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From the Gem and Neptune studios to Studio 70 and The Point - a century of cinemas in Borehamwood
Actor Jenny Agutter attended the opening of The Point, after three years in which Borehamwood had no cinema
Well it has been a long week as yet again my right leg has gone on strike and I know my loyal readers like to suffer along with me.
At least it has given me an excuse to catch up with my many unviewed DVDs of old films to which I have become quite addicted.
I love old British films of the 1940s to the 1960s, which are often in black and white, as they allow you to wallow in times gone by. They also remind you of how much times have changed, such as most men wore hats and nobody ever found it difficult to locate a parking spot in central London.
These where the days when buses had clippies issuing tickets and when journalists had a bottle of whiskey in their desks, not to mention secretaries hired for their looks rather than typing skills.
In some ways the biggest change is how many scenes involve characters going to the local pub, which was the hub of the community, and how often the characters smoked as a matter of everyday habit. Indeed some cigarette brands advertised themselves as ‘cool as a mountain stream’, ‘just what the doctor ordered for a sore throat’ or ‘you are never alone with this brand’.
I started going to the cinema at the end of the 1950s as a child. I visited the local cinema after a Tizer with an ice cream float in Hansons Tea Shop and then a scoop of hot salted peanuts from Tonibells cafe. There were only two channels on the black and white television at home so a trip to the cinema, or ‘flicks’, was a treat. I expect this is beyond the wildest comprehension of a child today, but I doubt they are all that much happier.
I am told this year marks the 100th anniversary of our first cinema opening in Borehamwood, which was located in Station Road. The facts seem a bit unclear but some say the Gem opened in the old baptist chapel in 1914 and was possibly run by the nearby Neptune Studios, located where the BBC is today. I once interviewed an old film producer who had started as an office boy at Neptune in the First World War and recalled earning an extra £1 a week playing the piano at the silent films cinema.
In 1936, a brand new cinema opened named Studio Elstree with 820 seats and was located almost next to where McDonald’s is sited. This is where I remember starting my visits to the cinema in the 1950s and even going to the Saturday morning screenings armed with orange rinds and other things to throw off the balcony onto the kids below.
I guess the Manor Way gang were the hoodies of our day but I think they were called duffel coats and balaclavas, the latter sometimes knitted by mum.
In 1966, the old fleapit was given a big makeover, reducing the seating to 720 but with a new frontage and renamed Studio 70, which must have sounded futuristic. I recall some of the cast of Carry On Cowboy attended, which was the first film screened.
Sadly, Studio 70 closed its doors and was demolished in 1981 due to lack of audiences. The owners EMI offered to keep it open if the council covered the losses but it was not to be. The giant front signage of forthcoming attractions was moved to the civic hall, which could show films. That in turn was closed in 1996 and for three years we had no cinema.
In 1999, local resident Julian Senior opened the multiplex at The Point and I recall being invited to the opening, which was attended by the likes of Jenny Agutter and Susan George. Although it has since changed ownership and been upgraded, the multiplex is thankfully still here so we can continue to enjoy going to the cinema as we have for a century.
Incidentally, the original Gem cinema is now a flower shop and the original building, unlike most of Borehamwood from 1914, is still there.