Monday, 11 October 2010

St Albans Odyssey & Melbourne-Cooper

Thanks again to Tjitte de Vries for this interesting photo - Arthur Melbourne-Cooper with local eminences actually in the foyer of the old Odeon at an exhibition in the 1950's to celebrate his work. It would be nice to see this happen again - another exhibition of course - no chance of getting Arthur though I'm sure his presence will be there somehow.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

St Albans Odyssey back story

As you can see all done in 24 hours - looks like a building site now. Somehow when you walk past one of these, even though it's only chipboard, white paint and safety notices, you know people are serious about what they are doing. Gives the Odeon an air of moving on. The second pic shows in the distance that the Virginia Creeper which embellishes the south side of the building is still going strong. I hope that it and the ivy survive the updating - must provide homes for so many moths/beetles/ bugs. This bit of St Albans needs to hang on to every bit of bio-diversity it has. Most of it's gone. We used to have a colony of pretty frogs at the other end of Lower Paxton Rd but they disappeared when the old dairy was converted into housing ( which the frogs warned us about, of course...).

And while we're on the topic of temporary additions what about the lean-to along the side of the building - top pic gives view of its front. It's quite a big space inside. Mick and Darren have been trying to work out what it was used for. One guess is it provided a space for patrons' bikes/motorbikes? Maybe somebody out there remembers?

Friday, 8 October 2010

Odyssey cinema - extension at back

Pic of MIck and Darren chatting to a local resident as they work on a new extension at the rear. This will make back of site safer and neater...but local mousers will find entry to their hunting patch blocked. Almost runover by a reversing Oveolia waste wagon as I took's usually the plumbers' merchant's lorries you have to look out for down here.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Clearance continues

Some pics of the work today - lots of radio/whistling/thuds of rubble and planks being heaved around.....this is all hard hats and face masks stuff so I stayed outside. But last week as I was going to the station saw Mick making the morning coffees on the table by the front doors and he showed me round to admire the completely clear foyer. It's now possible to get a sense of what it was like to walk in in the heyday of the Capitol.

And there's the original booking office hatch, and the manager's cosy office and the huge business like safe for the takings. Easy to imagine what it was like in there on a dark rainy St Albans Sunday afternoon in, say, 1942 - the sound of the film sound track in the background, the sturdy radiators chugging out heat, the manager and his staff all smoking like chimneys, tea and chocolate biscuits (or were they rationed?) And while we can imagine them they would never have imagined us doing this. In their darker moments they might have thought the cinema would still be here but showing films with German stars & Wagnerian sound tracks...

It's so atmospheric even in this raw state. Maybe particularly in this state. Maybe when we have the glossy new wonderful Odyssey we will lose touch with the old warhorse of a cinema we are so close to at the moment....

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

St Albans Odyssey - film of meeting 12 September

Thanks to Ian Cundell you can watch this excellent little movie catching the moment when the new name was announced.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

St Albans Odyssey - Melbourne-Cooper journey

I'm sure Arthur Melbourne-Cooper would have been happy with the new name - maybe a little sorry not to see his Alpha remembered but O.K. about the heroic ambitions of this new era. Today's walk to rediscover sites connected with him was very well taken up - pics here of it at various stages including the station, Alma Road (to admire BFI plaque on Telford Court) and London Road...

St Albans Odyssey

Exploiting the right of bloggers to quote what they like here's the text of Cavafy's poem Ithaka for anyone who's not sure what the original Odyssey was apologies for grabbing the chance to get a poem in - only one in the whole blog so far....


As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope the voyage is a long one.
May there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

Translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard

(C.P. Cavafy, Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Edited by George Savidis. Revised Edition. Princeton University Press, 1992)

St Albans Odyssey it's the Odyssey. A good name and fitting choice, because we've certainly been on a journey with this building; & let's hope we've now begun on one of its calmer stages.

The photos above are of the newly christened cinema looking, it has to be said, much the same as it always does, with some of the queues for today's meeting - in London Road, and in the foyer, where it was standing room only in the end.

