One of the great glories of cinema is that it has the power to take the mundane and make it magical. To most of us, car parks signify a world of pain, where fearsome red-and-white crash barriers dictate our fate and where finding a space is often like finding meaning in the collective works of Martin Lawrence. To others, they meant lost Saturday afternoons spent waiting for your mum to finally come out of Woolworths so you could rush home to catch Terrahawks.
Either way, car parks are grey and dull. In the movies, however, they are fantastic places, filled with high-level espionage, and high-octane chases.
I beg to differ, the cinema and TV has helped to define our perception and misconception of the car park.
The modern day pedestrian may reclaim, redefine and realise, that far from mundane each actual exemplar is different, in so many ways. The time of day, weather, light, usage, abusage, condition, personal demeanour and mood all shape our experience of this particular, modern urban space.
To walk the wide open spaces of the upper tier, almost touching the sky.
Is a far cry from the constrained space of the lower levels.
To walk the ramps with a degree of trepidation, visceral and fun.
This is an inversion of the car-centric culture, walking the concrete kingdom with a carbon-free footprint.
I was inspired by a recent viewing of All The Presidents Men to revisit my local multi-storey on Heaton Lane Stockport.
Cinematographer Gordon Hugh Willis Jr constructs a shadow world where informer and informed meet to exchange deep secrets, ever watchful, moving in and out of artificial light, tense and alert.
Look over your shoulder- there’s nobody there, and they’re watching you.
But they have been here.
Pay here, your time is time limited, your presence measured.
Let’s explore this demimonde together, wet underfoot, lit laterally by limited daylight, walking through the interspersed pools of glacial artificial glow.
Time’s up, check out and move on – tomorrow is another day, another car park; in a different town.
Cinema and car parks wedded forever in the collective popular cultural unconscious.
A beautiful coastal town with a regency feel which is ideal for visitors of all ages. Sat in the middle of spectacular countryside Sidmouth is home to beautiful beaches, stylish eating places and great shopping, with everything from unusual gifts, designer clothing and lifestyle goods available.
The day of my visit the Folk Festival was in full swing – I encountered hardened drunken cider drinkers, drunk in the park and more tie-dyed clothing, than you would consider it humanly possible to produce.
With a hey nonny no I left town – up a very steep hill.
At the top of the hill, I unexpectedly came upon an observatory.
It is both a historical observatory and home to an active amateur astronomical society. It is a centre for amateur astronomy, meteorology, radio astronomy, and the promotion of science education.
The observatory is regularly open to the public, staffed entirely by volunteers, and each summer hosts the South West Astronomy Fair.
Norman Lockyer was a Victorian amateur astronomer, who discovered the element Helium in the Sun’s corona in 1868 and was one of the founders of the science journal Nature in 1869. He became the director of the Solar Physics Observatory at South Kensington and the first professor of astronomical physics in the Normal School of Science – now the Royal College of Science, in 1887, he was knighted in 1897.
Using one’s own skill and ingenuity it is entirely possible to deduce that one arrived at such an august hill top observatory – at exactly X o’clock!
We’re now on the road to Beer, more of which in a moment first we’re on the way to Branscombe.
Characteristic Saxon chiselling on stones hidden in the turret staircase suggest the probability of an earlier, 10th century, Church on the site. Saint Winifred’s is among the oldest and most architecturally significant parish churches of Devon. The 12th century square central tower is one of only four completely Norman towers in Devon.
The church contains a rare surviving example of wall painting, dated about 1450 and discovered in 1911, the couple in this fragment illustrate Lust.
Sadly much of our ecclesiastical art was removed, destroyed or over painted during the Reformation, exacerbated by Cromwell and a general disdain for pictures and such.
Lust was also to be removed, destroyed or over painted.
The reverence for royal succession was and is actively encouraged.
The beautiful picturesque village of Beer is located on the UNESCO World Heritage Jurassic Coast in Devon. Surrounded by white chalk cliffs, the shingle beach is lined with fishing boats still bringing in their daily catches and is famous for its mackerel.
On the edge of the South West Coast Path, Beer has some of the most stunning coastal walks in the county, one of the best being from Seaton to Beer with dramatic views across the Jurassic Coastline. Beer was also named recently by Countryfile as the Top Picnic spot in the UK from Jubilee Gardens at the top of the headland, chose for its stunning view of the beach and village from the hillside.
