If there was one thing that Colwyn Bay had enough of in the 70’s and 80’s, it was cinemas. In the days before the “multiple cinematic experience complex”, The Bay boasted three prime specimens of the common, everyday picture house. So, for absolutely no reason what so ever, I’ve decided to write a small piece about all three.
Things were different then. These were the dark days when 3D meant wearing a pair of ridiculous cardboard glasses with blue and red lenses. When two B Movies would be shown together resulting in a bottom-numbing five hour film marathon that could leave you with streaming eyes and a permanent dip in your intellect, and when ushers would show you to your seat if you arrived late for the main picture and hiss at kids to be quiet.
Popcorn was compulsory as was the back row if your crowd were the oldest gang there. Shouting and laughing were tolerated during the adverts but tended to ebb during the animated hot dog and popcorn, “Let’s all go to the lobby” song. The lights would go up for the usher to come out for a last gasp hard sell on the ice, sweets and soft drinks and then dim again, allowing Hollywood (or Ealing) to steal our souls.
There was real magic in film then. Children these days are so sated on computer graphics that I almost feel sorry for them. Imagination is almost superfluous today because the Hollywood Movie machine is such a perfect organism. For example, the original Clash of the Titans was a breath taking, acid trip of a film in 1981 which had us in raptures at the plethora of stop motion monsters. Nowadays it would be derided to death for its prehistoric effects and Mullet hairstyles and go straight into DVD. Tragic.
But, you know what Dear Reader? We didn’t care. We didn’t care because that was all we had and it was great. So, without further ado, I give you the Trinity of Dreams:
The first stop on our cinematic tour of “The Bay of the early 80’s” is The Princess. This wasn’t my favourite but what I did like about it was the tiny entrance that led into the main auditorium. It also had a Circle for the better off patrons, (not us Tan y lan kids I have to add) and a stage in front of the screen.
I have no lasting memories of The Princess, to be honest. Yes I went there a couple of times but I can’t ever remember being there for one of the blockbusters that help define our childhoods.
Our favourite cinema here in Germany is called, “Der Kultiplex” and its attraction lies in the décor and furniture in the lobby. It’s straight out of the 70’s and has that close, bijou atmosphere that the lobby of The Princess possessed all those many years ago. It was a real flashback situation on my first visit and I actually told the manageress of my feeling and how it reminded me of a picture house in my home town.
She nodded politely, smiled and reminded me that there was a special offer on the popcorn, (medium for the price of small) in that kind way reserved only for children and lunatics.
Sometimes nostalgia is best enjoyed in silence, eh?
The Princess is a pub now and the last time I visited The Bay I had a look in and found myself pleasantly surprised at how ornate the brewery chain have kept the furnishings. I was so impressed I spent the whole day there actually.
In fact I’m looking forward to going there again in October but that’s another story 😛
The next on the promenade through my youth is the Astra. I’m reliably informed by my mother that it was originally known as the Odeon but to me it will only ever be the Astra.
To my prepubescent eyes the Astra looked massive. The seating was curved lightly around the screen and seemed to stretch for ages.
It was definitely the deluxe cinema in Colwyn. With a screen you could deck a football field with, a sound system louder than Concorde in a nosedive and seats so wide Captain Kirk would be at home in, the Astra really was awe inspiring.
I watched Star Wars, Clash of the Titans, Superman, First Blood and a whole industry of other films here; not because it was cheap but because the projectionist’s son was a mate of mine.
I experienced my first cinematic amorous adventure in the Astra, a hasty fumble followed by a slap that came right out of a John Hughes screenplay, (Google him if you don’t know who he is).
The Astra was to me the crème de la crème of Colwyn Bay’s Big Three. It sadly went into disrepair around the late 80’s, spending its twilight years as a bingo hall before finally succumbing to the planners axe and being knocked down for an old people’s home in the 90’s, (I think).
I often think about it when I drive past where it once stood. I know, I know, anyone from The Bay who’s reading this is thinking, “What the hell is he on about?”
But I’m a sentimental buffoon at heart, which leads me nicely onto the last stop on the tour…
The Wedgewood. If ever a cinema held a medal of distinction in my fuzzy drink-sodden memory, it’s the Wedgewood. The Wedgewood was an imposingly white, art deco, stately home of a cinema that looked right out of a millionaire’s property brochure.
With an impeccably maintained sloping garden at the front and ridiculously oversized, (to my child’s mind) stone steps running up to the main doors, it was to 8 year old Reggie Jones a Buckingham palace in miniature and far more interesting.
The lobby was just as lavish as the outside promised it to be, with huge weighty curtains we used to hide in while queuing to pay, plush carpets so deep you could lose marbles in it and a uniformed manageress who welcomed all the “guests” at every showing.
However the façade fell away once the entrance fee was paid.
The furniture was old and it looked it; (if an 8 year old child from a working class council estate could see it, it must have been bad) and the projection equipment was prone to break down. This, I’m sure would be annoying to a full paying adult but to us kids it was great.
My Gran knew the manageress, (a mid fifties, heavily made up lady with the vocal chords of a sergeant major and the heart of Mother Teresa) and every Saturday morning my brother and I would go and spend 15 pence, (or was it 5?) for the Saturday morning cinema, (Gran’s treat).
The films were from The Children’s Film Foundation but I’m afraid the only ones I remember were The Double Deckers, (which I think was actually a television series) Danny the Dragon and Robin Hood Junior. The rest have sadly fallen into the Black Hole of my addled recollection.
There was a real party atmosphere there and the children, free of all parental constraint, enjoyed the best that British cheapo productions could offer.
If any of the regulars had a birthday he or she was marched to the front and would stand blushing as the rest of the madhouse sang Happy Birthday to them, and it was a madhouse.
However, there was never any trouble, nobody smoked and drugs to us kids then meant Junior Aspirin!
I wonder what would happen in the same situation in today’s Britain?
Whatever, social comment aside, I used to love those Saturday morning excursions into the film world and I was saddened when they knocked the Wedgewood down to make way for the A55.
I don’t really remember seeing any blockbusters there except for Pinocchio with my Gran, but the Saturday Matinees more than make up for the scarcity of movie epics
So there you have it Dear Reader, I hope I was able to jog a few memory cells and raise a fond smile of recall.
I’m on early shift tomorrow so I’ll be off then
PS I told a fib earlier, I watched Jaws in The Princess, with my Dad and brother. Now if Jaws isn’t one of the films that colour in your childhood then I don’t know what is.