East End Memories

THE CINEMA IN THE GARAGE & ITS INSPIRATION

 

About two years ago, I had the good fortune to visit the home of Kevin Wheelan.  Kevin is a great cinema enthusiast who has been collecting films, cinema memorabilia and even projectors for a number of years.  After storing these treasures in spare rooms and bedrooms for a number of years, and with the agreement of his wife, Kevin set about converting his garage into a home cinema.  However, unlike the usual efforts made by people where basements and dens are fitted with surround sound and a large screen television, Kevin set about building a small intimate cinema using the memorabilia that he had collected.

The story of Kevin’s home cinema did not begin with its building, but can be traced back to when he was a child living in Enfield. Close to his home was a wonderful cinema, where, following regular visits, he developed a love of film and an appreciation of cinema architecture .…………… but wait, why not read Kevin’s own account of the Premier Enfield.

 
MEMORIES OF THE PREMIER CINEMA, ENFIELD
 
 
Dedicated to Betty, who was not so fearsome after all, and to John W Davies for his generosity.
 

The Premier was my local cinema, being just a few hundred yards from the street into which we had moved in 1949 when I was a toddler.  I saw my first film, a reissue of Dumbo,at the Regent Cinema, Waltham Cross, at the age of four.  Although I cannot recall my first visit to the Premier, by the age of five, I was hooked on film and going there as often as my parents would allow.  My father did not earn much and money was tight, so my mother made extra cash by washing dishes in a local café, the grandly named Cadoza.  During school holidays she would pack me off to the Premier with sixpence for admission and a penny ha’penny cheese roll from the café for my lunch.  The roll was invariably hard as a rock, as was the cheese, but with rationing still in force we ate what we were given.

The Premier Cinema, Enfield Highway, opened as a silent house on 17th January 1921 with Wolves of the Night starring William Farnum.   It had approximately 900 seats on one level.  Sound came in April 1930 with the installation of a pair of Western Electric Universal Base Sound Reproducers.   Painted under their bedplates by the installing engineer are the words “TESTED O.K. 15.4.30”.  However, the first talkie, Sunny Side Up, starring Charles Farrell and Janet Gaynor, was not shown there until 26th May 1930. 

 
 
In the 1950s children were a lot safer than they are now and from an early age I was allowed to go to the Premier on my own.  At that time, the usherettes kept a close eye on the audience and stood for no nonsense (more of which later), so children were pretty safe from any inappropriate attention from adults. It is at the Premier that I first learnt the power of money.  There were two queues for admission, one on either side of the entrance – one for the cheap seats near the screen and one for the more expensive seats at the back.  Patrons in the queue for the better seats were always admitted first.  Sometimes, if Mum had a bit of cash to spare, she would give me a shilling which left me with an agonising decision.  Should I spend the shilling on an expensive seat at the back of the cinema or go in the sixpenny seats at the front and spend the remaining sixpence on ice cream?  Being an avid film fan, I usually opted for the better seats. 
 

Box Office & Foyer

 

The brickwork on both sides of the cinema entrance was pockmarked with a mass of small hemispherical holes.  I had been given on good authority that these holes were the result of machine gunning by German aircraft!  I soon discovered, however, that they were made by bored patrons twisting pennies in the brickwork while they waited for the cinema to open.

Whilst queuing for the first performance, I was always intrigued to see a middle aged man, invariably dressed in a shabby raincoat, enter a door inside a small archway at the side of the building.  He was, of course, the projectionist, though that would have meant little to me at the time.  I yearned to go through that mysterious door and eventually did so many years later. 

Not having a television at home made watching moving images a novelty and I could not get enough of the cinema.  Each visit was a thrilling experience, which is difficult to explain to a generation reared on television, DVDs and video games.  I would sit in the auditorium in excited anticipation waiting for the lights to dim, closing my eyes for a few seconds to see if it was darker when I reopened them.   The usual clue as to when the programme was about to start was when the strains of Mantovani’s rendition of  “Charmaine” slowly faded away.  I often wondered if this particular record was the only one the cinema possessed, as I cannot recall them ever playing anything else.