A narrow lane leads to the bay, clogged with oversized Toytown motor cars, full of folk in search of something which they’re doing their level best to remove, destroy or over paint.
Toytown is home to Larry the Lamb,and his clever sidekick, Dennis the Dachshund. Each day a misunderstanding, often arising from a device created by the inventor, Mr. Inventor, occurs which involves Ernest the Policeman, the disgruntled Mr Growser the Grocer and the Mayor.
Delightful home compromised by the curse of the ubiquitous uPVC.
Whether you are looking for interesting attractions, wanting to explore stunning natural landscapes, experience thrilling outdoor activities, or just wanting somewhere to stay, eat or shop, you’ll find it all in Seaton.
I found a pie shop and a pastie.
I found an ironmongers with a Stymie Bold Italic/Profil fascia.
Frequented by men who tend to adopt a combative stance when confronted with displays of ironmongery.
I found the road to Lyme Regis and the Regent Cinema.
The Regent Cinema opened on 11th October 1937 with Hugh Wakefield in The Limping Man. It was built for and was operated by an independent exhibitor.
Bristol based architect William Henry Watkins designed a splendid Art Deco style inside the cinema which has seating on a stadium plan, originally the seating capacity was for 560. It has a raised section at the rear, rather than an overhanging balcony. Lighting in the auditorium is of a ‘Holophane’ type, which changes colours on the ceiling. The proscenium opening is 35 feet wide. There was a cafe located on the first floor level.
In recent Years it has been operated by the independent Scott Cinemas chain. The Regent Cinema has been recently restored. From October 2000, English Heritage gave it a Grade II Listed building status.
2016 – Following the devastating fire at the Regent Cinema on Tuesday 22nd March, we can now confirm that the auditorium block of the Regent has been damaged beyond repair, and will have to be rebuilt. Damage to front of house areas is largely cosmetic, and will be attended to as part of the wider build scheme. We have every intention to rebuild the cinema to its former glory.
2019 – The WTW-Scott Cinema group is still actively engaged in a potential rebuild scheme for the Lyme Regis cinema. We’re currently working on our fourth set of design proposals, from which we need to reach the point where the rebuild scheme is both financially and architecturally viable. At present, we have not consulted with local authorities as there is little point in wasting everybody’s time presenting a scheme design that isn’t viable. New build cinemas are architecturally very complicated, and the Lyme Regis venue being a listed building presents challenges to overcome, all of which add significantly to any build schedule. Once we have a viable, workable scheme, we look forward to working with the local authority and Historic England to progress this.
The remainder of my time in Lyme was spent desperately seeking a bed for the night, to no avail. Following multiple enquiries and dead end directions to no-go destinations, I headed out of town.
Bridport bound – where I chanced upon a Pub/B&B the magnificent Lord Nelson where the owners allowed me to store my bike in the ninepin bowling alley.
I sat in the beer garden at the Lord Nelson and boozed – chatting to a local lad that worked in the local brewery, brewing the local beer, that was served in this very same local pub.
Palmers Ales are brewed in one of Britain’s oldest and prettiest breweries and have been since 1794. The only thatched brewery in the UK, Palmers sits adjacent to the river Brit just a mile from Dorset’s Jurassic Coast. All our fine ales are brewed using water from our own naturally rising spring.
Our Head Brewer uses only the finest Maris Otter malt and carefully selected whole leaf hops to produce ales in a way they have been made for generations. Palmers historic brewhouse has a traditional Mash Tun, an open top Copper, along with top fermentation, this is the way ale should be brewed.
I finished up somewhere else, sat outside chatting to someone else, about something else.
Drew up a list of buildings, made plans – dream on.
The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley.
However, whilst on my 2015 cycle tour of the south west coast I arrived almost accidentally yet serendipitously outside Babbacombe Model Village.
A good place to visit as dogs are welcome and this is important to us. The models were very cleverly designed and each one is recognisable and very funny anecdotes and labels. It was much bigger than it looked but flowed easily and was fun and charming to walk around. There is also a free mini crazy golf room which makes a change to not charge for something like this and a joy to see. I really enjoyed myself and it is all so well maintained you can feel the passion of the people creating it.
