East End Memories




This was a very interesting read and you have added some most kind comments about my company.

When redecorating the front of the building, we referred to old photos and tried to recapture the elegance of the cinema as it was in 1939. We have also kept the Art Deco influence inside and added a Vegas-style sky.



When I was in my early teens I was completely absorbed by films and cinema. My parents had taken me regularly, once or twice a week, since I was about seven years old. When I was about thirteen years old, I made the momentous decision to give up my weekly comic (I think it was the Eagle at this time) and take a film magazine. The first one I bought was Picture Show. Later, I would change this and take Picturegoer because it had longer articles in it. In 1952, the big buzz in cinema was all about the new screen processes. Although I saw Metroscopix, a hang over from the thirties, since none of the Peterborough cinemas were adapted for the new polaroid 3-D, it seemed unlikely that I was going to have an opportunity to experience a film made in this process. However we went on holiday to Scarborough and the Aberdeen Cinema in Aberdeen Walk was showing a film in 3-D - I was there! The special glasses cost an additional 6d and while waiting to buy my ticket, I listened to a poor lad, who had only been given enough money to get in, plead with the attendant to let him have the glasses. OF course he refused! However, the boy, obviously a real fan, said he would go in anyway. The attendant told him he would be wasting his money, as the picture would be blurred. I never discovered what happened in the end because I was too eager to get inside and see the film. The first film I saw in 3-D was Hondo with John Wayne. I was not disappointed by the process and was thrilled by the flaming arrows that seemed to be shot at me from the screen! The next week, the cinema showed a southern romance set in the Everglades and starred Rhonda Fleming in a crinoline and the likes of Fernando Lamas or Ricardo Montalban as her leading man. I have long since forgotten the title of this film.

The next big screen event to be presented for public entertainment was three screen Cinerama process. Regrettably, I never saw it until several years later, as it could only be shown in specially adapted cinemas and we had no such cinema in Peterborough! But my magazine then informed me about another new cinematic process called CinemaScope, which was being advertised as the Miracle You See Without Glasses. 20th Century-Fox had developed it and it was far more cinema-friendly than Cinerama.

The first film produced in CinemaScope was The Robe, which opened in London, I believe at the Odeon, Leicester Square. As I lived in Peterborough, which fortunately is on the mainline into Kings Cross Station, I persuaded my parents to let me go up to London along with my friend Michael to see The Robe which had by then been transferred to the Carlton in the Haymarket. Apparently Fox had taken over the lease of this cinema, as a showcase cinema for their CinemaScope Presentations. As a result of the success of these films, soon after Fox also leased the Rialto cinema in Coventry Street to be a second showcase cinema. Michael and I had to go to a matinee in the school holidays because we weren't allowed to stay into the evening and were given dire warnings about talking to strange men.

And so, after our train journey, followed by a ride on the Underground, we arrived at the Carlton. We stumped up what was an extraordinary amount compared to Peterborough prices in order to get in. Lasting memory recalls a few details of our visit. I remember that we were impressed by the posh outfits of the male ushers as well as the thickness of the carpet that our feet seemed to disappear into. But what I recall most was the excitement that we felt as we sat in those plush seats and waited for the house lights to dim and for the film to start! Once the lights dimmed, we were treated to a short introductory film on a standard size screen explaining the wonder of CinemaScope, which was followed by an announcement of the first film in the process. But it wasn't The Robe. Instead we were treated to a short musical film in Cinemascope and stereophonic sound featuring the Roger Simeon chorale.

And then at long last, the cinema was silenced as the feature film was announced! Suddenly, red plush curtains appeared on the screen, which then began to slowly open and reveal the title of the film ….. The Robe! The usual Fox fanfare and Searchlights did not accompany this breathtaking moment! Instead, a heavenly choir sang to set the mood and did so perfectly. My most vivid memory of the stereophonic sound was during the crucifixion when lighting struck to a terrific crack of thunder around me, which continued to roll throughout the whole auditorium. Wonderful!

By this time, I believe that J. Arthur Rank Company had fallen out with 20th Century Fox over the installation of four-track sound. Rank had been installing it in their more prestigious cinemas in Birmingham, Manchester etc, but was not prepared to do it in all of the small town cinemas it ran at that time. So Peterborough would not get CinemaScope. Little did I know that a group of independent cinema owners together with the Granada and Essoldo circuits had decided to form a fourth cinema circuit and install the required four track stereophonic sound system in order to show Fox’s CinemaScope Productions. Fortunately for Peterborough, and me in particular, the owner of the town's theatre, the Embassy, decided to give up on weekly variety and join the newly formed fourth cinema circuit. Apparently the owner kept his future plans quiet because he did not want the orchestra members to know that their days were numbered until the last minute in case they left early and he would be left without an orchestra for his last few stage shows. It seems that he told the orchestra that he was closing for week or two for refurbishing, and then on the last night, he gave them their cards. A true business man!

It came as a complete surprise to me when I read the announcement in the local newspaper that the Embassy was to show films on a giant curved screen from the following Monday. The first film shown was not The Robe, but The Flight of the White Heron, Movietone's CinemaScope account of the Royal Tour of Australia, which had been produced as a full-length feature film. And so on that Monday morning, I took some sandwiches to school and went straight to the Embassy for the tea-time showing. The Embassy stage was just the right shape for a widescreen, but I was disappointed with the dull screen curtains that had been erected. Although my old friends, Roger Simeon and his chorale, were there, I was now told that Flight... was the first film in CinemaScope! I don't know if you could pin me to my seat today to watch over an hour and a half of royal handshakes, but it transfixed me then! I often thought the manager had made a wise decision to show this film as his first CinemaScope Production, as the public would probably have stomached anything to see the new wonder, but not after they were used to the process. One thing we noticed was that every other reel seemed slightly out of focus, something that was corrected after a week or two. The film was well received and ran for two weeks. Following this, The Robe was screened and also remained at the Embassy for two weeks.

