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’.