Stars of screen were replaced by bingo balls
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.
The Odeon, Barton Street in 1970
Plaza cinema, 1930s
The Plaza cinema cafe