Also one of Marian Hammant, who did so much to save the building from development as flats, being interviewed for the Review

Friday, 10 September 2010

St Albans Odeon - some details

These are my favourite fragments:

At some point this radiator in the foyer was painted a bright green. There is also (see next section) green plasterwork in the foyer. We know the seats in the Cromie interior were green - so was there a green theme going on? And about the shamrock grilles in the auditorium. Did the Capitol have an Irish design link?

The red lights in the auditorium are nice - maybe not from the 30's but pretty & it's good to see they've hung on.

The curly end to the stair rail is great...

Vintage switches and electrical bits found under 70's boarding in the foyer

The plasterwork in the store room is wonderful - big Californian-esqe swirls - click to see more clearly....

St Albans Odeon - the auditorium

As all St Albans citizens of a certain age know this is a gracious and lovely space....and quite a lot of original bits and pieces have survived - the radiators, now very chic, got through the 60's & 70's unscathed. The lovely shamrock ceiling grilles are still perfect, the door up to the projection box is still there, and so is the staircase on the left ....everyone will remember coming up those stairs, clutching your ticket and starting to trip in the dark till your eyes got used to it....

St Albans Odeon - the 30's plasterwork

One of the most interesting things about the restoration of the Odeon is the survival of the plasterwork from its life as the Capitol in the 30's. There are several types of plasterwork pattern - those above are from the foyer and the main auditorium. No doubt this was seen as a cheap and modest form of decoration in its day...but is anything more evocative now of the heyday of provicial cinema? Just a close look at a square foot of this work and it all sweeps over you, the enchanted atmosphere, the excitement, the otherwordliness of it all...

St Albans Odeon (for 2 more days) - work going on

Mick, Darren and comrades here today working on more clearance to have building ready for Sunday. It feels very close to being a cinema - no smell of damp/age. Disappointingly none of them have seen or heard any sign of the ghost who is rumoured to haunt the main screen....

if there is a ghost there's only one person it can be....and I'd guess he'll only start taking an interest again when the projector is whirring and even then only to keep a curious professional eye on the advances in cinema technology since his day...

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Name will be revealed 12 September

...notice for Sunday's meeting at which we'll learn what the Odeon's new name is to be. And after that there will be the appearance of the cinema's own dedicated web site and we will have a new reliable source of information on what is going on. Not that this blog will gracefully disappear. Oh no. No effort will be spared to bring you a record of the work as it goes on...for example look at this one of the back of the building....a comparison with earlier pix will show how things have changed...the cats have gone for a start as presumably the mice & rats are packing up & leaving...

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Melbourne-Cooper Walk

Thanks to Tjitte De Vries for this lovely image from his archives. This was used as publicity for Arthur Melbourne-Cooper's first studio venture in Bedford Park. IF you would like to see the house itself then join the free Melbourne-Cooper walk being led by Marian Hammant of St Albans Civic Society on Sunday 12th September, starting at 2 .30 from the CIty Station. That's just after the James Hannaway meeting at the Odeon - so you can have a total immersion St Albans cinema day.....

Thursday, 19 August 2010

St Albans cinema name - How about the Kubrick?

One of the names suggested for the cinema is the Kubrick after that other well known cinema connected local, Stanley K. There's a very nice piece by Jon Ronson in today's Guardian in which Christiana Kubrick remembers what life with him at Childwickbury was like. And if you haven't yet seen the excellent Kubrick exhbiition at St Albans museum in Hatfield Rd there's still time to go - it's on till 5th September.

Yes, we could get used to The fact we could get used to whatever moniker for the dear old pile. It's soldiered on cheerfully enough through several manifestations. A cinema by any other name etc etc. The main thing is to have it in the first place.

Monday, 16 August 2010

St Albans cinema - what do we call it?

You've probably all seen the details of the competition to suggest a name for the cinema. If not go to allaboutstsalbans site to add your contribution.

