The Laindon Picture Theatre

Those famous red seats

The cinema in Laindon opened in 1929.  My parents could well have been among the very first customers as my mum (Jessica Devine) once told me that was where my dad (George Burton) took her on their first date.  They married the following year 1930.

Initially known as ‘Laindon Picture Theatre’, the cinema’s name was changed to ‘The Radion’ around 1936/7.

There’s an interesting article on the Basildon History website which includes some great photographs.  I recognised the usherette on the left as Mrs Riggs who worked there during the sixties and lived in a turning off King Edward Road.  I have placed a link to the website below as it is well worth a visit.

My memories of the Radion start in the early fifties when it was one of the main forms of entertainment previous to television.  Like lots of families, we had a piano in our parlour that provided some entertainment.  My sister and I both had piano lessons, she being a much better player than me although we did manage to master a particularly easy duet.  My Mum played with her right hand, by ear and vamped with her left hand.  We kept lots of sheet music in a piano stool.  I loved the radio.  “Listen With Mother” at a quarter to two each day where I heard and loved my first piece of classical music ‘The Sugar Plum Fairy’.   In later years – Luxenburg in the evenings and Radio Vaticano on Saturday mornings which played the latest pop songs.

We often went to the Radion in Laindon High Road and watched ‘Tazan’ swinging through the trees.  Sometimes we went in half way through a film and watched it round again until we said “this is where we came in”.   Whenever there was a scary bit in a film, my mum would annoyingly put her hand in front of my eyes.  She did that during the train crash scene in “The Greatest Show on Earth”.  Mum and Dad left when the film finished but my sister and I stayed to watch the film again (something that was allowed back then).  This time I watched the train crash scene and wasn’t scared at all – it was obvious the two trains were only models.  I loved it when my sister took me to the ladies with its shell-shaped lamp shades which created a lovely soft pink light.  I imagined that was how Film Stars’ dressing rooms looked.

When I was ten years old I went to see The Court Jester along with many others from Markhams Chase School and immediately fell in love with Danny Kaye.  He was so talented, comical and adorable.  He could sing, dance, do tongue twisters, make you fall about laughing or swoon with a romantic song.  I was smitten.  For weeks afterwards his catch phrases were used at school, for instance:  “Get it.  Got it.  Good”. Trying to master his tongue twister rhyme about the “Challis from the Palace has the Brew which is True” kept us occupied for ages.

We also watched John Wayne in Davy Crockett, whose racoon fur hat became a fashion item.  My Aunt Kath, a dressmaker, made one each for all the children in our family, out of an old fur coat.  They were wonderful, fully lined with a tail hanging down the back.

When I was about 13 or so, I went to see Elvis Presley in ‘Wild in the Country’.  When he was singing ‘Love me Tender’ one of the girls called out from the back row “Oooooooo El” and everybody fell about laughing.

Later I’d go along with my younger brother.  We saw a double bill of Norman Wisdom in “The Bulldog Breed” and “The Square Peg”.  We laughed so much our sides hurt and our jaws ached.

I sometimes went with him and his friends to watch Sunday afternoon horror films.  One I remember was called ‘Godzilla v the Thing’.  Hoping to be terrified out of our skins, we found that Godzilla was a pathetic looking dinosaur and the ‘Thing’ was a large moth.  The audience was disappointed at the lack of terror, but many screamed loudly when one of the usherettes walked across the front of the cinema and her silhouette was projected up onto the screen. Those screams quickly changed to shreaks of laughter.

The last film I remember seeing at the Radion was The Beatles in “A Hard Day’s Night”. My husband Colin never did get to see inside the Radion, we used to see films together at the Ritz at Southend where an uncle of his was the manager.  However, he did get to sit in those old red seats a few years later at the original Towngate Theatre.

