When I was 3 years old, I was taken to the cinema for the first
time. The film was “Star Wars”, and the cinema was Walthamstow. It signalled
the start a love affair with cinema, (but particularly Walthamstow cinema, which
I always regarded as “mine”) and film (although my adulation of Star Wars ended
when “The Phantom Menace” was released.)
We were counted in by the cinema manager, a man who we nicknamed
“Hitler” on account of his stature of 4 foot 5 inches and who inexplicably
checked how many of us could come in by smacking us soundly on our
We bought our tickets; beautiful, snug rectangles of card, generally
grey if memory serves, which we carried as if they were golden tickets
for entry to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. We were ushered past
the sweet concession stall, on account of the sandwiches we had smuggled
in, wrapped in tinfoil (mine were haslet and concealed in my pocket)
and a carton of juice each. We walked up the grand staircase, impossibly
high to my three year old legs; marvelled at the chandelier and walked,
dumbstruck, to the viewing room.
We (my mother, sister, brother and I) took our seats (after careful
checking by Mum that we had all gone to the toilet). I remember looking
around the theatre and being in utter and complete awe of its magnificence.
Mum told me that it used to be a music hall theatre. When I was older,
my Nan told me Alfred Hitchcock used to go there. My Grandad had seen
The Kinks there. I stared around me, unable to believe just how wonderful
the building was.
It started with an advert for Pearl and Dean, the tune of which
transports me back to being the over excited 3 year old I was when
I first saw it. The “upcoming features” were wonderful, and I remain
one of the few people who refuses to forward through previews on DVDs.
The noise, the lights; the beauty of the theatre. Utter. complete,
divine. Happiness; sheer happiness. The sticky floors; the people
surreptitiously having a fag in the back row (these being the days
when the back row meant something).
I went to Walthamstow cinema fairly regularly afterwards. We lived
in Chingford, and it was our local cinema. I even continued to go
there when we moved to Loughton, and was an occasional visitor when
we moved further afield.
Hope I’m not too late to regale you with my memories of the Walthamstow Granada
as was. Being a life-long Stower, the Granada was the first cinema I attended.
I saw The Jungle Book there when I was (I think) 6, so that would be c.1967.
Another memorable visit was when I was 12 or 13 and I saw The Italian Job
with two of my neighbours. The most memorable thing about the trip was being
forced to smoke on the way home by these two slightly older girls, because
they said if I didn’t I’d be able to tell their mums about it. I’ve never
smoked since so would recommend it!
But my most memorable trip to the Granada was to see The Commitments in
1991. It was a Saturday night in late October and I went with my friend Sarah,
but it was so busy that we couldn’t get in. Sarah met a couple of her workmates
in the queue who also couldn’t get in, so we all went for a drink at the Rose
and Crown instead. One of the workmates was a guy called Ian who ‘took a shine
to me’ and invited me to see the film another time. Twelve(!) years later,
we got married when our son was 8 months old. For real symmetry our son would
have attended the first Saturday morning cinema in Walthamstow since he was
born to see The Jungle Book, but he couldn’t be persuaded! Sure we’ll go soon,
but we’d rather go to our beautiful old cinema!
I was a schoolgirl usherette at the Granada (later EMD) in the sixties.
It was a holiday job which I did with my friend. I remember Ernie, who was
the backbone of the place. I saw “St Trinians”, “Thunderbirds are Go ” and
“Bambi” about fourteen times each. And I still cried every time at Bambi!
Our duties were showing people to their seats and telling them where the
toilets were. We never reached the heady heights of selling ice creams.
Sticky floors, ice cream sellers in the aisle. walking from leyton to Macdonalds
then on to the cinema for a rare treat, it was never a regular occurrence
as my parents were not loaded. The smell of the thick curtains still linger
with me. My fondest memory is going for birthday number 6 in 1983 watching
superman two or three, I can’t remember which but my mum pulled the surprise
on me when I got there.
As a proud East Londoner growing up in Chingford during the 80’s, where of
course there isn’t really a particularly close cinema, other than what’s now
the Odeon in lea Valley, I visited the EMD (what was called the ABC around
the time I first went) regularly.
The first time I went to the Walthamstow ABC was in 1995, aged seven when
I went with my mother to see Casper. Even at that young age, I have always
appreciated art deco buildings, being an artist myself. I remember so clearly
that day in 1995. I used to regularly go shopping during school breaks with
my mother down Walthamstow market and Selborne shopping centre, which I always
enjoyed (possibly as I was promised a toy or some sweets) but one day I convinced
my mum to go with me to see Casper.