I went in – how could I have done otherwise?
Many of the buildings reflect the areas’ Seaside Moderne styles, from the holiday chalets to the substantial Modernist Villa, plus all the up to the minute services and infrastructure one would expect in a modern model village.
Although there is evidence in the local area of occupation since the Iron Age, it was still a small village until the 19th century when it became a seaside resort, and was connected with local towns and cities by a railway, and two piers were built. The growth continued until the second half of the 20th century, when tourism declined and some local industries closed. A regeneration programme is being undertaken with attractions including the Helicopter Museum, Weston Museum, and the Grand Pier. The Paddle Steamer Waverley and MV Balmoral offer day sea trips from Knightstone Island to various destinations along the Bristol Channel and Severn Estuary. Cultural venues include The Playhouse, the Winter Gardens and the Blakehay Theatre.
I pushed my bike along the prom heading for my pre-booked digs in a stylish seafront hotel.
Past the Marine Causeway linking the shore to some kind of modern day Post Modern Shangri-La.
A mystical, harmonious valley, gently guided from a lamasery, enclosed in the western end of the Kunlun Mountains, possibly not.
You can stroll onto Knightstone Island, where you will find some cafes serving light snacks and refreshments, or to the other side which takes you along the causeway, accessible to walk across according to the tides. At the other side of the Causeway you will find a small rocky beach with tidal rockpools ideal for exploring.
Just along the prom stands one of my all time favourite seaside shelters.
Even further along – what’s all this here then?
The foundation stone of the Birch-designed Birnbeck Pier was laid in 1864. It opened on 5th June 1867 and consisted of a 1040 foot cantilever construction to Birnbeck Island and a short jetty extending westwards from the island.
It seems to have changed hands several times in its relatively short life, including the stewardship of the infamous Urban Splash and the mysterious mystery owners, the current custodians it seems, have done little to secure a secure future.
It remains alone and untended, stretching aimlessly out to sea.
In April 2015, Friends Of The Old Pier Society created a novel fund raising scheme in which 1p and 2p coins would be lined up to stretch from the Grand Pier to Birnbeck Pier.
September 2019 Councillor Mr Crockford-Hawley said:
It’s this end of Weston which is the sore, it’s the carbuncle, it’s clearly well past its prime and it needs some serious attention. I mean it would be wonderful if somebody came along with an open ended bank account and said ‘yup, I’d love to restore it for the sake of restoring it’, but quite clearly there’s got to bean economic future for the pier, there’s got to be a purpose for the pier.
Possibly a wealthy Beatle could bail the ailing pier out of deep water?
Next thing I know I’m outside the imposing and impressive sounding Ocean Hotel. Sad to say on the day/night of my visit it wasn’t just this weary traveller that appeared to be over tired, happy to report the the New Ocean Hotel has been revamped and in tip-top condition by all accounts.
Any road up, let’s get out, take a walk up the road – have look at some local type.
Watney’s mythical Red Barrel.
Watney’s was the Evil Corporation which sought to crush plucky small brewers and impose its own terrible beer on the drinking public. It acquired and closed beloved local breweries, and it closed pubs, or ruined them with clumsy makeovers.
Its Red Barrel was particularly vile – a symbol of all that was wrong with industrial brewing and national brands pushed through cynical marketing campaigns.
Keeler Productions has taken over Locking Road Car Park, opposite Tesco, and The Regent Restaurant, in Regent Street, to film a BBC period series The Trial of Christine Keeler, based on the Profumo Affair in the 1960s.
Enough of all that period drama, let’s have a look at some period architecture.
Madeira Court – 67 flats built in 1988.
Weekly Social Activities include – coffee mornings, card evenings and occasional days out, organised by social club. New residents accepted from sixty years of age, both cats and dogs generally accepted.
Boulevard United Reformed Church – Waterloo Street
Architects Gordon W. Jackson and Partners 1959
Constructed on part of the site of the former Electric Premier Cinema, the Odeon Theatre was opened on 25th May 1935 with Jack Buchanan in Brewster’s Millions. Built as one of the original Odeon Theatres in the then emerging Oscar Deutsch Odeon Theatres circuit, it was built on a prime corner street position in this sea-side town and was the first of several Odeon Theatre’s to be designed by architect Cecil T Howitt.
