Post Memories: Do you remember these Barking and Dagenham cinemas?

The former Odeon cinema in Dagenham Heathway

The former Odeon cinema in Dagenham Heathway - Credit: Archant

Barking could be about to have its first cinema in 17 years. To celebrate, ex-Post reporter Tony Richards takes a nostalgic look back at all the picturehouses that have been and gone

The Electric Cinema in 1924

The Electric Cinema in 1924 - Credit: Archant

“Can you imagine Barking without a cinema?” screamed a front-page editorial comment in the Barking Advertiser in 1957. There’s no need any longer to imagine it. It has been a reality for the past 17 years.

Now comes a suggestion this could come to the end with rumours that a new cinema could replace the now redundant leisure centre in Axe Street.

It can’t help but revive memories of cinemas which have been and gone over the years.

The Electric Cinema was in Ripple Road opposite the (then) police station.

The demolition of the Odeon cinema in 1966

The demolition of the Odeon cinema in 1966 - Credit: Archant

Columnist Sid Wade wrote in the Post in 1994 that it had been called the Flea Pit, but I did not suffer any nips on either of my two visits to it before its closure in 1956. The site later became a supermarket – Barking’s first, before Tesco and Asda – and now forms part of the Vicarage Field shopping centre.

Then followed the fate of the Capitol in East Street in December 1959. Its site became part of Marks and Spencers until that store moved out. Now it is occupied by the NatWest Bank.

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The Odeon, in Longbridge Road, continued projecting films until its closure in 1998. Now the site is occupied by Nando’s, with adjoining shops and flats above. Demolition of the building revealed murals of Laurel and Hardy, Shirley Temple and other cinema greats of yesteryear.

In the ’50s, even if the film was not of the best, sitting in the back row of the two-and-ninepences was always a pleasurable experience, supplemented by the popcorn and ice cream.

Many couples now celebrating their golden, even their diamond, weddings may have had their first date there!

The Odeon was the last to meet the bulldozers. I remember particularly the delight of my son John, then aged four, on seeing The Thief of Baghdad in 1973.

As a local newspaper reporter whenever I saw any of the management team from the Odeon I was always asked: “Would you like to see the show?” Of course I would! And of course I received two tickets, not just one!

And I did not even write the film reviews!

Among the memorable films screened at the Odeon were Reach for the Sky, starring Kenneth More, and Doctor at Large, with Dirk Bogarde and James Robertson Justice. Diana Dors in Yield to the Night was one of the many favourites at the Cap.

The closing night at the Cap was December 12, 1959 with The Man Who Could Cheat Death and The Evil That Is Eve. It was a sad occasion for the staff and regular patrons.

The manager, Steve Burgess, was a great showman, and had for years always gone to enormous lengths to promote the various films which were showing, or shortly to be shown, at his cinema.

On one occasion he even dressed up the Barking Park pleasure launch, Phoenix II, as part of a promotional stunt.

He was always full of fun. Once I dashed from the Advertiser’s then office in North Street to East Street (for some reason which I forget) only to be ribbed by him with: “I bet you were hoping for a story about my cinema burning down, weren’t you?”

Opening a cinema in Barking town centre today would be a bold move. Things have changed in recent decades. Unlike in the fifties, English is not the first language of many of today’s residents. And competition lies two miles away at the Showcase Cinemas, in Beckton, which offer patrons a choice of a wide choice of films.

But demographic change may produce its benefits. Hollywood may be supplemented by Bollywood.

The Advertiser’s leader “Can you imagine Barking without a cinema?” did not ascribe the demise of the cinema solely to the growth of television. It pointed to the swingeing entertainment tax which took six out of every 20 shillings paid by cinema patrons.