Being part of a very small independent chain, the Premier was unable to get the pick of the new releases.  These were offered first to the cinemas in Waltham Cross and Enfield Town, which were part of the larger circuits.  It survived on a diet of not-so-new releases and on re-releases of almost archival material.  I was thus able to see a wonderful variety of films, my favourites being old Westerns, Abbott and Costello comedies and swashbucklers such as Captain Blood, which had been made in 1935!

 
 
Of everything I saw at the Premier, what made the greatest impression on me was a trailer for the horror double bill, Man Without a Body and Fiend Without a Face, virtually every detail of which I can remember to this day. I doubt they should have been previewing ‘X’ rated films during a ‘U’ programme and as an unsophisticated twelve year old, I found it frightening, yet at the same time enticing, and it is to those few minutes that I attribute my enduring love of horror and science fiction films. 
 
 

I was thrown out of the Premier on one occasion.   I mentioned earlier that seats were priced according to their proximity to the screen.  On this particular occasion I had paid a shilling, which entitled me to sit in the adult two shilling seats near the rear of the hall, as children were admitted at half price.  However, the cashier had given me a one shilling adult ticket instead of a one shilling child’s ticket, so the usherette, a fearsome lady by the name of Betty, took me to the adult one shilling seats at the front.  I protested, but in vain.  Money being in short supply in those days, I was not happy – after all I could have paid sixpence for admission and spent the other sixpence on ice cream – so once Betty was out of sight, I sneaked back to the more expensive seats.  But she saw me and returned me to the cheap ones.   I was having none of this and, as soon as the lights dimmed, I crept back once again.  My bottom had hardly touched the seat when I was grabbed by the collar, frog-marched to the nearest exit and unceremoniously dumped outside.  I then had three hours to kill, as I was not entirely sure that Mum would believe my side of the story and thought it best not to say anything.

Dad used to take me to church every Sunday, and a highlight of my week, on alighting from the trolleybus on the way home, was to look at the stills for the next week’s programme.  Fifty years on I can vividly recall the feeling almost of despair when, one morning in April 1961, I saw a notice in one of the stills frames announcing that the cinema was closing that very week to become a bingo hall.  It was like losing an old friend.  On 19th April 1961 the Premier’s forty year run as a cinema came to an end with its final presentation of The Left Handed Gun and Wind Across The Everglades.  And indeed, the next day, just as the announcement had stated, it became a bingo hall. 

 
 

In 1970 my father’s workplace moved to Basingstoke and so we upped sticks and moved to Hampshire.  Before leaving, I asked the manager of what was then Premier Bingo if I could take some photos as a souvenir of the building.  He kindly agreed.  A cleaner let me in and I recognised her immediately.  It was Betty!  She was such a lovely lady, nothing like the ogress of childhood memory and we had a good laugh when I mentioned our previous encounter.

 
Betty - ex-usherette
 

I took my camera all over the building and finally got to go through that mysterious door, which led via a steep staircase to the projection room.  To my surprise, I found the projectors still in situ, though looking rather forlorn. 

 
The Auditorium
 
The Door
 
Through the door, up the stairs, along the corridor, past the stained glass & into the projection room
 
This was not the last time I was to see the Premier.   I had been showing films on substandard gauges – 8mm, 9.5mm and 16mm – from the age of fifteen.  This took a back seat once I married, since most of my spare time was then taken up with re-plumbing, re-wiring and re-decorating our house.  Unfortunately, a lack of funds had forced me to sell much of my film collection to help with the house changes.  By 1977 we were fairly settled and my thoughts turned once again to my hobby, only this time I wanted the real thing – 35mm – and I knew just where there was a pair of projectors lying idle.  After weeks of pestering I eventually persuaded the owner of the Premier, John W. Davies, to let me have the machines.  Seeing my enthusiasm, he kindly gave them to me and for that I will be eternally grateful.  I did have to pay £50 to Western Electric, as their Universal Base Sound Reproducers were leased to the cinema and they made this charge for cancelling the lease.
 

Top: Projectors in situ

Bottom: left, Mr. John W. Davies, owner; Western Electric Company Ltd. plaque 

 

So, one morning in August 1977, I turned up at the Premier and spent the rest of the day dismantling the projectors and transported them home the following week.  They were looking even more neglected than when I had last seen them in 1970 and it was obvious that in the intervening years they had been stripped for spares, presumably for other machines in the circuit’s remaining cinemas.  Fortunately, I had a number of friends in the business, and through them, I was able to replace all missing parts, including those removed by Western Electric during their periodic upgrades of their equipment.   I even managed to find a synchronous turntable used in the days when some soundtracks were on 16 inch discs synchronised with the film.  This method of sound reproduction soon lost out to the rival sound-on-film system and by 1932 sound-on-disc was more or less obsolete.  Western Electric then removed the turntables and almost none have survived.

