INDEX

INDEX

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

THE ALHAMBRA - NINETY-NINE YEARS OF ENTERTAINMENT!


(Photo: The Local Data Company)




This was going to be a simple little diary entry called 'Going to the pictures - 1960-style' based on the press cutting above. As we went in search of photos and information on The Alhambra it suddenly occurred to us that the building celebrates its hundredth birthday in 2020, which is just a year away. So this has turned into something more than just a little look at what was on at the pictures in July 1960 - though we'll still be doing that, of course. Many thanks to all those who have contributed to this article. If you have memories, mementos and photos of The Alhambra in any of its guises, it goes without saying that we'd love to see them - Ed.

THE ALHAMBRA - NINETY-NINE YEARS OF ENTERTAINMENT

by Dave Roberts

We're grateful to Rob Dykes who last Summer sent us this scan of an Alhambra Cinema ad from The Chronicle dated 9th July 1960.

This was, you may be surprised to hear, a Saturday. 

Our local newspapers were very different publications in former days, much more akin to regional newspapers, and carried items of national and regional news as well as stories relevant to Chester and Mid-Cheshire in the case of The Chronicle series and Warrington and Mid-Cheshire when it came to the Guardian series of newspapers.

And one of the most eagerly scanned sections of the newspaper in 1960 was the cinema listings.

For the week commencing Monday 11th July, Middlewich's Alhambra was showing, as can be seen, The Shakedown starring Terence Morgan, and Destiny of a Man (wrongly printed here as Destiny of Man, which may well have given some people completely the wrong idea of the scope of the plot).


On Thursday the programme changed and audiences could see No Time To Die (aka Tank Force)  in Cinemascope and Technicolor, supported by Gun Men From Laredo starring Robert Knapp and  Jana Dupui, another Technicolor film. 

You'll note that the films shown during the second half of the week are 'U' certificate, reflecting the fact that family audiences were more likely to attend the cinema at the weekend. There appears to have been no Sunday performance at this time.

Before we take a look at the films showing in Middlewich all those years ago, here are a few observations on the advert itself and a look at other cinemas with a link to the Alhambra.


It seems odd that, as late as 1960, the telephone number should be Middlewich 18. Perhaps the low number is accounted for by the fact that Middlewich's telephone exchange at the time was just across the road from the Alhambra, at the rear of the Post Office. The very first exchange, by the way, was in Brooks Lane and one of the first operators was my Auntie Cissie (Griffiths). The Wheelock Street premises are now a betting shop.


The advert also reminds parents of the existence of the 'Children's Club' at 2pm on Saturdays. This lays to rest another long-running Middlewich mystery. I was always told by locals that 'there were never any children's matinees at the Alhambra'. And yet I can always vividly remember going there to see a matinee performance featuring the (to me) staggeringly unfunny Three Stooges. I remember the foot stamping, the jeering, the throwing of missiles and the huge amount of cheeky remarks hurled at the usher, known to one and all as 'Torchy'.

The programmes are shown as being 'continuous from 5.15'.

Here's where we bring in our guest contributor, Colin Pierpoint for the first time:


'The words "Continuous from 5.15" are significant because it meant that you could stay in all evening if it said that, and see the films more than once. Usually there was a double bill, so you got about 3 hours before it repeated.'

And it was also quite usual for people to arrive late at the cinema and start watching a film part-way through. They'd then stay until the film started again and, when the point was reached at which they'd started watching, would leave, with the time-honoured phrase, 'I think this is where we came in!'


We're  told that The Alhambra was 'A Miles Jervis Cinema'. This was a company based in West Bromwich which owned a few cinemas in the fifties and sixties, mostly in the Midlands. 

Miles Jervis Cinemas  took over The Alhambra in 1960, the year we are looking at here, at the same time that they took over the Palace in Sandbach.

The Palace was somewhat similar in appearance to The Alhambra but, sadly, has not survived, being demolished in 1985 after several years of disuse.



The Palace Cinema in Congleton Road Sandbach, in the early 1950s. Although the exterior of this cinema, as built, was quite ornate it couldn't compare with the art-deco decoration of The Alhambra, which has survived to the present day. Ironically, it was Sandbach Cinemas, owners of The Palace, who ran The Alhambra in the 1930s. (Photo: Andrew Tilley)





By the 1970s, when The Palace was in its last days as a cinema, the ornate frontage had been altered and whatever charm the building possessed largely obliterated. The Palace, like many other former cinemas, served its time as a bingo hall before succumbing to the bulldozers in the 1980s. (Photo: Sandbach Photos Past and Present)

The histories of The Palace and The Alhambra seem, to a certain extent, to be intertwined. The Alhambra was opened in 1920 and was originally owned and operated by Clement Whitehead. Sandbach Cinemas, who ran The Palace in that town, took over the Alhambra from 1930. 
Clement Whitehead also operated the Star Cinema in a building still very familiar today.

