We’ve interviewed Barbara Windsor about her relantionship with cinemas and theatre. She explained us that, when she was a child, going to her favourite cinema was a sort of “reward”
Barbara Windsor, what is your favourite cinema and when did you start to go there?
Well, my whole life has been films! Right from an early age, going to my favourite cinema was always a treat, especially as a compensation. For example, my father used to promise that, “provided there was no trouble at the dentist’s”, then I could go to the pictures afterwards. Also, being an only child, the pictures was my way of making friends.
My mother was a dressmaker, who I only really got to see at weekends. So Saturday afternoons would either be Dick Barton: Special Agent or, again, the cinema. And the one I liked best – and most identify with – was the Vogue in Stoke Newington High Street. It had a slightly Art Deco feel and, with its sense of occasion, seemed more like a little theatre. It’s now a Turkish restaurant.
When I saw Jane Russell in The Outlaw, I remember it provoked a bit of a storm at school. It was an ‘A’ picture – meaning you had to be 15 to get in – and my teacher and classmates were dumbfounded when they got to hear that I’d been to see this film. My mother was even summoned to the school the next day to be warned that the film wasn’t suitable for me!
My favourite genre
When you went to the pictures, you never quite knew what you’d end up seeing! So you kept your fingers crossed that it would be a ‘U’ film, and you would ask at the box office if the film was suitable… You actually did that in those days. I always liked musicals, jungle action films and comedies. My favourite was The Marx Brothers. I also wanted to be Betty Grable. I adored her in Pin Up Girl, The Dolly Sisters and Mother Wore Tights, and was lucky enough to get to meet her.
In those days, most towns had four or five cinemas. For me, these included the Astoria Finsbury Park, a wonderful ‘atmospheric’ cinema with its ceiling painted like a night sky, and was really glamorous. There was also the Regent Stamford Hill – now a supermarket – which was another big treat. It appeared a big, beautiful white building that towered over you as you approached it from Tottenham.
I don’t like multiplexes
These days, I don’t go to the cinema that much, as I don’t really like how cold the multiplexes are. I prefer individuality and that’s how the smaller cinemas were, with names – like the Rex, Regency, Plaza, Curzon and Ritz – to match. But we recently went to the Screen-on-Baker Street, which is a nice intimate little place, to see The Artist. And that’s an interesting thing. People always assume that the silent filmstars fell from grace because of how their voices sounded. It was also just as true that they couldn’t learn their lines.
The other thing was that, at the time, when cinemas were being closed down and turned into bingo halls, I didn’t like it and thought Bingo was a bad thing. But I’ve since changed my mind on this because, if it wasn’t for Bingo, many of those lovely old cinemas would have been demolished and thus lost forever.
Barbara Windsor recently attended the 18th Bradford International Film Festival to receive an award recognising her contribution to Cinema