Over the next twenty-four months I restored one of the projectors to its original condition and to full working order.  It spent many years in a spare bedroom, in both my previous and current houses, but now resides in my garage cinema, a mini replica of a 1930s picture house, fitted out with original seats, lights, clocks, stills and category boards and plasterwork salvaged from cinemas, which have long since succumbed to the wrecker’s ball.  I named my cinema the Excelsior after a much loved cinema in East London’s Bethnal Green.  The day it was finished, I put on a recording of Mantovani’s  “Charmaine” and sat down in the back row to admire my handiwork.  As the cascading strings filled the tiny auditorium, I was transported back fifty years and suddenly felt the tears welling up.

 
The Restored Projector - Kalee 12 on a Western Electric Universal Base with a Monarc Lamp

 

Now, whenever I put on a show, I think of that little boy sitting on the other side of the projection port entranced by the images dancing on the screen.  Little did he know that half a century later he would be operating the very equipment putting those images onto the screen.  I also think of the man in the shabby raincoat, probably long since gone to his fathers, and of all those other dead hands which operated my projector over the decades and which gave so much pleasure to so many people.

The Premier was demolished in January 1985.  Unfortunately, I found out well after the event, by which time there was nothing left to salvage.  But I have the projectors, a comprehensive photographic record of the building and, best of all, so many happy memories.

 
THE CINEMA IN THE GARAGE
 
 

The first word that comes to mind when one sees Kevin Wheelan’s Excelsior Kinema is AMAZING!  But I am getting ahead of myself.  I first heard of Kevin home cinema thanks to a friend following its feature in FILM TECH Cinema Systems.  I wrote to Kevin to tell him how impressed I was with his cinema and we began a correspondence about things of mutual interest, including cinemas and cinema memorabilia.  I was delighted when he invited me to see his cinema when next I visited England.

Kevin lives just south of London in a road filled with attractive houses and gardens.  At first glance, the casual passerby might not notice something different about his house.  Were the walker to turn his or her head to the walkway between the house and the garage, a tall elongated sign would cause even the least curious passerby to stop and wonder what was being announced.  The sign displaces the word Excelsior in large white letters on a red background, which I later learned was made to an exact scale of the sign of the Excelsior Bethnal Green.  Now, what could be more enticing?

 
 

Kevin discovered the Excelsior Bethnal Green with some school friends in 1962.  At this time, the cinema had become a Bingo Hall, but still showed films on occasion.  Like so many others before him, he found the architecture of the erstwhile cinema interesting.  At first glance, the building looked more like a church than a cinema, as a result of its tall frontage and pointed roof.  Like my mother and many others, Kevin saw a certain beauty and charm in its unique form.  Once he went inside the building and studied it further, he became even more impressed with the building – both exterior and interior. 

Sadly, the cinema that Kevin found was no longer the one that my mother and I knew.  It had fallen into a poor state of disrepair with little to suggest that it would be returned to its former glory.  He remembers looking at the old posters that still decorated the walls of the long walkway to the auditorium.  He also remembers passing through the opening between the heavy curtains that hid large doors and entering the auditorium after having his ticket ripped in half by an attendant.  Kevin remembers the auditorium being somewhat messy with discarded sweet wrappers and empty ice cream tubs on the floor between the rows.  Worse yet, he noticed that a number of seats were broken, something that I never saw during my days of visiting.  However, even worse than broken seats was the presence of a tear in the upper left-hand corner of the screen.

When Kevin visited the Excelsior, the policy was no longer to screen first run films.  Instead, only lesser known films were shown, which had been previously released and shown elsewhere.  I found it disturbing to hear how this wonderful old cinema had declined by this time, but such is the way of the world.  Despite its decline, Kevin says that the charm of the cinema was still obvious and it immediately became a firm favourite with him, so much so that once he was able to build his own home cinema, he named it in honour of the Excelsior Bethnal Green.  In my opinion, no greater homage could be made.

