Monday, 18 May 2009

Palaces of Romance, or The Cinemas of Croydon

In the 1940s and 1950s Croydon boasted some of the best cinemas in the UK. The Davis Theatre had the largest seating capacity for decades and was probably the finest cinema/theatre I have ever been in. A truly magnificent building both inside and out it was demolished in the late 1950s and replaced by some nondescript pile of drabness - a disastrous loss to Croydon!

Other cinemas of note were The Savoy in Broad Green, The State Cinema (later The Granada) in Thornton Heath, The Regal and The Astoria, both in Purley. These were well-designed and comfortable places, with The Savoy being the earliest of my cinema memories. The Savoy was almost opposite Hathaway Road, thus being a couple of minutes walk from my home. It was almost on the corner of Sumner Road, where there was a café on the actual corner, then a sweet shop and then the Savoy. Adjoining the Savoy, during the war, there was the Civic Restaurant where I sometimes had a very cheap midday meal. I remember the plates they used for us kids; they had a picture printed on the plate which encouraged you to clean the plate entirely to see what the picture was. Not that I ever needed any encouragement to clean every morsel from the plate! Young boys usually have gargantuan appetites and with rationing in place food was never wasted, (although I hated cod liver oil, yuk).

There were many smaller cinemas, such as The Eros and The Odeon in West Croydon, The Palladium on the corner of Surrey St., and Scarbrook Road, The Hippodrome in Church Street and, of course the wonderful little CLASSIC in South Croydon. This last named cinema will forever have a place in my heart and I'll tell you why (but please keep this to yourself, especially if my wife is around!).

In October 1951 Stella and I were cosily esconced in the dark back seats of the Classic. I was now a bit bolder than earlier as we'd been "going steady" for a few months and we had spent many hours in Stella's doorway porch kissing and hugging for far too long after an evening out. Stella is seated next to me with my left arm around her shoulder. Now and then her face would tilt towards me and we gently kissed in the darkness. And then it happened!

Stella slowly guided me left arm from her shoulder, under her own left arm and pressed my hand on her breast. This was the most exhilarating experience of my life at that point. We kissed, passionately, with my hand caressing her left breat as though time had stopped. It was unbelievably wonderful; a never-to-be-forgotten moment.

Of course, I was an inexperienced chap in those days. Wouldn't have dreamed, or dared, to have fondled a girl's breasts then, even though the temptation was usually quite strong. Things seem to go a lot faster today in the dating and sexual exploits of the youngsters but in my day we seemed, generally, to be more restrained. Anyway, from that point onwards our lingerings in the porch, or elsewhere, now included the fondling and caressing of Stella's bosom. One of my favourite actions was to stand behind her, nibbling at her neck and ear, whilst holding both her breasts. Always through her clothing, never inside her blouse or cardigan etc. And that is the extent of our fondles! Nothing further. No wandering below the waist, or stroking the thighs and stuff like that. Whether Stella wanted me to venture further I know not. Possibly she did, but being such a gauche or unpolished lover-boy, I just didn't feel it right to risk such a thing as groping "down below". So now you know. Keep this secret. I wouldn't want anybody else to know all this!

We went to the cinema about once every week or ten days. I remember one film in particular, at the Regal in Purley: "An American in Paris", starring the talented actor and dancer Gene Kelly and Georges Guetary singing "I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise" - which fitted my mood perfectly as I felt I'd already entered Paradise.

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