Actor Billy Murray remembers his childhood: as there wasn’t any tv, going to the cinema was necessary. And to enter the Odeon East Ham, you had to queue for more than one hour!

Billy Murray cinema
Billy Murray

«My local cinema was the former Odeon East Ham» Billy Murray says. Then he explains: «It was on the Barking Road, just around the corner from West Ham United F.C. at Upton Park. It was opened in 1938 on the same site as the demolished Boleyn Electric Theatre, which launched in 1910. It closed in the early 1980s.

Remaining ‘dark’ for 14 years, it is, today, the Boleyn Cinema which, since 1995, has been showing Bollywood films. Its screen in the circle claims to be the biggest in London».

Then Billy starts remembering: «I went there a lot when I was very young – between about age seven and 14. There was no TV, and so we would go there three or four times a week. As I remember, it was usually the last show of the evening we’d go to, after my dad had finished work. And in those days there were long queues for the cinema that often stretched right around the block! So my mum and dad used to send me there an hour before the film started so I’d be at the front of the queue ready just in time for when they arrived!»


The Odeon East Ham, London E6 Image: Courtesy of The Cinema Theatre Association
The Odeon East Ham, London E6 Image: Courtesy of The Cinema Theatre Association


The structure

The Odeon East Ham was a big, single-screen cinema and quite a grand building. But what I seem to remember most is hardly being able to see what was happening on the screen. In fact there was a heavy fog of cigarette smoke that drifted into the line of the projection beam.

Cinema managers in those days were quite respected – they knew everyone, and everyone knew them. I always remember the one at the Odeon dressed in a smart black dinner-suit and bowtie, also that he frequently spoke to my parents and other patrons. In fact, the managers used to have a kind of local celebrity status. For the Queen’s Coronation in 1953, for example, was held a fancy dress competition – where I turned up as Stoke City and Blackpool’s outside right, Stanley Matthews. Well, we were all so impressed ‘that the manager from the Odeon was coming down to do the judging’.

On other days when we all went out to the cinema together, if the queues were a bit long or if we weren’t all that keen on the film, we’d give it a miss and go and have pie-and-mash instead.

Billy Murray (EastEnders’ character, Johnny Allen, and Don Beech of The Bill) appears in Stalker. The film is now available from 4Digital Media.

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