The Radion closed in 1969.  In August 1971, a new cinema opened in Basildon behind the Post Office.  I believe it was called ABC (later changed to Robins).  It was the summer holidays, I remember it well because I was eight months pregnant at the time and had Colin’s little sister and cousin with me.  I decided to take them along to the opening.  The cinema was opened by the actress Doris Hare who was kind enough to sign my autograph book for me.  The new cinema seemed luxurious after ‘the flea pit’.  We watched a short film about the new cinema and a couple of film trailers.  Two films I remember seeing there were “2001 A Space Odyssey” (which I didn’t understand) and “The Life of Brian” (which I adored).

When we first visited the original Towngate Theatre, to our surprise, it was furnished with the Radion’s old red upholstered seats.  Complete with holes from cigarette burns and initials carved on their wooden backs, they moved and rocked when anyone got up or sat down.  Goodness knows what eventually happened to those seats but one thing is for sure, within their long lifetime they came into contact with hundreds of Laindon faces or should I say their ‘rear ends’.

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  • Arrr thanks Richard.  April Love was my mum’s absolute favourite record.  She had a 78rpm copy of it and played it often.  She and my dad were married in April 1930 after meeting the previous year and sharing a first date at the Radion.  I loved it too, lovely song, lovely voice.  Just one thing, Pat Boone sang ‘April Love’, Tab Hunter sang ‘Young Love’.  Me and my mum  loved that too.  A lovely era of music, Bobby Vee, Brian Hyland, Ricky Nelson etc.  Gentle, dreamy, romantic music in contrast with the loud, exciting rock and roll of the time (loved that too and still do).

    I also have a sneaky love of the comic song ‘Down Came the Rain’ by Mister Murray.  I seem to remember around the time Colin and I decided to get engaged in 1967, we left his house to go catch the bus when, ‘down came the rain’ and we got a proper soaking, but we laughed all the way to the bus stop.  Oh what it was to be young.  The weather has certainly been ‘playing our tune’ this winter!!

    By Nina Humphrey(née Burton) (23/02/2014)
  • Nina, yes, definitely Pat Boone, I think we had both records. Funnily enough it was Dad who took me to see the film, probably having a rare night out. I cant remember any of it now though. I did notice reading through all this now that you thought Elvis sang Love me Tender in the film Wild in the Country. Clearly that was one of his earlier films of the same name from the mid fifties. I guess between us we could get the stories right ! I recall seeing his film Blue Hawaii in the Pitsea Century cinema with some LHR friends. There was some cat-calling in that one as well, mainly from the young lads, when he sang I Cant Help Falling in Love with You. We were so cruel. Looking back I used to take my girl friend there as well (not mentioning any names because people suddenly appear from nowhere after 50 years on this site). Keep up the good work and researching, its so worth it.

    By Richard Haines (23/02/2014)
  • An article in an edition of the local paper in 1951 tells us that the Neon Lighting was installed to the exterior of the cinema in December 1951: 

    News report from local paper 1951. “ In November, Mr H W Dixon, the Manager of the Radion Cinema announced that a £7,000 face lift would take place in December.  The Cinema would close for two weeks while the work was being carried out and would re-open on Christmas Eve.  All seats would be replaced and new carpets fitted.  A new screen installed and the stage made bigger.  Gas lamps would be replaced with electrical wall lights.  The box office would be rebuilt and an entirely new canopy built on the cinema and a new and attractive system of neon lighting will illuminate the building’s exterior.  Ticket prices for the new seats would be set at 2s 7d and it was hoped to start a children’s club in the near future”.  The first film shown after the re-opening was ‘Annie Get Your Gun’ starring Betty Hutton and Howard Keel.

    By Nina Humphrey(née Burton) (22/02/2014)
  • Nina again with her incessant research, brilliant. What a huge amount of money, £7000 in 1951 (what would that be worth today) for the owner of the Radion to have found or probably borrowed for all those improvements. It must have taken years to pay it back but it was certainly worth it to see those wonderful neon lights and the special Radion globe all lit up in a red glow at night. Then the inside of the cinema, soft wall lights, red carpet and seats and the gliding curtain across the screen, a fantastic place when you were ten years old.