The Weston-super-Mare Odeon was built by C Bryant & Son Ltd of Birmingham on the site of the former Electric Premier Cinema. It opened on 25 May 1935, at which time it was described in the souvenir programme as ‘modernity at its best’, with seating accommodation that was ‘luxurious and spaced to give ample room for true comfort’.
A short walk along the prom snapping shelters and the sheltered – no two the same.
I then chanced to fall into a Beer Festival and bad company – the rest is a blur, see you all tomorrow there’s some cycling to be done.
Much maligned, universally loathed – the Stockport leisure facility everyone loves to hate.
What’s the story?
No more darkness, no more night. Now I’m so happy, no sorrow in sight. Praise the Lord, I saw the Light.
The area between Princes Street and Bridgefield Street was a tight warren of housing, shops and industry, eventually demolished in the 1970s, designated as slum clearance.
Prior to the arrival of the ring road the space remained undeveloped and turned over to car parking.
Little changes as the M60 is opened.
Images TS Parkinson – Stockport Image Archive
So for over forty years the land lies pretty vacant, but far from pretty.
Until 2015 when planning permission is granted for the £45m Redrock leisure scheme, which includes a 10-screen cinema, restaurants and shops.
Councillor Patrick McAuley, the council’s executive member for economic development and regeneration, said:
This is a very exciting time for Stockport. Developments such as these help our ambition of putting Stockport on the map to bring more people to work, shop and socialise here. We have been keen to involve the public in plans for both developments, by holding various consultation exercises.
We look forward to an exciting few years improving Stockport’s offer.
So good bye to all this, the local authority is making serious progress, developing Stockport’s future, against a background of structural decline and the dominance of Manchester city centre.
The architects for the scheme are BDP – the building was not well received as it was awarded the Carbuncle of the Year 2018.
Judges were left unimpressed by the – awkward form, disjointed massing and superficial decoration, while readers called it an absolute monstrosity.
Though to be fair The Light has a house style that leans heavily towards the anonymous industrial shed.
The development has however become a commercial success – once inside customers seem more than happy with the facilities.
The people of Stockport have welcomed us with open arms since opening in 2017. We’ve now had over one million guests join us for everything from the latest blockbusters to opera, theatre and concerts.
It’s been that busy that we’ve just added two additional screens and now offer freshly made pizzas, burgers and sliders. We’ve got plenty more exciting additions up our sleeve for next yeartoo!
The Theatre De-Luxe was built in 1911 at the corner of Anlaby Road and Ferensway with its entrance in Anlaby Road and its auditorium along the side of the pavement in Ferensway. Kinematograph Year Book of 1914 lists 600 seats and the owners as National Electric Picture Theatres Ltd.
In 1925, the theatre was rebuilt to a radically altered ground-plan and renamed the Cecil Theatre. The opening night was Monday 28th September 1925. The entrance was in a curved façade at the Anlaby Road/Ferensway corner. The alignment of the new, larger, auditorium was at right angles to Ferensway, and parallel to Anlaby Road. Effectively, the length of the Theatre De-Luxe auditorium became the width of the Cecil Theatre’s. Seating was 1,700 with 700 of those in the balcony, according to the Hull Daily Mail. The Cecil Theatre was originally designed for silent movies with a full orchestra pit. KYB 1931 lists it having Western Electric sound installed; and a 1931 aerial view shows that a brick horn-chamber had been built onto the wall at the rear of the stage. It had a 35 feet wide proscenium. The cinema also had a café attached.
The Cecil Theatre’s demise came during bombing on the night of 7/8 May 1941 when German incendiary bombs reduced the building to a shell; and it remained like that until demolition in 1953.
Work on the new Cecil Theatre was begun in April 1955 and it was opened on 28th November 1955 with 1,374 seats in the stalls and 678 in the balcony.
At the time of opening it had the largest CinemaScope screen in the country measuring 57 feet wide, and the first film shown was Marilyn Monroe The Seven Year Itch. The proscenium was 60 feet wide, and the cinema was equipped with a Marshall Sykes 3Manual/15Ranks organ, which was opened by organist Vivian Newall.