While I think the fact that the site began with the Alpha, the very first ever cinema designed in the way a modern audience would recognise, means we'd be wise to call it the Alpha in order to maintain this link with Melbourne-Cooper and his pioneering work, I can see the challenge in trying to find a new name of local and heritage/cinematic resonance. How about:

the Audrey - after Melbourne Cooper's daughter, local resident who did so much to fight for her father's creative reputation..also a link with the Hollywood Audrey of course, and why not call a cinema after a girl anyway? They don't all have to be boys or neuters?

the Watson - after nearby Watson's Walk where Melbourne-Cooper's father had his photographic studio. And we can all have fun for years asking What's on at the Watson.

the Pax - after local adjoining roads and in connection with the late lamented Crystal Palace pub nearby - all named in memory of the great Joseph Paxton. engineer and gardener. Goes with Rex and could hardly have a more dignified meaning.

i don't promise not to add to this list...once you start it gets addictive...

Saturday, 26 June 2010

The Alpha/how will it look

We've reached the moment where our collective imagination is being challenged to work on the idea of how the cinema will look when refurbished. Of course most of us, when faced with the sight of the time-damaged Odeon at next week's viewing, will fall back on what we have seen at the Rex i.e. romantic soft edged deco ( the scallop shells in gold, the flower /leaf scroll screen border, the red velvet seating) as its future manifestation.

But there are reasons for nudging your fantasies down a different aesthetic route. Think more zig zaggy early 30's modernism. There are photos of the Odeon in its Robert Cromie designed Capitol era with wonderful wall patterns in this style ( see one above from Architecture Illustrated 1932) And one of my insider sources ( yes, stick with this blog for such snippets) says they will be going down a more modern track than with the Rex. So expect it to be stylish, maybe more MGM Studios than arty little sanctuary - all no doubt done to the last degree of precision and good craftsmanship. Less romantic maybe but great.....full of the optimism and sharp, satiny glamour of early cinema. And the seats were green.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Odeon Car Park: Notice lives again

Yes, Mick and Darren have found the old car park notice and put it on the front door. Next time you drive up London Road and get stuck at the lights glance to your left because clearly the front of the Odeon is going to become a bit of a public art work. The two chairs are still there too.

The two other pics are from the back door which was open this morning. The carpet in particular evokes memories. I'm not intrepid enough to go further in without permission - what if I were accidentally locked in without my mobile and they didn't come back for a few days? Who would know where I was? The thought of being shut up alone in the Odeon, much as I love it, is quite scary. So you'll have to do with images from the threshold for now. But they'll all add up....

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Odeon Tues 18 May 2010

This is the scene front and back today...Darren and Mick's van, and 2 chairs outside, set to catch the early morning sun in London Rd. No human beings anywhere (outside).

I'm sure you'll agree these are like stills from a movie about restoring a cinema...the 2 chairs are just waiting for the scene where James Gandolfini and A.N. Other-Actor ( haven't decided who'd play Darren yet) sit and discuss the wiring up. And the van is an art work in itself. I expect someone out there is halfway through the script. Have thought of tackling it myself.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Early start on Odeon Monday 17 May 2010

I noticed early this morning that vans were packed into the little parking space by the Odeon.The front door was open, a litre carton of fresh mik left handy and temporary lighting on in the foyer. And the sugar pink neon Shop sign (please keep this - it's very pretty) was on as if the Odeon had been open to sell sweets and chocolate last night. But not a soul in sight. As regular readers of this blog will know I have been cameraless and couldn't take any pictures of this evocative early morning scene. But - sparing no expense - I went off to Boots in St Peters St and forked out from my blog-budget of millions for their cheapest camera. So you have some details from later today - the vans - notice the new neat tarmac where the road was dug up last week to connect the water. And the shiny new tap on the back wall. And a glimpse of the inside- well, of the old Odeon litter point actually. Note the innovative health and safety feature on the door.

There were thundrous noises of heavy labour. Noone answered my shouts of hello - so no pics yet of the noble labourers themselves. But they're on the job everyone. Things are starting to move.

Friday, 7 May 2010

The music of pneumatic drills

Yes, as I sat in my front room this lunchtime watching the election analysis on BBC1, I was delighted to hear the constant noise of drilling in the background. A cluster of white vans had appeared, and men in fluoro jackets were, I knew, busily digging away to connect up the water supply for the cinema. First step to bringing a building back into life. They seemed very happy to be doing it when I asked them if that's what the work was. And I'm certainly happy to live with the noise. Context is all.