After quickly roaming around the arcade, we walked into the ABC in Hoe Street.
As soon as you entered the building, there was an overwhelming sense of warmth
and glamour about the interior that you could only experience by visiting,
no other cinema had quite the same atmosphere and beauty as this one…an architectural
gem. From the refreshments kiosk to that walk up the stairs to screen one,
no other cinema felt quite as magical, even aged seven. The best place to
sit was just behind the circle, not sure where we sat that day as it was 16
years ago, but I do remember the experience well.
Memories like this mean the world to me, and I would love nothing more than
other young generations to experience a real cinema like the Walthamstow EMD,
rather than the bland multiplex cinemas this country boasts today.
We moved in to our house in Cleveland Park Avenue in 1997 and not long afterwards
I was gardening and I heard The Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah floating
across the gardens. How strange I thought, and it was hard to pinpoint which
house it was coming from. Then a bit later I heard some other sound effects
and realised that it was Face/Off playing in Screen One of the Odeon! I’d
seen the film a week earlier at the cinema and actually enjoyed hearing it
gently in my garden. I only heard the sounds from the films occasionally in
my back garden but they always put a smile on my face.
I did not see The Count at the Granada but two friends did – Bob Whetstone,
a trumpet player originally from Walthamstow who now lives in Australia and
my friend, the late jazz critic Kevin Henriques. Kevin saw the Basie Band
in 1957: he was living in Sutton, Surrey and had travelled to the Granada
to review the show: he could have reviewed for one of the jazz magazines –
possibly Jazz Journal but I cannot trace the review so I’m not too sure. Bob
Whetstone told me about his meeting with The Count.
Bob was living in Walthamstow and was trying to get into the Granada to
meet this wonderful musician. Bob got into the stage door – he knew someone
who worked at the Granada – and got to take a tray of drinks into the dressing
room – he told me that two of the theatre staff had refused to do this (remember
this was 1957!) and Bob was thrilled to meet one of the greatest jazz men.
Bob is now in his 80’s and still playing trumpet.
My own memory was seeing Mr Dynamite, James Brown – what a night! This was
1966 and I was living in North West London. I had never heard of Walthamstow,
had no idea where it was. My friend and I set off in her Mini – she was a
learner driver, I had yet to pass my test. I know we drove through the West
End to get to Walthamstow – no sat navs then – and somehow arrived at the
Granada – buzzing with excitement and what a show – it was unbelievable.
I especially remember the end of the concert. James Brown on stage, his
vocal group behind him, holding his gold and red cloak, trying to put the
cloak on his back to lead him off stage – James Brown, kneeling on stage,
not wanting to leave – the cloak thrown off, then put on again, then taken
The band playing: You Don’t Have To Go- the group singing the words – James
Brown kneeling yet again, then finally, after repeating this riff several
times, the cloak finally around his shoulders and he walked off stage, only
to return for another verse of the song – the climax of a wonderful performance
– pure theatre, it was superb!
I would love to meet anyone else who was at the Granada that night to share
I became pregnant and was left to bring up my baby son on my own. It was
a very difficult time and I was pretty isolated, family living far away, though
friends showed a lot of care and somehow my son and I struggled through.
The cinema in Walthamstow became a very useful resource when my boy was
about 4yrs and interested in going to see films. I took him to whatever was
suitable for him, using the cinema visit as an incentive for him to do this
or that and to pass on quiet weekend afternoons and school holidays. We saw
a lot of children’s films, many of which I enjoyed too. We would stock up
with popcorn and a drink and just enjoy watching.
I do remember one film, “Pokemon”, which I had hoped to keep away from but
he saw it was on and I had no way out. So miserable about it was I, that I
packed in my bag a book and tiny book light and, without my son noticing,
I was able to enjoy reading my book whilst he watched the film, We were both
We missed the cinema badly when it first closed but we did transfer our
film-watching to other cinemas, just much less often and at greater cost.
My son is now over 18yrs old and seems to have no memory of visiting our local
cinema. I know he will be pleased to see it open again and I will too, though
we probably won’t go together, having very different tastes in films and he,
thank heavens, no longer needs his mum to go with him nor even to pay!
I remember this cinema from the late 40’s onwards when they used to have
Saturday morning pictures through to Bill Haley then going with all my friends
on Sunday afternoons. We had the choice of so many cinemas even two “flea
pits” one at the Bell and the other at Bakers Arms. Good times.
I went to this cinema as a young girl and would like the same privilege
for my grandchildren. It’s such a beautiful cinema.