There was also a 100-seat restaurant & bar which in 1971 was converted into a second screen seating 137 (Cecil 2). The following year the main auditorium was spilt into 2 smaller cinemas in the balcony (Cecil 1 & 3 each seating 307) and an entertainment hall in the former stalls which became a Mecca Bingo Club, with Mecca also operating the cinemas.
In the 1980’s it was taken over by the Cannon Cinemas chain. The cinema operation was closed on 23rd March 1992 and the cinemas were ‘For Sale and/or Lease. It was taken over by Take Two Cinemas and renamed Take Two Cinema. It was closed on 27th February 1997 and the two screens in the former circle were stripped out and converted into a snooker club.
Whilst bingo continues in the former stalls area of this post war cinema, the former mini cinemas in the circle still contain the snooker tables, but the space is unused. The screen in the former restaurant/cafe area remains basically intact, but is unused.
I worked at the Cecil in the three years before it closed in the 90’s. MGM owned the place before the Virgin group bought it and closed it. It was a good place to work and an interesting building. Behind the scenes had remained unchanged since Anna Neagle first opened it. The organ had been removed however but the organ room was still in tact in the bingo section of the building. The fire exits led to long dark corridors that were always being infiltrated by kids sneeking in for a free shows. I understand that this was always the case. The resturant kitchen was fully intact and resembled something out of a Kubrick film – very spooky place!
And so the projectors whirr no more, house is called at the Cecil – possibly the most oddly named cinema in the land.
Happily it remains an imposing presence in the centre of the city – a mammoth modern temple of entertainment – reflecting the ever changing tastes of the day and the morning after.
This was planned to be the Verona Cinema, a project of local builders – P Hamer Verona Cinema Ltd. The construction of the cinema was almost completed when Hamer sold the building to Oscar Deutsch and it opened as one of his Odeon theatres.
Hamer then used the proceeds of the sale to build the Roxy Cinema Holinwood, which was designed by Drury & Gomersall.
Opening date of the Odeon Theatre was 29th June 1936, when the first programme was Bing Crosby in “Anything Goes” and Harold Lloyd in “The Milky Way”. Designed by the noted cinema architectural firm of Drury & Gomersall, the frontage had a neat entrance in brick, with white stone facings on the window surrounds. There was a parade of shop units on each side of the entrance which had matching brickwork and a white stone trim.
Inside the auditorium the seating was arranged for 834 in the stalls and 330 in the circle. The side splay walls on each side of the proscenium was decorated in wide horizontal bands, and topped with a backlit illuminated grille.
The Odeon was closed by the Rank Organisation on 11th March 1961 with Kenneth More in “Man in the Moon”.
It was converted into St. Paul’s Roman Catholic Church. Former cinemas have made good conversions to churches and the fabric of the buildings are generally respected. In this case though, the sad story is that the front entrance has been rendered over and inside all details of it cinematic past have been erased. You would never know you were inside what had been been an Art Deco styled building.
Opened 22 April 1920 with “The Forbidden City” and designed by Arnold England, the Majestic Picture House was part of the Provincial Cinematograph Theatres circuit. With 1,233 seats in stalls and balcony and a splendid facade faced in white faience tiles on two sides of the building on its prominent town centre corner site of Old Street and Delamere Street, the cinema was a great success.
It had an oak panelled foyers which had beautiful coloured tapestry’s on the walls. The interior was in a Georgian style and it was equipped with a pipe organ and a seperate tea room and cafe which were located on the upper floor.
It passed, with all the other PCT houses to Gaumont British Theatres in 1929, but it was not until 12th July 1946 that it was renamed Gaumont. The Majestic Picture House was renovated in July 1936, with new seating installed and a re-recoration of the foyer and auditorium. A new Compton 3Manual/6Rank organ was installed that was opened by organist Con Docherty.
Later being merged into the Rank Organisation, the Gaumont was re-named Odeon on 11th November 1962. It was eventually sold to an independent operator who renamed it the Metro Cinema from 6th November 1981.