    One of the first films I saw in the Radion was April Love an American teen film with the brilliant title song by Tab Hunter which went to Number One. As I reported some time ago on this website the Radion was the best place to take your girlfriend in Laindon, in fact probably the only place where you would get the chance to get close. The place would be full of 15-16 year olds on a Saturday night waiting for those lights to go dim. Very happy and innocent times, never to return.

    By Richard Haines (22/02/2014)
  • Hi William. Well done. I’m pleased the Basildon site acknowledged your advice regarding the facts in question. I’m also pleased that the Basildon Football Club in addition to the original Towngate Theatre and Longwood Riding Centre was able to make use of those famous red seats. Best wishes.

    By Nina Humphrey(née Burton) (28/07/2012)
  • Hi William, Please be assured, no offence taken, that hadn’t even crossed my mind as I find your knowledge and memories both interesting and of great importance. I’m sure you are right and that the neon sign must have been erected earlier than 1940. Let’s hope the Basildon website acknowledge this and make the adjustment. I love all these little details and anomalies as they make local history so interesting. Best wishes.

    By Nina Humphrey(née Burton) (27/07/2012)
  • Hallo Nina , I am happy that you accept there was nothing personal in my comment. 

    Also I have received a reply from Basildon Archive accepting that they have no evidence of the existence of a Laindon Picture Palace and that the sale of the premises by Louis Silverman to Radion was circa 1936/7. They have already amended their website and omitted any reference to the said Laindon Picture Palace and the dating of 1940. 

    A further small item is that you originally asked where the old seating of the Towngate finished up. Well some of it at least was donated to the Basildon Football Club, but whether they still have it, I do not know. A satisfactory ending to our misunderstanding. Regards.

    By Wh.Diment (27/07/2012)
  • Hallo Nina, I suggest there was a slight discrepancy in your history of the Laindon Picture Theatre. I do not believe it ever had a name change to the Laindon Picture Palace, this I suggest was a colloqual phrase of the influx of people from London who often referred to cinemas as picture palaces. Also the change of name to the Radion was earlier than the 1940’s, circa 1936/1937.

    By WH.Diment (26/07/2012)
  • Hi William. As I am not old enough to remember further back than around 1949/50, I gleaned the information about the previous names of the Radion from the Basildon History Online website. So we can blame them for any inaccuracies in my article. Here is their website address. It is well worth a visit. I recently remembered where the red seats (or at least some of them) eventually ended up. Our daughter used to go horse riding in the eighties and nineties at Longwood Riding Centre in Dry Street. When we went along to spectate, we had the pleasure of once again sitting in those familiar ex Radion wobbly red seats. I wonder if they are still there. Best wishes.

    By Nina Humphrey(née Burton) (26/07/2012)
  • Hallo Nina, I do hope I have not offended you in respect of my remarks about the Radion. I have written to the website you suggested giveing my view of the discrepancy. There is one other feature of the Radion cinema which refutes the date of its name change as 1940, that is the large neon sign erected on changeover, which would never have taken place in wartime when blackout regulations would have made this a criminal offence if implemented. 

    I will await a reply from the Basildon Archive on this matter and let you know their comment..

    By WH.Diment (26/07/2012)
  • Reading about how hot it used to get in the Radion Cinema, I’m sure that if sales of ice cream and “Kiora” (cartons of orange juice) were slack, the heating would be turned up to increase sales! Remember the small cycle storage area to the left of the cinema entrance? Had to get the key from the box office ticket lady. She would hand the key out to anyone. Ideal place if you wanted to “borrow” a few parts for your own bike. Never, ever leave your cycle pump on your bike! Befor getting on your bike after the show, (no lights in the cycle store) first check that you still had a saddle!

    By Robert Springate (25/04/2012)
  • Gday you ladies, I also went to the old “flea pit” as we called it, did all the Roy Rogers club stuff even had the badge and the gaudy tie that I wore to school in Miss Jollymans class along with John Jackson [Jacko]. Like you girls, saw some great films and some not so great but it was an escape from the lifestyle that we all had in those days. I went to one of our many cinemas here last week and saw ‘Closer to the edge” a reality/drama documentary on the Isle of Man TT featuring Guy Martin. About 50 people in the place mostly old bikers, I guess the magic of cinema has worn off as we are bombarded with visual entertainment day and night now. Nothing now can replace those days of the 50s and early 60s when the cinema was a delightful fantasy to be enjoyed by young and old alike. 