Middlewich's first cinema, The Star, now the home to 'Triffic Togs' aka 'The Cabin'. The Star was, by later standards, rather primitive, with patrons seated on wooden benches and the projector on a platform behind them. There was no separate projection room. As the Alhambra opened in 1920 The Star can only have operated for a few years. Or were the two cinemas run concurrently for a time? Does anyone know? This building, before becoming the Middlewich institution it is today, also served time as an auction house and a car repair workshop.


The Alhambra around 1970 when the building was a bingo hall. And a very popular one at that. People were bussed in from as far afield as Stoke-on-Trent, Manchester and Liverpool. At this time the shop next door, adjoining Southway, was still owned by James Vernon and was selling furniture. Later it was to become one of the many premises in the town which has housed our Post Office. It was also, for a time, home to C.A.T.S. Opticians, which can now be found right across the road. The shop later sold wedding dresses and accessories and is, of course, currently the highly popular  Drinks & Bites At No 35. On the other side of Southway the off-licence (now closed) is selling the notorious Watney's Pale Ale. (Photo: Paul Hough Collection)






The bingo hall slightly later. This is the closest we can get to a photo of The Alhambra in its cinema days. The building was altered relatively little for its new role and rumours persisted for many years that the projection equipment had been left in situ. The proscenium arch was 22 feet wide and the cinema was fitted with a Western Electric sound system around 1930 when Sandbach Cinemas took it over.

Incorporated into the elaborate scrolled decoration beneath the curved frontage is a large capital W which, presumably, stood for Whitehead.




Here are some memories of The Alhambra from Colin Pierpoint, brother of Joan Pierpoint who was a well-known dance teacher in Middlewich for many years. 


The following account was first published on the Cinema Treasures website, and is reproduced with Colin's permission:



'I spent many hours in The Alhambra as a boy. 

We saw films like Oklahoma, High and Mighty (about flying), many Tarzan films, Errol Flynn swashbuckling, and Boris Karloff horror films.

For the latter there was often a suitable noise made by someone in the audience at the back. I remember seeing The Fiend without a Face (1958 version) with a good mimic of the man who lost half his brain, from the audience.


The projectionist sometimes put the reels out in the wrong order, which made the Tarzan plot confusing.

 
Another peculiarity of the Middlewich Alhambra was that there were two ways into the auditorium with different prices. The cheaper seats were up a ramp from the ticket desk. If you paid more, the customer went up the stair to what you expected to be the circle. However, it came out at the same seating but further back! 

There were a lot of US American service men (and possibly women) in there during the second world war because there was an air base at nearby Byley.
They were very annoyed to pay more for the same seats.

Another feature of  The Alhambra in the 1950s was Tommy Wilton. He was a socially disadvantaged man who they let in every evening free of charge. 
He sat in the front row.

When he got very excited during car chases and cowboy fights, he would jump up and down in his seat. The programme was changed twice a week and Tommy attended every night, so when he already knew the plot he would stand up to tell the audience what happens next! 



When cinemascope arrived, both sides of the picture were projected over the wall and exit doors.

Eventually they got the right lens for the screen size.' 


Colin Pierpoint 8th January 2018.




Richard Denton* says, 'The Alhambra was my introduction to the world of cinema. I loved the 'Allybarmy'. From Thunder Road and It Came From Beneath the Sea to Fess Parker in the Davy Crockett movies, and Brando in Mutiny On The Bounty.
I would go at least once a week, and often twice. In those days 'Pearl & Dean' were 'Pearl, Dean and Younger'. Whatever happened to Younger?


*Richard Denton is a member of the well-known Willing-Denton family, formerly of Middlewich Manor.

Colin Pierpoint: Yes, I remember the 'Pearl, Dean and Younger' advertisements. Many had a shaky overprint which said 'Only five minutes from this cinema!' The ads were followed by a trailer for the next presentation. If the trailer was in colour, people were heard to say 'Colour!' out loud, because it was so unusual an occurrence.


And Gay Sherry, who now lives in Australia, tells us:

I remember going there in my early teens to see the Dracula horror movies. My friend and I would dash home from school, make sandwiches and a flask of tea and sit at the back terrified, more often than not the only two in the cinema at the early showing!


So what were the films showing in Middlewich that week in 1960 like? Let's take a look at them.