With capacity now down to 946 seats, the Metro Cinema continued as a single screen operation until the middle of 2003, sometime after a multi-plex had opened in the town. In 2008 (with seats and screen intact) the building was unused except for the long foyer area, linking the front and back elevations of the Metro, which was a Slotworld Amusement Arcade. By 2011, the entire building had been stripped out and stood empty and unused.
It was my local cinema as a lad – attending Saturday morning matinees as a member of the Odeon Boy’s and Girls club. Hundreds of the nosiest kids. regularly warned by the manager that the film would be stopped if the raucous behaviour continued.
Now it’s just an empty shell, superseded by multiplex and latterly a lost Slotworld.
Unlisted unloved sitting at the heart of the town – too late for the last picture show.
Located in Sale, Cheshire, now part of Greater Manchester. Designed by the famous British cinema architectural firm, Drury & Gomersall, the Pyramid Theatre is a classic example of an Egyptian-style cinema in Britain and had a 1,940 seating capacity.
The frontage although not particularly Egyptian in overall design does have various Egyptian style mouldings and fluted pillars. Internally, the Egyptian theme was again largely mouldings and finishes like Graumans Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. The theme was included in the specially designed Christie Organ, which was installed in the Blue Coat School in Oldham.
Following a request by the school to remove the organ in 2008, the organ was in storage for five years. The Christie has now been donated to the Lowe Side Trust, by the LTOT, along with funding for refurbishment and installation, of both consoles, into Lowe House Catholic Church, St. Helens, Lancashire. As of the beginning of 2018 the the original pit console is now fully functioning in the Church. The Egyptian style stage console is now under refurbishment to full theatre specification. Website for this project will be available shortly.
The Pyramid Theatre changed hands a couple of times between its opening on 24th February 1934 and 21st December 1942 when it was taken over by Oscar Deutsch’s Odeon Theatres Ltd. chain. It was re-named Odeon on 18th June 1945.
In 1981, the Rank Organisation closed 29 of its Odeon cinemas and the lease for the Odeon Sale was bought by the Tatton Cinemas group and it was re-named Tatton Cinema. Stage shows returned to the theatre, however the runing costs caused the lease to revert to Rank in 1984 and the building was closed.
The cinema was purchased by Trafford Borough council for £200,000, but by 1987 the costs to the council were estimated at £1.5 million. A campaign was started to save it from demolition.
In 1988, it was advertised for sale by tender and by 1990 the cinema was converted into an American themed nightclub, known as JFK’s
The nightclub closed around 2001 and the auditorium was transformed into a franchised L.A. Fitness Centre, using a former front stalls exit as its entrance. The main entrance and foyers are currently unused. In 2013 it became a Sports Direct Fitness Club.
The Pyramid Theatre was designated a Grade II Listed building in November 1987.
It is currently closed and seemingly unused.
I often cycle passed and wonder about your past, and a possible future.
Our cinema heritage is and always had been under threat, listed and unloved desperately seeking the care and attention to survive into another other century. Subsequent repurposing has proved temporary and unsustainable, without the concerted efforts of local authority, charitable trust and enthusiastic amateurs, you will remain a silent pharaonic sentinel by the side of Washway Road.
And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.
There are more things in heaven and hell, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
We have seen things come and go in, on and around Stockport Station’s little acre.
From coal drops to tear drops.
Archive photographs courtesy of John Eaton
The post-industrial leisure complex has come almost full circle – overwritten by the complex needs of the modern day service-worker – Holiday Inn, Espresso Bar and Mini-mart complement the hot-desked, twenty-four hour online access all areas open-plan office operative.
Robert Andrew Bullivant 1910-2001 Harry William Weedon 1887-1970
Robert Bullivant joined the Harry Weedon practice in 1935 and was responsible for the design of the Odeons at Chester, York, Burnley, Exeter and Rhyl. Taken over by Hutchinson in 1969, this cinema was renamed Astra. It was made into a triple screen in 1972 and the stalls were later converted for bingo. It was designated Grade II listed status in 1989. The cinemas closed in 1995 and the building reverted to a single auditorium for bingo.
So much of our picture house heritage no longer exists, where once a town or city could support several cinemas of varying scale, architectural merit or style, few now remain intact. Happily the Rhyl Odeon has survived from Astra, Apollo to Gala to the stars and beyond.