    Remember the clouds of cigarette smoke wafting through the place, us kids got to smoke whether we wanted to or not, and the smell of those red seats phew!!!.  

    By Ken Page (31/10/2011)
  • Hi Gloria, That made me laugh – don’t kids just love a bit of gore even though they say eeerrr!. Some of those old films were so bad that they reached a pinnacle and became good, even classics. Oh yes Musicals – they were my mum’s favourites – mine too. I still know all the words to the songs from the King and I and Oklahoma. I saw The Wizard of Oz at the Radion when I was very young and loved it. I was enchanted when the black and white film changed to colour when Dorothy entered Oz – sheer magic to a little girl. I still love them and saw Mamma Mia a couple of years ago and bought the DVD. Oh yes, and all those Walt Disney films – cartoons like Lady and the Tramp and their factual films like ‘The Living Desert’ and ‘The Vanishing Prairie’. And all those Westerns with the gun slinging stranger from out of town having show downs with the locals outside the saloon while their horses were tied to the rickety scenery and didn’t we just adore Doris Day when she sang ‘The Deadwood Stage’. A visit to the cinema was more free and easy then. You saw two films, the main feature and a ‘B’ film. Sometimes the ‘B’ film was better than the main feature plus a Pathe news report and trailers of films coming to the cinema. I can’t remember any advertisements although I suppose there may have been some. These days although we have multi screen cinemas (Festival Leisure Park – Basildon) with many films to choose from, we only get one film at a showing and at a booked time. The film starts only after at least half an hour of advertisements and you’re only allowed to sit through that one particular showing even if you feel like seeing it through again. When I was a kid, I even went to the Radion sometimes in the middle of the summer when some of my friend’s mum’s wouldn’t allow them to go (had to play outdoors in good weather). It used to get so warm in there, I would spend the rest of my pocket money on a choc-ice from the ice-cream lady. Do you remember how everything went black when the lights went down – until you eyes got accustomed to it. Then we were dazzled by the sun when we went outside. Great times. Best wishes.

    By Nina Humphrey (nee) (30/10/2011)
  • Hello Nina, I have to agree, I to loved the old films in fact Doris Days “Calamity Jane” is my all time favourite film, I so loved that cream suede suit she wore singing Secret Love. 

    I did have a coat like that in the 80s. If you take a look at my page on the Radion under my family memories it tells a little about the pathe news item.

    By Gloria Sewell (30/10/2011)
  • Hi Andrea I remember that one too. We may have been at the same showing. I could only have been about 8 at the time. It must have been an ‘A’ but it was so scary I am surprised we were allowed to watch a film like that (the stuff of nightmares), even accompanied by someone over 16. Do you remember when the films used to break down (usually at a critical point)? Everybody would whistle and stamp until it was fixed. Great memories. Best wishes. Nina

    By Nina Humphrey (nee) (29/10/2011)
  • Hi Girls this is what I like about this site, I talks about something and everybody comes back with more memories. I recall most of the films you have talked about but what about the great musicals 7 brides for 7 brothers, oklahoma, South Pacific (The begining of wide screen) Oh there I go again so many memories, I love it keep it up girls.

    I must just add this when we went to see the origanal King Kong with Fay Wray and Robert Armstrong, there was a part when someone was mauled, thrown up in the air, trodden on, chewed and everything else Fay Wray looked at him and said “Oh hes dead” or “is he dead” it caused the whole arena to stand up and clap and cheer.

    By Gloria Sewell (29/10/2011)
  • Nina, you are doing a Gloria! You have stirred so many memories for me! I recall my mum and dad taking me to the Radion and we saw a film which may have been called ”They came from Outer Space” or something like that. I was quite young and it scared the life out of me. I walked home in the middle of them, holding their hands and keeping my eyes shut!

    By Andrea (28/10/2011)

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