Friday, 3 February 2017

A farewell to cinemas on Westover Road: My Odeon and ABC movie memories

And as the lights are switched off at the Odeon Cinema in Bournemouth on February 9th 2017, it signals the first time since June 1937 that no cinema has been open on prestigious Westover Road, ‘Bournemouth’s Bond Street.’

It’s a bittersweet feeling, as the buildings are beautiful and I have so many happy memories of spending afternoons and evenings there in the ABC (later the Cannon in 1983, then the MGM from 1992 before reverting to ABC again in 1996) and the Gaumont (Odeon from 1986). On February 10th, the new cinema opens in central Bournemouth – a flagship cinema for the 21st Century, complete with luxuriant auditoria, pin-sharp projection, and in its premier iSense screen the latest immersive Dolby Atmos surround sound.  

Don’t get me wrong, I embrace new technology and look forward to the enhanced picture and sound, raked seating and being able to book a specific regular seat. The older cinemas have been deteriorating for some time – the conversion job of the Odeon from 2 screens to 6 was not entirely successful, with the walls being too thin and allowing sound spillage from neighbouring screens. Seats were past their best and the cinemas were strange shapes with poor sight lines. And yet the ABC Screen 1 was magnificent to the end. A perfectly shaped auditorium with huge curtains across its curving screen. 

My first film I recall on Westover Road was the inauspicious When the North Wind Blows starring Dan (Grizzly Adams) Haggerty in the mid-70s. Greater things were to come, and here are my magnificent seven Westover Road movie memories:

1. The Pearl & Dean adverts – It felt like they went on forever, and they were SO random, but the adverts that followed the catchy Pearl and Dean jingle are indelibly etched on my mind. From the politically incorrect ‘too orangey for crows’ Kia-Ora to ‘Happiness is a cigar called Hamlet’ to Vic Lawton’s Motor Body Repairs – ‘Oooh madam, we’ll soon have your body so bee-utiful again!’ they were a crackly, mismatched, block of 70s or 80s consumerism in one compact hit. They still show those awful ads for hot dogs (I think they were Westlers back in the day) but they still look horrible and cost an arm and a leg.

Image loaded onto by Len Gazzard

2. The underage viewing – Is there anything more exciting than watching a film when you’re not actually legally old enough? Instead of the ‘U’ or ‘A’ films, it wanted to see the ‘AA’s (14 or older) and for those ‘X’-rated treats – you had to be 18. My first underage film should have been Blade Runner in summer of 1982 – I was 13 ½ and you had to be 14 - but the woman at the ABC was having none of it. I had to wait many years for its re-release to finally see it in its widescreen splendour. Instead, I walked up the road that same day and was allowed to see the equally AA-rated Who Dares Wins (featured in the photo above!) a pretty ropey Lewis Collins SAS actioner. Other ‘illegal' AAs that year included Firefox, Conan the Barbarian and Fame (yes, really!). 
Frustratingly, a couple of months before my 14th birthday they increased the age from 14 to 15 with the introduction of the new 15 certificate – grrrr!  My first ‘18’ cert film was A Nightmare on Elm Street (the original) which I went to at the Odeon when I was 16. I brazenly lied about my age, smugly walked in, sat down, opened my glasses case and realised I’d left my specs at home! So, I sat in the front row, squinting my short-sighted eyes into some sort of focus as Freddy Kruger sliced his way through Johnny Depp and co.

3. The queuing up the alleyways – Back in the day, because you couldn’t buy your tickets in advance, either online or by phone, you had to queue up and take your chances. This meant that for blockbusters like Star Wars or James Bond movies you invariably had to queue up outside the cinema, which then snaked round into one of the alleyways that linked Westover Road with Hinton Road. And you waited. If you were lucky, you would get in to the next performance, but if you weren’t, you had to stay in that queue while the film played and hopefully got in for the next one. I remember queuing like this for around five hours to see The Spy Who Loved Me.

4. The double and triple bills – While this still happens in some rep cinemas, the double bill (or double feature) or triple bill is a thing of the past for modern cinemas, quite simply because you don’t make as much money. Sure, there’s the odd ‘marathon’ or over-nighter when a new film comes out in a franchise, but I’m talking about the Star Wars Trilogy or double bill – the first three Star Trek movies in one day -  and even more fascinating, the weirdly unrelated programmes. For example The Amazing Spider-Man TV movie and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, or Smokey and the Bandit and The Conquest of Earth (three edited episodes of Galactica 1980), and even Buck Rogers in the 25th Century along with Mission Galactica: The Cylon Attack. Great value for money too! 

5. The non-smoking side – Even now, when I walk into a cinema auditorium I tend to favour the right-hand side. I think this is because from a very early age I conditioned myself to sitting there because that’s the ‘no smoking’ side. Contrary to what common sense and basic science would suggest, there’s evidently an invisible force field that sits dead centre of the auditorium and prevents toxic tobacco smoke from drifting across to the right side? Well, no actually, your clothes still came out stinking of fags until smoking was finally prohibited.  

ABC Bournemouth
(Image by Dusashenka from Flickr album ABC Cinema)

6. The restaurants/bars – Both the Odeon and the ABC had upstairs bars/restaurants. However, I really can’t remember being old enough to go in to them or seeing them actually open. The Odeon’s catering space was actually turned into a small 140-seat auditorium in 1995, six years after the downstairs was split into four screens. The ABC’s still existed as a redundant space right up to when it closed, typically only used as a reception area for events/premieres. 

7. The Continuous performances – Nowadays you watch a watch, the lights come up, you leave and the popcorn boxes are swept up. Back in the day you went in as and when you pleased. The performance times were more of a guide rather than clearing out times, meaning that you could watch the first performance of the day and stay in to watch it again, as I did on a couple of occasions (Battlestar Galactica and Clash of the Titans for sure). I also saw the last twenty minutes of Jaws 3D before sitting through the trailers and support programme and then the start of the film. I needn’t have bothered.

Like they say, nostalgia ain’t what it used to be, and I apologise if I misremembered anything. Of course, the greatest fun was raving about the movies afterwards and saying ‘Remember that bit when…?’ So a big shout out to all family and friends who made the trips even more exciting, with honourable mentions to fellow cinemagoers Andy, Richard, Michael, Jim, Craig and Claire.   

1 comment:

  1. My first cinema outing was Robin Hood (the Disney one). I had no idea what a film was, so as we queued on those stairs I somehow imagined the characters would appear at the end of the stairway (in my defence I was about 2 and a half).
    First underage film was Firefox with Dad - deadly boring unfortunately iirc. First 18 was Crimes of Passion (I was 15) with you and Richard.
    Weirdest double bill - Spiderman and the Dragon's Challenge (awful)/Cactus Jack (comedy genius).