June 12, 2013

My local cinemas of the 1970s - Kingston

The local cinemas of Kingston-on-Thames in the 1970s, how they look now, and how to find photos of your own favourite cinemas...

(In this article, the present-day photos are mine, all the older photographs are courtesy of Dusashenka's Flickr account, which I've gained permission directly to use here.)

Kingston's old Odeon - now the site of the Rose Theatre
I've tried to sum up the changes in the movie-going experience between now and the 1970s (see My Decade In The Dark). To follow that up, I'd like to show you my regular cinemas at that time.

For an intensive period, roughly 1973 to 1983, I went to the movies every week. Huge screens and immersive experiences, often shared with a packed audience, left many indelible memories. Forty years later, I'm able to watch again most of the films that I enjoyed back then. But they were only part of the experience.

Thinking more about the cinemas themselves, I realised I'd no photographs of them, and my memories were fuzzy. At the time, photography was expensive and I didn't own a camera (not until I was 18). While omnipresent digital cameras can capture every moment of our lives now, I have barely a dozen photographs of myself during that entire decade! I'd certainly not go around photographing places that would still be there the following week. But eventually, they weren't there any more.

While researching cinemas that I'd visited in Miami in the summer of 1978 (for this article - Two Weeks, Eight Movies), I found the Cinema Treasures website, which is attempting to catalogue every movie house that ever existed in the USA. Ambitiously, it's also trying to list all those of other countries, and through the site I found invaluable information about closed cinemas.

Most important was this Flickr account, under the account name Dusashenka, a member who's been photographing cinemas and other British buildings for decades. Crucially, he's also uploaded the best of his father's similar archives, which stretch back even further. Once again, I could see inside cinemas that no longer exist.

Odeon Kingston

This is the old Kingston Odeon, not the new multiplex (more on that later). It was down Kingston High Street near the river, facing the Police Station. While I was living in the area, this was the first cinema to close, in 1967. I have a vague memory of going there, but only really remember it as the bingo hall it then became. It's now the site of the Rose Theatre.

More information about the old Odeon in Cinema Treasures.

ABC Kingston

This was a super cinema. The largest screen the town ever had. Near Kingston Station, if you just ducked under the railway bridge, at the start of the Richmond Road there was the ABC. 

The ABC cinema was the big building behind the bridge.
The view from Kingston Station, then and now.
Visually, this was a movie experience comparable to Central London, but the seats of this huge auditorium were mostly empty. I've never forgotten it as the place I first saw Jaws, The Towering Inferno and Airport '75. A fitting venue for disaster movie blockbusters.

I can't remember the circle ever being open and the view from the stalls were hampered by a long, low rake. The seats barely sloped towards the screen, so even as a tall teenager it was easy to have your view of the screen blocked by the person in front.

The ABC resisted the urge to subdivide into smaller screens, but gave into the Dark Side (bingo) in July, 1976. While bingo is clearly inferior to cinema, at least the new owners ensured that the majority of the building remained unchanged for several decades. The vast scale of the interior can be seen in the photos on this bingo hall site.

From cinema to empty shell

The main entrance looking very sad

Bingo closed in 2010 and a new owner started destroying the interior. The exterior remains, unused. Above photo taken in 2011.

More information about the ABC in Cinema Treasures.

Studio 7 Kingston

A short walk from the ABC, diagonally opposite Kingston Station stood the Studio 7. Kingston's very own fleapit, a term now romantically Americanised as grindhouse. It was in fact a very old cinema that'd had a minimum of modernisation, like sound-proofing (it used to be a silent cinema). 

The inadequate mono speaker distorted any of the movies' dialogue, which also had to compete with the bus station on one side and the one-way system on the other. Indeed, the flimsy fire exits down the lefthand aisle were all that separated us from the road. I remember not understanding a single word of Gone In Sixty Seconds (1974).

I only ventured up into the Studio 7 circle if the stalls were full, which they often were at weekends. The circle was quite small and set right at the back of the shoebox-shaped auditorium. A fairly rowdy cinema, this would be the place to get something dropped down your neck from a prankster in the circle. It was also the least robust-looking cinema I've ever been in. The climax of Matinee (1993) reminded me of the Studio 7.

Also inherited from it's early use as a church hall, was the completely flat floor of the stalls. Combined with a relatively low screen, this meant not being able to see the lower part of the screen if there was someone sat in front. 

