Stars of screen were re­placed by bingo balls

Gloucestershire Echo - - NOSTALGIA -

THIS week in 1975 Glouces­ter’s gran­d­est pic­ture palace swapped its sil­ver screen for a bevy of bingo balls, re­plac­ing the magic of movies with cries of “legs 11”, “on its own, num­ber one” and the now po­lit­i­cally du­bi­ous “two fat ladies, 88”.

When it opened as the Plaza in 1935 the newly built su­per cin­ema in Bar­ton Street, near its junc­tion with Clarence and East­gate Streets, was the city’s largest with 1,832 seats.

The first film shown was David Cop­per­field, which starred W C Fields and Basil Rath­bone.

The B movie pre­sented Lau­rel and Hardy in Fixed Up­pers and mem­bers of the au­di­ence were also wowed by the Movi­etone News reel.

Ital­ian dic­ta­tor Ben­ito Mus­solini was seen in the lat­ter, chest puffed out, declar­ing that it was his barely con­cealed in­ten­tion to in­vade Abyssinia and es­tab­lish an African em­pire for Italy.

Italy in­vaded and the Em­peror of Abyssinia Haile Se­lassie fled to Bri­tain and took up res­i­dence in Bath.

He also spent a good deal of time in Malvern at the Abbey Ho­tel, as his grand­daugh­ters at­tended school in that fine town.

Haile Se­lassie had close con­nec­tions with Glouces­ter and was a fre­quent visi­tor to the Plaza cin­ema, where he en­joyed tea in the cin­ema’s café on a num­ber of oc­ca­sions.

How many other cinemas can boast an em­peror among their pa­trons?

Along with films, the Plaza also staged live shows. In 1957 the cin­ema was re­named the Odeon and busi­ness

re­ceived a pos­i­tive boost in the mid 1960s when The Sound Of Mu­sic ran for a record break­ing nine weeks in the city.

How­ever, the halcyon days of go­ing to the pic­tures were com­ing to an end and in April 1973 The Cit­i­zen an­nounced that plans had been submitted to turn the Odeon into a Top Rank Bingo Club.

The city coun­cil had al­ready re­fused this ap­pli­ca­tion and con­tin­ued to try and block the change of use.

But on Satur­day Au­gust 30, 1975 the Bar­ton Street su­per cin­ema showed its fi­nal films, which were The Sev­enth Voy­age of Sin­bad sup­ported by that time­less clas­sic Watch Out, We’re Mad.

At about the same time that movie magic gave way to bingo balls the shop to one side of the for­mer Odeon’s en­trance be­came a men’s fash­ion bou­tique called Les­ley Hull.

No doubt many a for­mer natty dresser in Glouces­ter and its en­vi­rons will re­call pop­ping in for a Ben Sher­man but­ton down shirt, a Harrington jacket, Crom­bie over­coat and other items of the Mod uni­form much prized at the time.

Glouces­ter has had about a dozen cinemas over the years. If that sounds vague it’s be­cause some of them dou­bled as venues for other forms of en­ter­tain­ment.

The Theatre de Luxe in North­gate Street, for in­stance, was an assem­bly rooms and live acts ap­peared there.

In 1934 The Cit­i­zen re­ported that “Pe­tu­len­gro and his cel­e­brated ladies’ hus­sar band” caused some­thing of a stir. No doubts were ex­pressed about the ladies’ mu­si­cian­ship, but their cos­tumes were con­sid­ered by some more than a touch re­veal­ing - par­tic­u­larly in the trom­bone sec­tion.”

Num­ber 30 West­gate Street was once a pub called the Theatre Vaults, which also served as an en­trance to the Theatre Royale.

In 1907 this be­came the Palace Vari

ety Theatre and four years later, when a sil­ver screen was in­stalled, the name was changed to the Palace cin­ema.

The Palace closed in 1922 to be­come Glouces­ter’s first Wool­worths.

A North­gate Street pub called the Ris­ing Sun was con­verted into the City Cin­ema. It re­opened as The Hip­po­drome show­ing films and stag­ing live shows with per­for­mances from huge stars of the day such as Gra­cie Fields. The Hip­po­drome’s last film was shown in 1961 and three years later the cin­ema was de­mol­ished to make way for Bri­tish Home Stores.

In its hey­day the Park­end Em­pire cin­ema had its own orches­tra, but hav­ing shown films for 40 odd years closed in 1957 to be­come the Park End Road Elim Pen­te­costal Church.

Images taken from The Pic­ture Palaces Of Glouces­ter And Cheltenham, by Alan Moore, pub­lished in 1988 by Am­ber Valley Print Cen­tre, Sut­ton Cold­field.

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The Odeon, Bar­ton Street in 1970

Plaza cin­ema, 1930s

The Plaza cin­ema cafe

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