When Kevin invited me to visit his Excelsior, I gladly accepted.  From the photographs I had seen, I could not but be greatly impressed by the décor and by the care that had obviously gone into its construction.  As impressed as I was, I can assure the reader that nothing, absolutely nothing could have prepared me for what I was to find once I actually visited it.  With great excitement and anticipation, I made my way down the driveway and saw the sign outside the erstwhile garage. 

 
 
Once Kevin opened the entrance door I saw hanging on it a huge photograph of the original Excelsior taken by him in 1968 just before its closure.  The picture sits in a large cinema frame once used to display a poster or a large photograph of a film star.  Below it is another frame containing photographic stills. 
 
 

 I entered the small foyer of Kevin’s Excelsior and stood in amazement and wonderment at what I found.  Each wall was decorated with interesting cinema memorabilia that Kevin had collected over years of careful hunting amongst the ruins and remains of some twenty disused cinemas and at collector fairs.  These memorabilia include a number of plaques and still boards, which had been carefully restored to their former condition to decorate this virtual Aladdin’s cave.  I did not know where to begin my inspection.  Everything that I saw caught my eye and drew me nearer for a closer look.  I realized that I had to pull myself together and not leap from place to place.  I had to stop, take a deep breath and start at the beginning and move around the foyer in a logical fashion.  If not, I would miss all kinds of treasures!

From my first look of the entrance area, I saw that the foyer is painted in a light green colour, which is reminiscent of the old Associated British Cinema (ABC) circuit and is lit by several classic glass wall lamps set high up close to the ceiling.  These lamps, which once helped illuminate a cinema, were saved by Kevin from needless destruction.  On the right of the entrance is a box office window together with several framed notices and a brass plaque.  This seemed to be the obvious place to begin my tour.  And after taking another deep breath, I began my exploration of what would prove to be a very special place. 

 
 
Above the box office window and centrally positioned is a lamp and a framed copy of the definitions of the various certificates once awarded to films by the British Board of Film Censors, which gives details of who may and who may not be present during the screening of any particular film.  To the right of the window is brass plaque stating that the sound system employed at the cinema is leased from Western Electric Company Ltd.  Also to the right of the box office window is a framed notice informing the patron that good behaviour is expected once admission is granted and that unruly behaviour will not be tolerated and will result in the patron being fined. 
 

Click on the collage to see enlarged views of some of the individual pictures.

 
The box office window is surrounded by a silver painted wooden frame.  Here patrons obtain a ticket of entry.  The type of ticket requested springs onto the box office table from one of several small slits once the appropriate lever is pressed on the dispensing machine.  Also on the box office table in a prominent position is a candlestick telephone made of lacquered brass and bakelite.  Finally, beneath the window are two picture frames.  The smaller contains a notice which requests that the patron do no damage to the cinema, but should they do so, any barbaric behaviour will result in justice being brought to bear.  In addition, the notice also informs the patron that anyone giving information on such behaviour will be rewarded. Below this is a large picture frame that contains a poster with details of a film that will be presented at the cinema in the near future.
 

Upper left: Box Office Area; Upper right: Box Office Window & Candlestick telephone

Lower left: Warning Plaque; Lower right: Ticket Dispenser

Click on the sign to see an enlarged view.

 
On the wall facing the entrance, further interesting memorabilia have been placed for the visitor to feast on.  High up on the wall is a remarkable and authentic Time Table board that not only lists the various pieces that make up the day’s programme, but also their times of showing together with the definitions of the various categories awarded to the films.  Admission prices are also displayed and there are sliding covers which allow the display of the current status of available seating in the auditorium.  The board is cream in colour with red lettering and surrounded with gold beaming. 
 
 
Below the Time Table are several large frames, which display posters of future presentations.  The most decorative of these houses a picture of the actress Binnie Barnes and an advertisement for her film Strip, Strip, Hooray.  This board is ornate and is richly decorated in a number of colours with gold being the most prominent.  It is truly a remarkable example of art deco cinema accoutrement no longer seen in modern cinemas.
 
 
On the opposite wall are additional cinema frames containing film stills and posters together and a plaque stating that the cinema is fitted with RCA Photophone High Fidelity Sound System to ensure life-like reproduction.
 