After being released from prison, Augie Cortona sets up a blackmail operation, fronted by a model agency. When the authorities get wind of his activities, they send in an undercover police woman, but when she is recognised, the police need to move in on the operation, before Cortona can take his revenge. The poster alone must have been enough to bring the local Middlewich lads flocking to The Alhambra. And what, we wonder, did Tommy Wilton make of it?












The story of a man (Andrey Sokolov) whose life was ruthlessly crippled by World War II. His wife and daughters were killed during the bombing of his village, he spent some time as a prisoner, and his only son was killed in action only a few days before the victory...
Hardly a bundle of laughs, by the sound of it.




During WW2 in North Africa, an American sergeant serving with the British 8th Army is captured by the Germans but he hatches various plans of escape from the POW camp. Retitled No Time To Die in the UK. A British film, but made very much in the style of a Hollywood blockbuster. Middlewich will have loved it.

One of thousands of Western potboilers, a genre very popular at the time, both at the cinema and on TV. This one's about some Gunmen from Laredo.

So there we are. Your entertainment for the week commencing Monday July 11th 1960.





The Alhambra itself, as it was in 1937,  features in a film showing the Middlewich Coronation celebrations of that year. The film was made on 16mm film by the Mid-Cheshire Amateur Cinematography Society and was actually shown at the Alhambra shortly afterwards, on a projector placed halfway down the centre aisle. 

Imagine the excitement of some Middlewichians who were able to see themselves in the same cinema and on the same screen where they were used to seeing the Hollywood stars of the day.

You can see the film, which also features many other familiar Middlewich scenes,  by clicking on the link below.


A Salt Town Presentation



And here are some personal reminiscences of a trip to The Alhambra in 1963, on a day that has gone down in history.






We don't have a date for the closure of The Alhambra as a cinema, but we know it was open as late as 1966. If anyone can supply us with the dates that the cinema closed and the bingo hall opened, we'd be very grateful. The building was used for several purposes over the intervening years between its cinema days and its re-purposing as a Chinese restaurant. As well as the bingo hall, there was also a snooker club and, for a brief and controversial period in the 1980s, an amusement arcade.




This 1988 photo by Daniel Preston gives us a tantalising glimpse of the frontage of the building when the amusement arcade was providing entertainment to youngsters in a pre-computer games era, and incurring the wrath of adults who considered it the root of all evil and the cause of all trouble in the town. There were regular calls for it to be closed down. 






Bill Armsden's celebrated study of The Alhambra from 2012. Yet again the signage has been changed. The building has carried all manner of electric signs over the years but, in its cinema and bingo hall days, made do with the words THE ALHAMBRA in plasterwork above the door. Those words are still there and have helped ensure that whatever the building has been used for over the years, it has retained its time-honoured name. Even at night it's possible to see that the art-deco frontage itself was looking a little the worse for wear during this period. The shop next door was a bridal shop at this time. By 2013 it had become Drinks & Bites at No. 35









Yet another change of sign for The Alhambra. This photo from the Local Data Company shows the restaurant during the period it was closed. It has since re-opened. The frontage has been cleaned, tidied and repainted and now looks much as it must have done in 1920.



THE PRESENT-DAY ALHAMBRA





The Alhambra is a remarkable survivor. For nearly a hundred years it has served Middlewich as an entertainment venue and its current owner, David Cantona Lee is keen to bring all kinds of entertainment to this iconic Middlewich venue.

One intriguing and very appropriate idea is the possibility of once again screening movies at The Alhambra. The introduction of lightweight, high-quality digital equipment has meant that this is now a real possibility, rather than the pipe-dream it once was.
Cine-dining is becoming more and more popular all over the world and, who knows, Middlewich might become part of the movement.

It would certainly be very fitting for the building's centenary.

To find out what's happening right now at The Alhambra, check out their Facebook Page:


                  ALHAMBRA BAR AND ENTERTAINMENT ON FACEBOOK




Alhambra advertisements for New Year's Eve 2016 and 2018

Many thanks for coming with us on this little trip into the Alhambra's past. There is, of course, a lot more to tell and we just know that people will have a lot to tell us about their experiences of The Alhambra over the years.

But, for now......I think this is where we came in....


Many Thanks To:

ROB DYKES
COLIN PIERPOINT
DAVID CANTONA LEE
RICHARD DENTON
CINEMA TREASURES
THE LATE BILL ARMSDEN
DANIEL PRESTON
THE LOCAL DATA COMPANY LTD
GAY SHERRY




No comments:

Post a Comment

Leave your comments here. Please note that comments are moderated and, if they are particularly relevant, may be incorporated into the original diary entry.