Playing to perennially packed houses, the people’s palaces accommodated old and young.
Saturday morning matinees for the boys and girls – making this Great Country of ours a better place to live in.
If memory serves, in the Odeon auditorium to the left of the screen there was a suitably stylish, numberless clock of six-sided shape. In 1972 the Odeon, by then taken over and renamed Astra Cinema, underwent alterations to become the first three-screen complex in Wales: Astra 1, 2 and 3. By the mid 1980s the Odeon/Astra had been taken over by Apollo and was running as two cinemas plus bingo at first – and bingo only since the present Apollo Cinema Complex opened on the prom.
An original Odeon Theatre, built for the Oscar Deutsch Odeon Theatres Ltd. chain, opened on 30th October 1937 with Flora Robson in “Farewell Again”.
The corner entrance rotunda was lower than the rest of the building and was faced with cream faiance tiles, broken with windows. Behind this was a tower-like feature which contained the main foyer. Seating in the auditorium was provided for 862 in the stalls and 546 in the circle. On each side of the proscenium opening there were large panelled decorative grilles on the splay walls. Lighting in the auditorium was provided by concealed lighting in troughs across the ceiling.
From the 13th October 1969 it was taken over by the Hutchinson Leisure Group and re-named Astra Cinema. They triplexed the cinema from 24th April 1972 with seating for 750 in the former stalls and two mini screens seating 250 and 225 in the former circle. Later, the stalls screen was converted into a bingo club, whilst the two mini cinemas continued on film.
In the late-1980’s the building was taken over by Apollo Leisure UK Ltd. and it was re-named Apollo Cinema. The two mini cinemas were closed in October 1995 and the building was de-tripled into one space again, becoming the Apollo Bingo Club, which remains open today.
From 4th January 1989, the former Odeon Theatre was designated a Grade II Listed building.
There was a field – Ash Farm, farmhouse and field, at the junction of Manchester Road and Denby Lane, owned by one Harry Hitchen.
Harry Hitchen’s ambitious grandson reckoned that it was time that Heaton Chapel had a picture house, so on 6th May 1939 – where once there was a fertile farmer’s field, the seven hundred seat Empress Cinema opened.
Opening with a screening of Alexander Korda’s The Scarlet Pimpernel.
It continued to trade as a cinema until 18th April 1959, whereafter it transformed at the end of that year, into a dance house opening as the Empress Club on the 9th December, run by Manchester City footballer, Keith Marsden.
Other parts of building were used for Flamingo Coffee Jive Club, from 1961 Empress Bingo club used the none-cabaret portion of the building.
In many northern towns and cities at this time a thriving beat scene emerged, literally hundreds of local bands, playing a circuit of clubs large and small.
One such band played at the Empress on 14th November 1964, formerly The Matadors, then becoming The Swinging Hangmen, later known as The Hangmen. With a now sound, slick suits, a business card and a swinging, dead, novelty teddy bear mascot, they had everything going for them.
I too played in such bands during the late 60’s and early 70’s, piling in and out of assorted vans, cars and buses to arrive at a packed venue, sandwiched between the bingo and a top flight comedian.
December 1968, in a flurry of flags, the Poco a Poco Club and Casino is born, international cabaret and entertainment abounds from here on in, beginning a fashion for the American style supper club, boil in the bag dining, for the discerning chicken in a basket cases.
As beat becomes mod, psych, prog and glam a new generation of bands adapt and mutate to suit the ever changing moods and modes of modern music.
One such were Toby Twirl.
They hailed from Newcastle upon Tyne in the North East of England. Formed in the 60’s and originally called ‘The Shades of Blue’. After being signed to Decca Records by Wayne Bickerton, a name change was called for, as there was a US group of the same name. The group released three singles on Decca – Back In Time, Toffee Apple Sunday and Movin In. Although critically acclaimed in later years, none of the singles charted due to lack of major radio play. The group concentrated on live work during the late 60’s and early 70’s and were a top draw around the North of England. The line up was Dave ‘Holly’ Holland vocals, Barrie Sewell keyboards, Stuart Somerville bass, Nick Thorburn guitar and John Reed drums. Stuart was replaced by Dave Robson after he was tragically drowned in Tynemouth and Holly was replaced by Steve Pickering.