Next: electricity. The shiny new locks haven't gone unadmired either. Every little change is a long awaited and welcome sign of transformation.

Just hope Jas Hannaway is not now the Right Hon.(must check) The Odeon needs his concentration. What's wrong with just being a cinema magnate - heroic enough in the circumstances, I would have said, for anyone.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

AT LAST: Michael Glasheen on site

Yes, it's all going to happen - the final incontrovertible bit of evidence. Mick Glasheen, chief gaffer/fixer/craftsperson of the Rex was seen in Lower Paxton Rd at 8.15 this a.m. helping his mate Darren to park up behind the Odeon. Hurrah. In the dark days when restoring the Odeon seemed a very faint hope I used to think if I ever see Mick here I will know we've managed to rescue it.

And here he is, looking like Tony Soprano and wearing his lovely 'Who's the Daddy t-shirt?' And our Odeon is in his hands. At some point when he's not too busy will try to get a pic of him to post...but take it from me Mick's presence means action.

Friday, 23 April 2010

The Odeon: just how bad is it inside?

Not too dreadful actually.See the pictures taken this week now on the Allaboutstalbans link. I had imagined swathes of rotted plaster, stalactites/mites of decaying matter, vast holes, maybe the odd fox lair or two, corpses, bats pinging from wall to wall. But no. It looks like a...a CINEMA. And that's before a penny has been spent. How good is it going to look once £2 million has been spent with art and care? Fabulous, that's what it's going to be.

But, oh the memories. It's so painful. At least they've been rescued for us too.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

136th anniversary Arthur Melbourne-Cooper

Yes, it's Arthur M-C's birthday. The Odeon is basking in a cold April sunlight; no open doors and busy figures in fluoro jackets yet but it shouldn't be long. Maybe at some point in the future this date could become a day of special festivities - a programme of early Brit movies and Edwardian teas. Someone on the Facebook page is suggesting the cinema be named after Stanley Kubrick but , much as this blog admires S.K., the pitch here will be for it to be named the Alpha. After all A M-C was struggling in the teeth of all sorts of technical/historical/cultural obstacles S.K. never had to face, and yet managed to think up, cast, direct, make and get distributed over 336 films, 36 of them the effort consuming and intricate puppet animations.

And at the same time, and before anyone else, he saw what a cinema should and could be - and brought that into popular reality on this very site. He deserves credit for all kinds of firsts; the first ever animation, the first animated advertising film, the first ever long documentary (The GWR commission London to Killarney) and the first ever real film made in Ireland ( should have posted that on March 17th). But the best of them is his intuitive grasp of how people could get together comfortably and safely in large numbers to have a good time watching moving pictures - in comfort, if not a degree of luxury, with all sorts of accompanying treats. And who could deny they were going to need that blameless escapism in the years ahead of them. So thanks, Arthur Melbourne-Cooper and the Alpha...set to shine again.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

SOLD it's official

how nice...a sunny April day and the sold sign on the cinema again...

and now this blog can revert to what it was originally set up to be - a record for local residents and neighbours of the Odeon of the changes we can expect/hope to take place. Let's hope there are no more dramas/controversies/failures of optimism. Always a good thing to have someone independent on the spot too. We've spent too long fighting planning applications,sitting in inquiries/leafleting St Peter St to lose interest now. Nor have we anything to gain, not business, influence or media standing. This blog is a labour of love representing everyone who lives near the Odeon and who has hated seeing it wasting away.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Kubrick exhibition St Albans Museum

Of course Melbourne-Cooper is not the only man of cinema associated with St Albans. The city also has a proud link with Stanley Kubrick. As mentioned earlier St Albans Museum is currently holding an exhibition about his work with many associated activities. I went on Saturday and it's well worth going to. See their site for more info.

And for those whose taste is not really Clockwork Orange or Full Metal Jacket there's some lovely stuff on/from Barry Lyndon: