A  Memory of the Old Imp   - Alan Robinson

 

Out of all the cinemas around where I lived the Imperial (or Imp as it was affectionately known) was always my favourite in the 1950's. Ok, so it wasn't as posh as the Ritz at Turnpike Lane or the Gaumont at the top of Wood Green High Road, but I must have seen more films there than at any other cinema. I lost my best conker there once. I used to belong to Christ Church Choir, off West Green Road for a few years, and after a batch of Summertime weddings, for which I got paid about two shillings a wedding, from there I'd pop into the nearby chip shop at the top end of West Green Road, buy a bag of chips and eat them on my way down to George's Toy Shop almost opposite the Imp. I'd normally treat myself to a toy then go across into the Imp hopefully in time for the start of the afternoon performance. If it was a good film & supporting film I would often sit through the program twice so not getting out to around 6pm. On this particular occasion I was sitting in the very front row almost dead centre nonchalantly swinging by conker around on it's string when the conker suddenly became detached from the string and flew up onto the screen and dropped out of sight.

 

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'Christ Church- now demolished - old photograph circa 1911'

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'West Green Road - Junction of Stanmore Road (left) and Harringay Road (right)'

But I've attached a recollection (see below) that I sent to someone in the USA a while back that is a very special memory I have of the old Imp.

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At the time I was working for the BBC (now retired) and one of my responsibilities was looking after the BBC's stock of feature films and I was communicating with a chap in the USA comparing the cinema days of the 1950's in the UK to those over there. I recalled once going to see 'The Smallest Show on Earth' at the Rex cinema there in Station Road Wood Green. If you have ever seen this hilarious old classic film it was about the running of a flea pit cinema. It reminded me so much of the old Imp and what went on there that I simply had to put pen to paper.

Alan’s Recollections:

One very special memory I have is when my father took me along to the Imperial Cinema, West Green Road, West Tottenham (that we lovingly referred to as ‘The Imp’) one Saturday evening. It was a smallish ‘walk in off the street’ type cinema. Its ticket office was flush to the pavement with Entrance & Exit doors either side of it. There were glass display cases with advertisements for films coming up. Usually they put on 'U' rated films during the day, allowing children like myself to get in on my own. It could be that in the evening the films put on would still be 'U's, but may have been changed to an 'A' rated film although I seem to recall that happened on a Friday evening. For one of these films I would have needed to get in with an adult. For 'X' rated films at that age I was not allowed in full stop. The program if my memory serves me right changed about three times a week on average. So different films ran like this Mon-Wed, Thurs - Sat, with a one-off film Sunday evening.
Inside was a single level of seats that gently sloped down to the screen about forty yards in distance. The place was approx 20 yards wide. There was an isle each side that led down from those two main doors. Half way up the left hand side of the cinema was another exit door that let you out onto a covered walkway that ran back up to the street. Immediately to the right of the walkway where it met the street was the Yarmouth Fish and Chip shop. As you know this has been a great English traditional fare for many years. Cinemagoers would pour into this shop late at night after the last show had finished.
Now, on this particular visit the cinema was packed. The place was full of smoke, couples snogging in the back rows, as was the norm. There was the usual occasional loud shouted audience remarks & laughter that was so common at such events. On this particular night the projectionist must have gone through hell. The support film, an old black & white western that had long had it’s ‘Alamo’, kept on breaking down. Of course every time it did we were all subjected to a blinding white flash as the screen became void of film followed by being plunged into darkness amid the most deafening of noise, whistles, shouts & all kinds of seat banging & feet stamping. I remembered the film spluttered back into life with each frame choking itself to death in the projection gate. It ran a short way, sort of sideways I think it was, and then broke again to another blinding white screen with everyone shielding their eyes. More deafening howls. Back on it came, upside down running backwards; in his panic the projectionist must have spliced the film back together wrongly with the film then running against itself. More boos, everyone tilting their necks one way or the other, my dad & I split our sides as some chap in the front row did a handstand on his seat. Projectionist stops film, silhouettes seen on screen of his fingers clawing the film out of the gate, objects flying all over the place, namely directed toward the projection booth windows. When the projectionist finally thought he had got it right, back came the picture but this time the sound was totally out of sync, crackles, pops, actors voices slowing ever base lower to a grinding halt. In the end he must have totally given up as for the remainder of the time leading up to the main feature we had the Ice Cream lady appear for an extra time then we all had to sit through cartoons. That suited me fine, my dad too as we both loved cartoons. When the main feature came to an end that night, everyone tried to judge it so that they didn’t miss any of the film as it was ending, then, over near that side door at the precise moment the film ended they made a mad dash out of their seats into the isles to try to get out of that door before the first few bars struck up of ‘God Save The Queen’. I swear blind the projectionist got his own back that night by playing it the split second ‘The End’ had vanished from the screen even before the lights had come up. Of course everyone had to stop dead in their tracks to pay their respects, like we all did when that happened. So against the sound of ‘God Save The Queen’ you also had the sound of bangs & crashes of the outer doors being flung open as those who were lucky enough to have got out in time stampeded to be first in the queue in the Fish & Chip shop. Those who had just failed to get through that side door in time cursed their luck

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The former ‘Imperial’ Cinema & Auditorium-Now a Church

The BBC had a vast holding of feature films and I was there when the holding was reduced in capacity when the BBC decided to scale down its holdings. I returned films that had been held on lease since the year dot back to all the major film companies. The BBC also held many films in perpetuity, some of which they deemed they did not need stored anymore,
and I arranged for them to be taken in by the BFI, who could not believe the prints we were giving them..... some films never ever transmitted so as perfect as when they were first canned. I believe they were given with the understanding that if ever the BBC needed to borrow them back it would be OK. It was such a shame that the BBC let them go although the chances were they'd never get shown (too outdated I expect for films the BBC show now!) and there were some fantastic titles in the vaults that I can recall having seen at the old Imp! The BFI must have thought Christmas had come early when I sent them all those films!

 

    FOLLOWING THE DEATH OF HIS UNCLE - GEORGE BENTLEY - IN OCT 2014 - ALAN ROBINSON HAS ADDED THE FOLLOWING NOTES TO HIS MEMORIES

Having just lost my Uncle George at the grand age of nearly 96ys old, I would like to share with you something he once told me, that I wrote down at the time. I had asked him what memories he had of the old Imperial Cinema in West Green Road and I think what he told me was simply priceless.........

George, born in 1918, had lived in Black Boy Lane. As a lad in the late 1920’s or early 1930’s he used to go along there to watch silent movie shows for the kids on a Saturday morning. These were called a ‘Penny Rush’. He said there was a violin and a piano playing in the ‘pit’.

He also said that Friday nights there were ‘Carnival Night's’, a talent competition. And he told me he could remember someone playing a saw.

He also told me the Imp was owned by a Jewish gentleman called Mr Lavine who would be up on stage and if the audience did not like an act they threw cabbages & rotten fruit at him.

He also told me that when the ‘talkies’ first came in the sound was so loud coming from the cinema because they left wide open that round window that you can still see today up there centre front on the surviving building ( no doubt this was the projection room), and it resulted in the sound being heard all the way down Abbottsford Avenue opposite.


With a bit of imagination this is more like how the Old Imperial would have looked in it's hay day..........

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Alan Robinson
February 2011

Updated - November 2014 to include George Bentley Memories

 

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