Prior to 1969, they were recording with ex-Shadows drummer and record producer TonyMeehan. Between 1965 and 1969 the group released 9 singles and a live album. There were some changes in personnel and some successes, most notably Step by Step, Count To ten, Cherry Cherry, It’s So Easy and Peanuts, the latter remaining in the Danish charts for 3 months and also reaching No 8 in Japan.
Famously Mr David Laughing Gnome Bowie played there on the 27th April 1970, just a few days before receiving his Ivor Novello award at The Talk Of The Town in London, for Space Oddity, which had been voted the best original song of 1969.
The club traded on through the 70’s and 80’s, continuing to ride the trends in popular music, the emergence of the discotheque and the almost superstar local DJ. As interest in the live cabaret music scene waned, the club began hosting boxing matches in the 80’s. Changing its name to Chester’s in 1983 and finally closing in May 1987.
It had lasted almost 50 years as a rich source of entertainments for thousands of Stopfordians, from a flickering film to a flaming beat, sadly it all ended in demolition.
The beat goes on.
Many thanks to Stephen for the essential facts and copyright images from his website.
It’s up there somewhere isn’t it, a dark elsewhere, a mythological other place.
I was curious, searching for clues.
I began in a nearby place in a faraway time, my first reference point, the film adaptation of Shelagh Delaney’s play A Taste of Honey.
Set in Salford by Salford born teenager Shelagh.
A teenager becomes pregnant by a black sailor. She leaves her feckless mother and her flashy new boyfriend to set up her own home. She moves in with a young gay man, who helps look after her as she faces an uncertain future.
The film’s release in 1962 broke new ground in terms of its matter of fact depiction of contentious and sensational subject matter. My interest in this instance rests with the visual image of the North that it created.
Larkhill Road Edgeley Stockport
Shot almost entirely on location in black and white by cinematographer Walter Lassally, we are treated to dark treeless vistas, cobbled streets, industrial areas almost perpetually in decline, bleak canals and terraced homes.
As shown in these archive images of the 1950s, illustrating locations that would subsequently be used in the film adaptation.
There is a comprehensive list of locations here at Reel Streets
Cambrian Street Holt Town Manchester
Phillips Park Gasworks Manchester
Director Tony Richardson was a product of the British Free Cinema movement, which had previously produced short, sharp documentary and drama work, driven by a leftist outlook and using a restless, immediate approach, aided by the new lightweight cameras and faster film stocks. This is an ethos and methodology that would be carried over into the feature productions of the Woodfall Films company.
Rochdale Canal Manchester
The film was shot in the flat, low, even light of the Winter which heightened the mildly desolate character of the landscape, though ostensibly Salford set many of the locations are in nearby Manchester and Stockport. An early long and free flowing title sequence and establishing shot, is a bus tour around Central Manchester, a city centre which at the time was still graced by a thick accumulation of dark industrial emissions and miasma.
A soot blackened Queen Victoria mute and imperious in Piccadilly Gardens, the freshly blooming cranes of post-war renewal tentatively appearing in the background.
The skyline punctuated by factory chimneys, the tight huddled streets of terraced houses chuffing billowing great grey clouds of smoke – a view familiar in the work of LS Lowry.
Trafford Swing Bridge
Stockport Rail Viaduct
Phillips Park Gasworks
The location of the home that Jo sets up was ironically the stage set workshop of the Royal Court Theatre (the very theatre where the play was developed and produced) in London – that most northern of cities.
There is a brief respite from this milieu, through a picture in picture sequence based on the image of a suburban bungalow – which along with the coming age of mass motor car ownership, offers the promise of escape.
A giddy day trip to Blackpool represents the temporary release from a contrasting and constricting world, a trip which for Jo emphasises the divide between Mother and her lover.
So we the viewers are left with a cloudily clear, black and white world, a pervasive construct that the North and Manchester is eagerly beginning to casually shuffle off.
Where streets are no longer paved with Eccles Cakes and whippets are hip.
Identity through landscape and location can both define and constrain, but that landscape, its representation, and the identity that it produces are all mutually mutable.
Take some time to watch and rewatch the film, freeze frame where are we?