to delay the release by around one-week, so as to open the 50th anniversary celebration night with this spectacle of a film. Unfortunately, the film renters, (absolute bastards that rob cinema's of any real takings), would not allow it. I remember at a 'British Film Year' (Southend chapter) committee meeting (BFY: Chair: R. Attenborough - the promotion of British cinema - getting the community back to 'going to the cinema' due to dwindling attendances), Arthur Levenson dropped in at our meeting venue, the 'Marine bar' in the basement of the ABC (latterly, Empire theatre, Alexander St.)to inform us of his 50th do at the Odeon. He said that the film renters told him that if he wouldn't show the Bond film on the release date (one week before the 50th celebration night) then they would give it to one of the other local cinema's. Such dictatorship! In the end, he had to use 'Return to Oz' for the big night, even though he had 007's 'Q' Desmond LLewellyn demonstrating the Bond gadgets and without using the microphone. He asked if the audience could hear him at the back. Such were the good lively acoustics there. Also, there were letters read out from well known actors and actresses wellwishing the event, including Dame Anna Neagle, who remembered visiting the Astoria/Odeon over the years when coming to the town.

Piley said...

Anon - thank you so much for taking the trouble to get these memories down. This is almost all before my time (I only remember it at a 2 screener), so found it all facinating.

Do please pop back if you have any more gems like these.

Thanks again.


James Cinema Man said...

How clearly your memories and all these comments describe the difference between a cinema like the Astoria/Odeon Southend and many of today's multiplex's "conveyor belt" operation where atmosphere and any sense of occasion are conspicuous by their absence. Auditoria are so often black boxes with a screen at one end - yes the seats can be comfy and the sound sometimes amazing but they are so utilitarian and bland. I guess the older cinemas, having evolved from fairground shows and music halls, naturally inherited theatrical architecture and equipment (proscenium arch, curtains, coloured lighting etc.) and many, like the Southend Astoria, had fully equipped stages for cine-variety shows originally and which later made the venues perfect for bands and pop shows. The architects of the Astorias, Odeons, Palaces and Ritzes etc. had imagination and flair and created buildings which were impressive in themselves. Today, a developer allocates a cinema space and, to fit it out, an exhibitor puts number of seats, exit provision, screen dimensions and speaker positions, along with air conditioning into a computer programme and, hey presto, a cinema has been designed! But where's the magic, the anticipation, the wonder? White lights dimming out and an image thrown onto a previously blank screen will hardly be a fond recollection years from now.
Mercifully, there are still some cinemas that really do "go the extra mile" and the famous Odeon in London's Leicester Square is one. Over 1,700 seats, huge screen with two sets of spotlit curtains and projection and sound to die for. This theatre is, not unnaturally, pricy but... you get what you pay for. Many Odeon Multiplexes and conversions still use screen curtains and theatre-style lighting to enhance the presentation and it makes a big difference. Independents, too, often beat the larger chains when it comes to presentation standards and creating a sense of occasion.
I project films in high definition in my home cinema, there are both screen tabs (curtains) and house tabs and concealed, multi-coloured lighting as well as theatre spotlights on three colour circuits. Yes, it is maybe extreme but it's a hobby, my audiences love the effects and, if you were to half close your eyes you could almost be back in the Odeon, Southend or any one of hundreds of tragically lost "real" cinemas.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant! But most people seem to have forgotten about Screen 1 - which was used for the kids' club on Saturday mornings in the '70s. That was actually my first time in the Odeon - about '76 or '77. I remember well the ' p and d' -shaped cutouts either side of the screen for the colour-wheel spot lamps, listening to the disco tunes from the likes of Boney M before the show started, The Chiffy Kids" and all the rest of it. My dad took me to see Star Wars in Screen 2 in '77, which as we know was even more impressive. One Saturday morning though, due to a technical breakdown in Screen 1, we all got transferred to Screen 2 where the showing continued. Even then I couldn't believe that they'd put a bunch of unruly kids in Screen 2 to trash the place - especially since we'd only paid a few p to get in!

Tricky_Dicky said...

Brilliant! But most people seem to have forgotten about Screen 1 - which was used for the kids' club on Saturday mornings in the '70s. That was actually my first time in the Odeon - about '76 or '77. I remember well the ' p and d' -shaped cutouts either side of the screen for the colour-wheel spot lamps, listening to the disco tunes from the likes of Boney M before the show started, The Chiffy Kids" and all the rest of it. My dad took me to see Star Wars in Screen 2 in '77, which as we know was even more impressive. One Saturday morning though, due to a technical breakdown in Screen 1, we all got transferred to Screen 2 where the showing continued. Even then I couldn't believe that they'd put a bunch of unruly kids in Screen 2 to trash the place - especially since we'd only paid a few p to get in!

smug_alec said...

Brilliant! But most people seem to have forgotten about Screen 1 - which was used for the kids' club on Saturday mornings in the '70s. That was actually my first time in the Odeon - about '76 or '77. I remember well the 'p and d' -shaped cutouts either side of the screen for the colour-wheel spot lamps, listening to the disco tunes from the likes of Boney M before the show started, "The Chiffy Kids" and all the rest of it. My dad took me to see Star Wars in Screen 2 in '77, which as we know was even more impressive. One Saturday morning though, due to a technical breakdown in Screen 1, we all got transferred to Screen 2 where the showing continued. Even then I couldn't believe that they'd put a bunch of unruly kids in Screen 2 to trash the place - especially since we'd only paid a few pence to get in!

smug_alec said...

Brilliant! But most people seem to have forgotten about Screen 1 - which was used for the kids' club on Saturday mornings in the '70s. That was actually my first time in the Odeon - about '76 or '77. I remember well the 'p and d' -shaped cutouts either side of the screen for the colour-wheel spot lamps, listening to the disco tunes from the likes of Boney M before the show started, "The Chiffy Kids" and all the rest of it. My dad took me to see Star Wars in Screen 2 in '77, which as we know was even more impressive. One Saturday morning though, due to a technical breakdown in Screen 1, we all got transferred to Screen 2 where the showing continued. Even then I couldn't believe that they'd put a bunch of unruly kids in Screen 2 to trash the place - especially since we'd only paid a few pence to get in!

smug_alec said...

At the risk of going slightly OT, you are right on the money regarding all these retail parks that have sprung up like a rash. And has nobody noticed how they all have a pyramid or dome as a prominent feature (as if its inclusion is some kind of ritual using occult symbology)? I'm just waiting for them to tear down Southend Library, with its stunning 1970s interior floor-to-ceiling clay tiles. No doubt in its place will go another block of cheap flats, or a Tesco metro (with a glass pyramid on it, of course!). In fact it's probably a done deal.

Unknown said...

My mum recently passed away. She was an usherette at the Odeon in the 50's and early 60's. I have the pictures of Laurel and Hardy whom she met while working there. We moved to the U.S. in 65. I also remember the Beatles playing there I was to young to see them but she got a a ticket for my older cousin. My mother often talked about her time at the Odeon.