At about this time, the Odeon had a new screen installed. Gone now were the old screen tabs with their strange tree design. Due to the increased width of the new wide screen, it had to be installed almost directly behind the stage curtains. Although the Odeon could not show Fox films, other film companies had adopted CinemaScope and began to produce their films in the process. I remember the Odeon announced that it would be showing Sign of the Pagan with Jeff Chandler and Jack Palance that Universal-International had made and produced in CinemaScope. I was hard up that week but managed to cobble together the shilling to sit in the front stalls. Funnily enough here again every other reel (i.e. one of the projectors) was out of focus and it seemed so much more obvious sitting close up to the screen. I understood from a friend who visited the projection box that nothing could done to rectify this until an engineer came.

Together with the Odeon, there was the Broadway Cinema or Kinema as it had once been called. This was a Gaumont Theatre and was interesting for its a very square proscenium. When it announced the showing of James Stewart in The Man from Laramie in CinemaScope, I rushed along to see what changes had been made to the cinema. When I got there, I noticed that little had changed and that the same square proscenium was present. Once the News and Trailers were shown, the curtains closed and then reopened for the main feature. What soon became apparent was that the management had blocked off the top half of the screen with black masking leaving a tiny letterbox screen where James Stewart appeared!!! I should have asked for my money back, but of course I became too interested in the film, although this time, I wish I had paid to sit in the front stalls! Later a new screen was erected in front of the proscenium with newly installed festoon curtains.

Soon after the introduction of CinemaScope, other cinematic processes were developed including Technirama, WarnerScope, SuperScope and eventually Panavision, which eventually became the norm in film production. These were indeed exciting times for a teenager!!!



I can remember that my grandmother took my brother and I to see the first Cinerama production, 'This is Cinerama' in the West End of London in 1953. I was particularly interested in noticing that there were three separate projector beams coming from the projection box. One for the centre of the screen and another for each extremity. They were obviously syncronised to produce the overall effect of a very wide screen picture.

My only memory of that film was the roller coaster ride which was spectacular and very realistic. You could actually imagine that you were on a real roller coaster including the G-force effect (although this must have been imaginary!). The film was basically produced to show what could be done using the Cinerama process.

We also were taken to see the second Cinerama production called 'Cinerama Holiday' in 1955, which at least had some sort of a plot to the story. This film was again based around exciting and colourful outdoor action incidents and grand scenic spectacles. Only this time the material was strung on a wisp of story line, which had the incidents and spectacles encountered as the experiences of two sightseeing couples, one travelling in the USA and the other travelling in Switzerland and France. The oustanding memory of this production, for me, was the trip on a bobsled down the icy track of the Cresta Run at very high speed.

Later, I was also taken by my grandmother to see 'How The West Was Won' but being a bit young at the time didn't really appreciate it but just wondered how long it was going on for? It seemed to be an interminably long film to me. I have seen it since on TV but, of course, you don't get the widescreen effect. However, being of more mature years, I enjoyed the film much more than I had done before.



I loved those old sword and sandal movies and still do to this very day.  I remember The Robe.  However, my favourite was The Sign Of The Pagan with Jack Palance.  I remember him playing Attila the Hun.  It seems funny that we used to go in halfway through a showing and see the endings and then sit right through and see them again!   It always took a few minutes to be certain when the bit that was playing when you came in turned up again!   I remember how difficult it was for your eyes to get used to daylight once you came out.  We always walked up the street blinking until we became accustomed to the light once more!



The story brought back some fond memories to me. When I was a child and my parents took me to the pictures, which I suppose was approximately once a week, we nearly always had to queue up behind boards outside, which proclaimed which price seat you wanted. The commissionaire would come out from time to time and say, ‘two seats in the one and nine's’ or in the two and three's.’ So if there were three of us, as in our case, we had to wait until that number of seats became available. From time to time, standing room became available. In most cinemas this was at the back of the auditorium, where you would look over the backboard, behind the last row of seats. The Rex however, was different, as the standing room ran the length of the auditorium, against a wall. Whenever somebody left, an usherette would shine their torch, and say ‘one seat in the one and nine's anyone?’

In general, we never got seats together. It was only on rare occasions that we actually got into the cinema to see the start of the film. In those days, we would go in at whatever time they allowed us to, even if the film had only half an hour to run. This meant knowing the end before we had seen the beginning, hence the saying, ‘Isn't this where we came in?


I had a good read of your site.  It is really wonderful and informative with a lovely personal touch.  I prefer the Empress as of old.   I like the many pictures of the old buildings that were cinemas and theatres, eventually bingo halls etc.  Where I lived we had a wonderful old art deco style cinema called the RITZ, and I think the doorman was the brother of Victor McLaglen (The Quiet Man) This lovely cinema ended up as a bingo hall and lost its glory. I did find a lovely old cinema/theatre in Monmouth some while ago. Took me right back.

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Copyrightę 2010 - : Charles S. P. Jenkins