Wednesday, 6 March 2019

The cinemas of Old Wimbledon (and Raynes Park and Putney) - hat/tip: R. Murphy

An old friend, who, like me, arrived in Wimbledon in 1959, send me an email yesterday, crammed with images of the Wimbledon cinemas of our youth. The two main ones (as far as I was concerned, at least) were to be found practically across the road from each other on Wimbledon Broadway. The first (on the left as you headed toward South Wimbledon) was the Odeon:
Lord, what an ugly building! Still, it did a nice line in hotdogs and cokes...

... It began life as The Regal in 1933, and was taken over by Odeon in 1936, but called the Gaumont, because they already owned an Odeon cinema nearby. The Broadway cinema was renamed the Odeon in 1962. It was closed in 2002, and demolished the following year to make way for an office block. I seem to remember the Odeon specialised in more upmarket, prestige productions. This is what it looked like before the name-change - which explains why I've always imagined the name of the cinema was the Gaumont-Odeon. More information available here:

The cinema across the road from the Odeon opened as The Elite Picture Palace in 1920. It was taken over by Associated British Cinemas in 1935, and was known as the Elite until 1964, when it was completely refurbished, reopening as the ABC. It lasted until 1983 (the last picture shown was Officer and a Gentleman), and was eventually demolished in 1985. I seem to remember this was the cinema where my brother, on an outing with my mother and I, strode down the aisle during Operation Crossbow to ask a gang of yobs to pipe down. After they had indicated a distinct reluctance to comply with his request, my brother slapped the ringleader's face, and received a round of applause from the other patrons. We watched the rest of the film in blissful silence. The ABC (correct me if you remember otherwise) tended to show livelier, rather more downmarket films than its main competitor, but I'm pretty sure I remember my father taking me to see Ben Hur there.  (You can read more about the cinema's history here.)

The Odeon and the ABC were relatively plush affairs, with seating for over 1000 customers. The nearest flea pit, at the corner of Pepys Road and Coomb Lane, opened as the Raynes Park Cinema in 1921. In 1933, it was given a new facade, and renamed the Rialto Cinema. It was delightfully run-down, and tended to show re-runs (Dr. No, when this photo was taken), and was right next door to a tiny newsagents which sold American magazines you couldn't get in WH Smith's at the time, e.g. Famous Monsters of Filmland and Rolling Stone. (More information here.)

I feel a bit guilty calling the Rialto a fleapit, because the manageress was the mother of a classmate at school, and because I only learned what a real fleapit was like when I eventually got round to visiting The Globe in Putney. This opened as the Putney Electric Cinema c. 1910, and was renamed as the Globe Kinema in 1929. When I got to know it, it was like the dilapidated picture palace in The Smallest Show on Earth. I remember watching Psycho there on a stormy afternoon (I was 12, but my height allowed me to pass for 16), with rain pattering down from a number of holes in the roof, which certainly added to the atmosphere. My other favourite memory of the place was going with a friend from the year above to see a double bill consisting of the Hammer versions of Dracula and Frankenstein: I found the opening of the first so scary, my companion had to clamp his hand on my arm to stop me bolting. I remember we bought a couple of skinny cigars from a nearby tobacconist and smoked them on the top floor of the bus back to Wimbledon. (More information about the Globe here.)

The only other cinema around Wimbledon I suppose I might have visited was the Odeon, 19 Worple Road, but as I was only seven when it closed in 1960, I doubt if I ever did (my friend saw League of Gentlemen there). It's now a Macdonald's, apparently.

My thanks to R. Murphy for bringing back many happy memories.


  1. To the left of The Globe, although not in the photo, was the tiny kiosk dispensing cigars and fags perfect for a Hammer horror movie. I was watching Jason and The Argonauts one afternoon in a practically empty theatre when three boys who had positioned themselves right behind my seat asked for "a smoke " of one of my Slim Panatellas. Since I only had one the answer was Nyet.
    After the show they burst into the bog where I was taking a leak and gave me half a dozen quite hard punches to the boat race and swiftly left.
    For several months afterwards I rode my bike across the common and into Putney hoping to find them. But no luck.
    To the right as you headed towards South Wimbledon was The Gaumont which was a step above The Elite and did tend to show classier films. The building to the right of The Gaumont is The (long gone) Broadway Tavern.

  2. Apologies, it should be the Elite and the Gaumont.

  3. One to add to the list, the Putney Hippodrome, please see here and here. 20 years a music hall and 30 as a cinema before closing down in 1961 and being burnt down in 1975 for Theatre of Blood.

    The Moss family moved to Putney in 1962, priced out of World's End. My friend Sebastian and I broke into the Hippodrome a couple of times. An exciting space, silent and cut off from the outside world. Empty but, with all those rows of seats, meant to be full and noisy.

  4. Down a side street just past the Odeon there used to be a barber shop called "Roy's". The owner offered a standard cut for 2/- or a Star Cut for 2/6 [you picked your style from a laminated card featuring people like Tab Hunter, Russ Tamblyn or Sal Mineo]. Whatever cut you went for you always walked out looking like Little Moe from "The Three Stooges."

  5. Way ahead of his time was Roy who looked a bit like a maniacle Peter Sellers with glasses. Always sporting a white barber's jacket and a wide grin at least he treated us 12 year olds (I don't mean you SDG) like the adults we desperately wanted to be.

  6. What an enchanting canter down Memory Lane. Thank you all.
    The two main Wimblebum (as Gloucestershire friends of mine insist on calling it) cinemas hold many memories; not least watching, as a recalcitrant teenage public schoolboy, Lyndsey Anderson's disturbing 'If' on two successive evenings - I was transfixed.
    Three years later: I was again made aware of the power of the screen as I left the auditorium bubbling with anger and aggression after seeing the violent and dystopian 'A Clockwork Orange'. It was an alarming production and one cannot be surprised that Stanley Kubrick withdrew it from broadcast for so many years.
    Anyway, whatever happened to Malcolm McDowell?

  7. Mr. McDowell is still with us and still mostly cast as the baddie.
    I saw him (from afar) in the West End once in the late sixties and was surprised at how small he looked.

  8. Sorry got side tracked by Riley. I was in The Broadway about three weeks ago searching for a fish n chip shop. The Gaumont is now a restaurant or collection of restaurants or a mall - at least I think it was from the top of a double decker.
    Couldn't find a chippie. Ain't it all a bloody shame.