Despite all these disadvantages, I often went to the Studio 7 because of what was shown there. It would proudly play horror films, lots of them. This was why it was so often crowded out. I saw Friday the 13th (1980) there, a sellout performance on a Saturday night. Horror films play better if there's lots of screaming. I first saw Suspiria there on a double-bill with It's Alive sequel It Lives Again (another film I couldn't hear any of the dialogue).

Studio 7 rarely got A-list pictures until they were on their second time around. I saw Woody Allen's Sleeper on a double-bill with Return of the Pink Panther there, both as re-runs.

I'd moved away in 1980 and sadly missed the closure of the cinema in 1983, returning to discover it was now called Pine World. In 2000, the building was demolished and the site is now, fittingly, the only cinema in town. Or rather, 14 cinemas - the new Kingston Odeon, in this complex...

More information and an earlier photo of Studio 7 in Cinema Treasures.

Looking for photos, I was totally astonished to find that it's now available as a custom-made model kit! Your very own little Studio 7, intended to extend the diorama of Kingston's old bus garage which stood next door. This photo made me look twice though! Kingsway Models offer these flat-packed, so that you can make them up yourself, or they'll construct them for you if you're prepared to visit in person.

Kingsway Models offer many card dioramas of London Underground stations and bus Garages. They also offer these few cinemas.

Left: Granada in the 1980s. Right: the same building, 2011.

Granada Kingston

OK, this was my favourite cinema. Three different continuous programmes, often all double-bills, every week. Steep seating, a big screen, the most modernised cinemas in Kingston at the time. Tight legroom but fairly comfy seats.

This photoset was a thrill, because it also shows what it was like inside. There were sometimes twenty minutes or more between films and I spent a lot of time staring at the huge chandelier in Granada 1. I'd forgotten what it looked like.

I have a vague memory of visiting the Granada when it had just one screen. But like many cinemas in this decade, the space beneath the circle was converted into two mini cinemas, side by side. The remainder of the stalls was still visible from up in the circle (the seats had been removed), which became Granada 1. Thankfully, the huge original screen was retained after the 1973 conversion. 

This also meant that the Wurlitzer (that lived under the front of the stalls) remained accessible and in operation. As I discovered to my surprise before a performance of The Omen. I love this photo.

Rear foyer - sweets, hot dogs and Kia-ora
From the foyer, you ascended the stairs on either side to get to Granada 1. On busy nights, you might queue up the left hand stairs while some of the audience left down the right. As the cinema filled up, ushers and usherettes would scout around inside for the last few seats. The queue was held at the door and there were tense moments as you waited to get in. You might have to wait around two hours for the next performance, or until somebody left early.

The entire circle became Granada 1.
My favourite seat was at the end of the row in front of the divider.
I'd sit in front of the divider so that I wasn't blocking anyone's view, I didn't sit right at the very back because my eyesight wasn't that great (even then). Carrie was my best ever cinema experience. The Granada 1 was packed on a Saturday night. The final shock of the film made the whole audience jump and scream, and the circle shook worse than a Sensurround performance of Earthquake.

Access to Granada 2 and 3 was through the doors at the back of the foyer. These smaller cinemas were for re-releases, arthouse and horror films. By arthouse I mean soft porn, and by soft porn I mean really unfunny sex comedies.

Foyer ticket booth - later removed for the entrance to Options bar
These smaller screens were where I caught up on the James Bond films I'd missed, and watched the Planet of the Apes movies in completely the wrong order. Speaking of which, I also saw Shout At The Devil (1976) with the reels played in the wrong order. The manager appeared, to explain what had gone wrong!

On a Saturday night, it was an extra treat to see that the 'coming soon' posters had been replaced, so we'd get a sneak peak at was coming the following Sunday.

Granada 1 and part of the neighbouring site joined to become Options nightclub in 1987. Another tiny cinema screen appeared, to make up for the loss of Granada 1. It was accessible from the top of the left hand stairs in the foyer. 

But it closed as a cinema in 2002. A whole section of the exterior remains recognisable. It's currently a nightclub called Oceana. I should really go in and snoop around to see what's left besides the foyer. I took this photo in 2011.

Visit here for more of Dusashenka's superb set of photos for the Granada Kingston, including the projection booth, on Flickr.

More information on the Granada Kingston at Cinema Treasures.

You're encouraged to visit Dusashenka's massive Flickr site. He's posted his father's collection of photos of old cinemas from all over the country and I'm so very grateful to him. But please respect his photo collection and not use any of them without permission.

