1930 - Cinema
During the inter-war years, cinema-going - essentially a personal rather than sociable activity - became the most popular leisure pursuit in the country. Something like 1,000,000,000 cinema tickets were sold annually and by 1939 Middlesex alone had 138 cinemas, which worked out at one seat for every ten people. Many 'picture palaces' were built in the then-fashionable Art Deco style, on which the architecture of Mexico and Ancient Egypt had been a strong influence. One of the most overt statements of the Egyptian Revival school was the extraordinary Carlton cinema in North London. Designed by George Coles, a prolific cinema architect who later joined the Odeon team, it was a bold attempt to evoke the architecture of the Pharaohs. The detailing of its fluted columns and coloured tiles (revealing evidence of much research into architectural history) scaled the very heights of fantasy. Why did this exotic element play such an important part in cinema architecture?
Most of our pre-war cinemas - snug 300-seat affairs with names like the Gem, the Bijou and the Electric - were simple sheds with pitched roofs and gable ends, their utilitarian profiles disguised by elaborate frontages that housed pay booth, confectionery stall, office and projection room. In the auditorium the floor was usually raked to improve the viewing for those sitting further back, and many also had balcony seats. A surprising number of these movie houses survive, either as functioning cinemas or, more commonly, converted into minimarkets or warehouses. The big chains of Regents, Rialtos, Carltons and Astorias, though, were true picture palaces, 2000-seat, single-screen monsters that in their day ranked among the best cinemas in the world for the degree of comfort they offered their audiences. Most had a restaurant or a 'cafe lounge', some a separate ballroom. Their designers allowed a generous helping of Hollywood glamour to rub off on to the fabric of the building - here, after all, was somewhere to escape from the dull reality of post-Depression Britain. The names alone hinted at exoticism and grandeur - Granada, Rio, Ritz, Regal, Majestic, Paramount. The best and most archetypal British cinemas of the inter-war years were the mighty Odeons. They were the brainchild of Oscar Deutsch, a former scrap dealer, who conceived the brilliant idea of a chain of cinemas with a strong and instantly identifiable 'brand image'. He hired Birmingham architects Harry Weedon and Cecil Wavering to turn his dream into reality. They devised a universal language of creamy glazed tiles, bulbous curves, fin-like towers and huge neon signs that proclaimed the unmistakable message, Odeon. The deep-carpeted interiors of 1930s cinemas were similarly extravagant - turrets, archways, all kinds of quasi-Moorish and Oriental clutter designed to extend the on-screen fantasies and add 'atmosphere'. Such elements can still be glimpsed even when the cinemas have become multi-screen complexes.
|1910 - Football Ground|