 
 
At the far end of the foyer is the entrance to the auditorium.  At the time, it was covered by a thick red velour curtain that hung from a brass rod by rings.  Above the entrance is a clear sign with the word STALLS frosted on it and a cinema clock complete with Roman numerals.
 
 
Although the magnificence of the foyer with its intricate attention to detail ought to have prepared me for what was to follow, I fear that I was not at all prepared for the grandeur that greeted me!  When the red plush velour separating curtain was slowly pulled to one side for me to enter the auditorium, what greeted me gave me cause to gasp!  I was and still am lost for words and I fear that my descriptive abilities can never do justice to the sight that greeted me.  My first impression at seeing the auditorium was that here was a truly magical place, which left me speechless.
 

First Glimpse of the Auditorium

 
On the far wall was the proscenium arch obviously produced with the greatest of care with every attention being given to detail.  In the centre of the top horizontal beam was the letter E reproduced in the style of the original Excelsior.  The screen was hidden by drawn curtains, which I later learned came from a private cinema in Nottingham and had been especially made by Furse of Nottingham, a well-known theatrical outfitter.  Beneath the proscenium is a large metal sign with the words, displayed in gold, Western Electric Sound System The Voice Of Action.  Below this sign and on either side of it are gold coloured grills that cover the speakers.
 
 
 
Around the walls are restored decorative pieces that once covered the walls of a number of cinemas and painted with gold paint and placed on jade green, Venetian red and peach backgrounds.  Apparently this colour scheme was chosen after looking through endless editions of the magazine, Cinema & Theatre Construction.  The effect is quite breathtaking!
 
 
Lighting of the auditorium comes from wall lights, as well as recessed lights in the ceiling close to the proscenium arch.  The lights are dimmed just prior to the start of the programme and then returned to full power during intervals and once screening is complete.
 
 
On the far wall of the auditorium are a series of openings.  The smaller openings allow the projectionist to follow the course of the film while the larger ones are used to project the film onto the screen.  This wall is decorated by two large plaques.  These remarkable objects display a motif of white dancing cherubs and green foliage in relief on a red background and surrounded by a gold rim.  Kevin says that he discovered these plaques quite by charge when visiting a derelict cinema.  The building was slated for demolition on the day of his visit, but thanks to the kindness of the site supervisor, he was able to remove them just before the wrecking ball reduced the wall that displayed them to a mass of rubble.
 
 
By a second  entrance/exit is another clock, again with Roman numerals. Above it is a sign indicating the way to the Gentlemen’s cloakroom while above the main entrance/exit sits a sign showing the way to the Ladies' cloakroom. 
 
 
Great care, as with everything else to do with this cinema, has been taken with the seats.  They are of red velour and are of two sizes: single seats and love seats that are capable of being occupied by two close friends.  Many of the seats have decoration on their sides painted in gold, Venetian red and jade green.  I can attest to the comfort of these seats.
 
 
Kevin had kindly organized a screening for me to enjoy during my visit.  Once I decided upon a suitable seat, the house lights were dimmed slowly.  This allowed me to see more clearly the illumination of the screen curtains.  They shimmered in the light.  Slowly, the curtains parted and there was a screen with a 2.33:1 ratio.  I later learned that the screen was fitted with electrically driven adjustable masking for the screening of film of different ratios.  I have to admit that I was very excited to be sitting in such a glorious and glamorous surrounding and greatly honoured to be about to see the programme especially chosen for my pleasure.
 
 
Kevin screened a number of short films including cartoons, trailers and advertisements.  There was one short interval for refreshments and then the second half began, which proved to be as entertaining and as exciting as the first half.
 
 
Following the screening, I was invited into the projection room and saw the magnificent projectors that Kevin has salvaged and restored.  The piece de resistance is the Kalee 12 on a Western Electric Universal Base with a Monarc Lamp, which Kevin discovered in disrepair at the Premier Enfield.  The other was a Ross GC1 with an RCA 9031 soundhead and a Magnarc Lamp that came from the Roxy, later Ritz, in Surbiton.  Both projectors are in pristine condition, which comes as no surprise since they are lovingly cared for by their owner.
 

Kalee 12 Projector on a Western Electric Universal Base with a Monarc Lamp

 

Top left: Ross GC1 Projector with an RCA 9031 soundhead and a Magnarc Lamp; Top right: Film rewinder & other things
necessary for a projector room to function

Bottom left: Sound Apparatus; Bottom right: Sign stating that the sound projection apparatus is leased from
Western Electric Company Ltd.

 
Kevin said that he began building his home cinema in 1998.  During this time, the projectors formed part of a very makeshift cinema in a spare bedroom.  Home and work projects often interrupted the advancement of the home cinema and there were a number of months when he had no time to work on it.  However, with patience and dedication, the cinema was finally completed in 2008. 
 
 

Speaking as a visitor, I can assure Kevin that his dedication and diligence have been well worthwhile.  He, with the help of his wife, has produced a startling transformation and constructed a magnificent cinema.  As a result of his hours of searching through derelict cinemas, Kevin managed to salvage a number of decorative pieces that would otherwise be lost.  Thanks to his demand for authentic restoration, his tireless energy and his remarkable patience, these discarded and forgotten pieces have been transformed and returned to their original state, which has allowed their beauty to be shared with others once more.   Through his efforts, a visitor may perhaps understand what it once meant to go to the pictures and also appreciate the luxury that was associated with it.   

Kevin not only deserves our recognition and praise, but also our gratitude.  I would like to thank him for sharing his cinema with me and now with the readers.

 

Going to the Pictures, come rain or shine - when we really were mad about film!

 
READER COMMENTS

I enjoyed going to the pictures, flicks, movies or bioscope (as the cinema was called in South Africa some years ago) in the days when there were cinemas with distinctive character, more than I do today where one multiplex cinema is very much like another. As a child I attended the children's morning matinee, mainly to see whether the woman who had been tied to the railway lines in the previous episode of the serial was rescued before the train rode over her.  Children who sat in the front rows were often unruly and usherettes with torches used to walk round the theatre and flash their torches at offenders, warning them that they would have to leave if they didn't behave! The serial was followed by a cartoon or a short featuring Laurel and Hardy, the Keystone Cops or Harold Lloyd, then a main feature film which the management considered suitable for children, usually a cowboy, a musical or a tear-jerker starring Margaret O'Brien!

We rarely go to the cinema these days, but watch films on our satellite TV channels or DVDs of our own choice. Apart from anything else, they seem to turn the soundtrack up far too loud in the cinemas these days - but perhaps this complaint is just another sign that I am well on my way to becoming a "grumpy old woman".

Jean of Johannesburg, South Africa.

 

My experience of the pictures was much like others. I went with my parents or my sisters in the immediate post war years at least once a week, as well as to the Saturday morning children's films. As I got a little older and able to go without my parents I often went twice or more times each week. Our local cinema changed films mid-week so that was great, but we also had at least six cinemas to choose from in town, and another six or more in the various suburbs. In my earlier days I was mainly into cowboy films (Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy) but also enjoyed the swashbucklers.  I think the last film I saw in a cinema was The Empire Strikes Back when it was just out.

Bob of Cardiff

 

Yes, it was fun to go to movies as a kid.  I loved the cliff-hanger serials when I was went to the movies as a child in the l940's during their heyday.  I still love them.  Almost all have been made available on VHS now on DVD.  There were many great heroes ……. Captain Marvel, Dick Tracy, Zorro, Flash Gordon et al and many great escapes from what looked like certain death. 

I remember Linda Sterling, ‘the serial queen’.  In one production, ‘The Tiger Lady’, subsequent generations have noticed that she did not in fact wear a tiger skin, but rather a leopard skin.

There were also many great villains.  I especially liked ‘The Purple Monster’, although I could not tell if he was purple since the film was in black & white, but he came from Mars, so perhaps he was!  I also enjoyed ‘The Crimson Ghost’, ‘The Scorpion’ and ‘The Clutching Hand’, as well as many others.  I always felt sorry for ‘Dom del Orro’, as he had to wear an iron suit in such a warm climate.  He must have been overheated.  In many of the serials, one did not find out until the last chapter which member of the cast was the villain!

One thing that used to amuse me about the serials was that some of the characters who were ‘killed’ in the early chapters often turned up later playing another role!

I remember that during the 1960s that my wife and I went to a complete showing of a Superman serial.  We sat through each chapter, which were shown ‘back-to-back’ and lasted for about six hours.  This was quite an experience!

I have noticed recently that the television channel, Turner Classic Movies (TCM), showed some serials on Saturday mornings.  I have to admit that at the end of chapter, I still cannot work out how the hero is going to escape ‘certain death’.  However, naturally enough, on the following Saturday, Hollywood always managed to find a way!

Most of the stories of the serials were more than a bit unrealistic.  For example, I remember in one serial, the hero performs ‘major surgery’ on one of the ‘good guys’ in a tent, in the jungle, and without any previous medical training!  Still, it WAS a serial and kids did not worry about such details in those days!

Going to the cinema today does not offer the same experience as it once did and my wife and I prefer to watch movies from our comfortable couch.  This also gives one the advantage of being able to ‘pause’ the action whenever we feel like a break.  However, what I find the most annoying about going to the movies today is the commercials.  Programmes are advertised to start at a particular time, but once the auditorium lights dim and the screen curtains open, one has to sit through 20-25 minutes of commercials and trailers.  Again, when watching a film at home, the ‘remote’ proves itself useful, as one can avoid the commercials by ‘using the mute button’.  Of course one can also ‘leave the room’ or ‘change the channel’.

Peter

 

As I was born on Chambord Street, which was just off Brick Lane, I believe I can call myself an East Ender.  What evocative memories the article brought back!  As a result, I began thinking of the places I and probably Charles and his family knew or had heard off.

As a child I used to visit Club Row to see the dogs on a Sunday morning.  Naturally, in those days, I had no idea what the animals had to put up with.  I also used to enjoy going to the Petticoat Lane Market on Middlesex Street where my cousin had a crockery stall and watching the stall holders juggle half-a-dozen plates.

Afterwards we went either Tubby Isaacs Jellied Eel Stall just around the corner from Petticoat Lane, close to Aldgate Underground Station or to Lyons Corner House, which was at the station entrance.  Lyons had many such restaurants/cafes all over London and throughout the U.K. and was once noted for their waitresses, or Nippies, as they were called.  These ladies were quick-on-their-feet, hence the nickname and were dressed in a uniform consisting of a black dress with a white pinafore or pinnie.  As a treat, I was allowed a sliced banana served in a long silver dish covered with either fresh cream or ice cream – I am beginning to salivate at the thought!

I remember that at weekends across the road from Aldgate Underground Station was a small Fair Ground with bumper cars and slot machines – what joy!

On Saturday mornings, I used to go to the picture palace.  I would go to Smarts Cinema on Bethnal Green Road, which was where Brick Lane kids went.  Smarts later became the Rex and then the Essoldo and is now a place of business and a warehouse.  I always enjoyed the programme, which included serials and a talent show.  I also enjoyed eating sweets and drinking lemonade!  I also remember going to the Excelsior too.

I remember the Jewish bakeries - the bagel shops which also sold the plaited loaves, Challah.

There was once a Russian Public Baths (Saunas) at the Whitechapel end of Brick Lane.  I recall that on either side of the entrance two elderly Jewish ladies used to sit each with a large basket of bagels at her side.  Whenever one of the ladies had a customer while the other did not, the ‘other’ would make a comment about it!  It is interesting to note that in the East End, the word bagel was always pronounced as by-egel.  At the other end of Brick Lane (Shorditch end), there used to be a small cinema on one of the corners, which was later demolished and replaced by a warehouse.

I visited Bethnal Green last year for the first time in twenty years and was intrigued to note the many changes to the area.  I also noted that it was now populated by the latest group of immigrants.  The area has always been the first home of immigrants, firstly to the Huegonaults from France, then Jewish refugees from Poland and Russia and then to Asians from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh.  

Ron of East Dulwich

 

The pictures of the cinema in the garage reminded me of a girl that I was in high school with.  She and her boyfriend set up a cinema in the front room of her parents home, complete with stage, curtains (velvet) and projector.  I was invited (as a paying guest) to view some movies there.  I can’t remember what I saw but do remember enjoying myself.  I have no idea what happened to them, but interesting to recall those long forgotten times.  Your website brought back some very happy memories for me.

Margaret of Melbourne

 

Like you, we used to go to 'the pictures'.  If anyone we knew had said they were going to 'the cinema', they would have got some very funny looks, suggesting they had ideas above their station!

One of the special treats I enjoyed as a child was to be taken to one of the swisher cinemas by an uncle and aunt.  They loved to go and see the big American musicals.  We did not go very often, but when we did there was always the sense of it being an expedition, as it meant a five-mile bus journey each way.  And then when we got there, we were shown to our pre-booked seats, which seemed the height of sophistication to me.

Once I was old enough, I used to go to the Saturday-morning 'minors'.  I especially loved the cliff-hanger serial.  But it was always an incredibly noisy affair!  I was very well-behaved and law-abiding, of course, but some of the children there were very unruly and looking back on it now the cinema manager and his staff must have dreaded Saturday mornings!  

Picture-going is so very different these days.  The only time my husband and I have been to the pictures over the last few years is during family visits, taking the youngsters to the latest Harry Potter film in a soulless multiplex cinema (a treat for them if not for us!).  I am always surprised at the cost of going to the pictures today: it costs a fortune for two adults and two children - you need your credit card!  And then there's the week's ‘rations’ that everyone finds necessary to take in with them.  Oh for the days of the ice-cream lady in the interval!

Anne C.

 

One of my fondest memories from my childhood in Cleveland, Ohio, is a bakery that was located on Loraine Avenue.  The bakery’s full name was The Laub Baking Company.   However, we always referred to it simply as Laub's.  All kinds of delicious breads, rolls, doughnuts and coffee cakes were produced here. 

I remember the winters of Cleveland as a child.  We used to walk to and from school each day even though the winters were harsh with lots of snow and cold winds.  I remember that among the items of clothing that I wore to keep my head warm was a scarf, which I tied under my chin.  Over this, I wore a hat that I pulled down to cover my forehead and ears.  Finally, I used to tie another scarf around my nose and mouth allowing only my eyes to be exposed to the elements so that I could see where I was walking.   In spite of all of the padding around my face, the scent of fresh baking breads was discernable in the air.

In the summer months, whenever I was playing outside, riding my bike, walking to Church or walking to another store, the close proximity of the bakery allowed the air to be filled with the wonderful aroma of baking bread.

Occasionally on a Saturday, as a special treat for me, we were allowed to go to the day-old bakery, which was a small store attached to Laub’s.  Here the most delectable of treats were sold at reduced prices.  These cakes and breads weren't moldy or stale, but were now considered to be too close to their sell by dates to be sold in supermarkets.  As a result, they were offered for sale at a price a little less than in the bigger stores.  Despite their rejection by the supermarket chains, these baked goods were scrumptious.

Iced coffee cakes with cinnamon were a special favorite of mine.  I enjoyed mine with milk rather than coffee.  These delights were best eaten when dunked.   This allowed the cold milk to seep slowly into the cake and make its way between the layers of the cake and softened it.  Sometimes pieces of the icing covering fell into my glass of milk.  This provided an extra treat once the cake part of my coffee cake had been eaten.   Other baked treats, such as Italian breads, bear claws and glazed doughnuts were also among my favorites.

The Laub Bakery will always hold a special place in my memories of growing up in Cleveland, Ohio.  I shall always remember walking in the neighborhood of Loraine Avenue and savouring the aroma of baked goods, one of life's greatest pleasures.

Madame la Glisseuse

 

I have read your story about the Excelsior and find myself connecting with its emotional impact. A building does not have to actually disappear for it to have this type of impact.

Several years ago, my mother decided that she was no longer able to maintain our family home. This left the house empty and since we were not ready to sell it yet, we decided to rent it out. We found what we thought to be suitable tenants however we were to learn that we had misjudged them. I found going to my parents’ house once the tenants left to be traumatic. The house had been turned into a pigsty and I was both shocked and devastated to learn that seemingly pleasant and educated people could live in this manner. What hurt me most when I saw the state of the house was that they had treated badly the place where my parents had lived for 65 years and where I had spent my childhood.

Although I did not particularly like many aspects of the house, it was nonetheless the place where I had experienced the majority of my childhood memories and the place where I visited my parents once I left home. Looking at the condition of the house actually made me feel great sadness on my parents' behalf, as I know that the present state would have caused them mortal wounds.

A Reader – Melbourne, Australia

 

 

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Copyrightę 2011 - : Charles S. P. Jenkins