Cinema Treasures - database of cinemas past and present. Be sure to check the readers' comments under the main text - they often contain links to more photographs.

My look at what was different about movie-going in the 1970s - double-bills, intermissions, Film Review magazine...

Ewell and Esher cinemas in the 1970s.

Wimbledon cinemas in the 1970s.


  1. teddy crescendo12 June, 2013 21:41

    When they broke the big cinemas up into 3 smaller ones i used to really like the 2 downstairs cinemas because although they were smaller you could sit much closer to the screen and the panavision frame looked so stunning, also there was no dolby stereo in those days but rather just one large speaker directly below the screen so the level of sound was (for me) perfect, i used to like going to the first screening on a week-day afternoon, the cinema was sometimes almost completely empty so it was like i had the movie all to myself, it was superb, i`d often stay and watch the movie 3 or even 4 times because the ushers, if there were any, didn`t really care how many times you watched the film as long as you`d paid your 2 quid. Some of the movies i remember watching under those perfect circumstances were: Predator, Clash of the Titans (original version), and Poltergeist III.

    1. That's right! The front rows were very close to the screens.

      As long as they were continuous performances, I felt entitled to sit through them all again!

  2. thankyou for posting these lovely old pics- it bought back many happy memories of watching films back then in Kingston.Especially liked the old Granada ones!
    I lived in Surbiton, and fondly remembered the old Surbiton Odeon, also the Regent.Imagine, 2 cinemas in such close proximity then!

  3. Wow. Never visited the Surbiton Odeon. Have you found any photos of it? Glad you liked this.

  4. Wow! That was a trip down memory lane. My best mate and I just spent the last half hour scrolling through your well documented page of Kingston cinema, Too much to mention but here goes some ... Philadelphia, Top Gun ,,,,, then onto Options nightclub - Student night on Monday £1 a double drink. Ladies night on a Thurs and Friday nights going out on a fiver and bringing in the milk Saturday morning, C & A was sadly missed when it closed bang next to the cinema (it is now Wilkinsons ).
    Again, thank you for the memories XXXX

    1. You're very welcome. Luckily Dusashenka shared his father's photos of the Granada. I never thought I'd see that again!

  5. The Odeon in Surbiton was where Waitrose is now, on Claremont Road.


  6. Thank you for memories of the old ABC Kingston where I saw Kubrick's Barry Lyndon upon its release in December 1975. Saw it again last night courtesy of LB Merton in Wimbledon where I still live. Still a great movie.

  7. You're very welcome. I think the old ABC building is protected, so there are still plans to re-open it.

  8. Hi there, I wonder if you can help me I'm trying to contact Dushenka regarding images for potential book - do you have any details? I've emailed him via flickrmail, but I'm not confident that this will be successful... Thanks.

  9. Ah the ABC Kingston. I saw THE HILLS HAVE EYES there at the beginning of 1979. I wasn't quite 18 and looked way younger than 17 - luckily my friends looked the part so we got in. One of the most frightening things I've ever seen on the big screen. Great memory.

  10. Spent many happy hours in Granada in the 70s and early 80s. Usually paid. Sometimes 'bunked in' when one paying friend opened the fire exit for the rest of us. Caught once when the cinema was full & no seats were available. Remember particularly the boiled hamburgers (lovely!) & entering the low, dark corridor to cinemas 2 and 3. And the weirdness of going into the pictures in the light and coming out in the dark. Very, very happy experiences.

  11. I remember the Kingston Cinemas back in the Fifties there where five picture houses in Kingston at that time and the old empire Opposite the Granada, we used to go to one called the Elite it showed all the horror movies in them days and they used to show pictures in mist a vision in those day when every body smoked And the screen was so high in the stalls you needed a bed to view the screen. it stood where C.& A did stand.the cinema next to bus Garage was the Kinema it was another flea pit. I'm sorry to hear that all the old cinemas have gone I spent many a good time in most of them in the Fifties and sixties

  12. Never went to Studio 7, but ET was on for years.But those photos of the Granada (never realised it's name at the time) takes me back to the early nineties and seeing Goodfellas. Saw Star Wars there back in 1978, the queue was long it went round the back. Remember the Hamlet robot cigar advert was shown before the main feature.

  13. There was an alleway down the right side of the Odeon cinema where once stood an old raised boathouse on stilts. It was a venue in the 60s where I saw The Small faces. Ironically it was called the cellar club