Sunday, 31 January 2010

Alpha/Odeon cinema St Albans - invest and rescue

A week to go on the Odeon sale and a lot more £££ is needed. See allaboutstalbans for details.

What would most help? Loans. If you are a company/individual with the wherewithal please think about making a loan; after all interest rates elsewhere are hardly rivals for your money. Invest in the Alpha and be part of a great project. Art Deco cinemas all over the U.k. are being razed to the ground (see Independent on Sunday 31.1.2010)...but there is still (just) a chance for you to help save this one. In the end you'll get your money back with %. And you'd have done something so worthwhile.

And as encouragement two ( small, I'm afraid) pics of the Odeon in happier times...

Friday, 29 January 2010

Alpha latest news

For another counterweight to the Herts Ad coverage read the latest, including a statement from James Hannaway on Allboutst albans

Thursday, 28 January 2010

St Albans cinema cash shortfall Herts Advertiser 28 January 2010

Local residents have probably by now seen the pessimistic and scaremongering front page story in today’s Herts Advertiser, about how the Rex bid to raise £1 million to buy the Odeon has only reached £100,00 in hard cash, with two weeks to go to exchanging contracts.

Why oh why don’t people realise that ‘campaigning’ often means parting with money i.e. writing a cheque for a substantial sum; there usually comes a point where yet more hot air and a well intentioned fiver don't cut it.

It would be nice to see the Herts Ad and Archant Regional, its parent group, part with a few thousand for the Odeon, an issue which they’ve used so frequently recently to bolster local interest in their paper. Similarly St Albans Civic Society could do something constructive …maybe a sponsored chair or a loan.

You can’t have it both ways, guys – you can’t undermine a rescue attempt you haven’t really tried to help.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Money for St Albans Alpha

There's not much time before contracts are due to be exchanged...see All About St Albans for details of how to contribute, including info. on the new 5 yr ABL's.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Alpha cinema St Albans (& its ABL)

Have just had an e mail (along with 999 other people I assume) to say I'm on this. This is a scheme Arthur M-C. would have admired I guess - a way of lining up customers and loyalty in one early swoop. According to the Herts Ad the money is rolling in for the Alpha. I hope somewhere some workshop is already taking an order for the neon letters A..L etc

Below is an early draft of a piece on the original Alpha which appeared in the H.A. over New Year. How good to welcome it back...two world wars, a cold war and a million movies later....

Feted in Europe, forgotten in St Albans

Arthur Melbourne-Cooper, 1874-1961, film pioneer and St Albans resident.

On Tuesday the 15 December the University of Amsterdam Press together with the Netherlands Filmmuseum will publish They Thought It Was a Marvel, a 6oo page book by Tjitte de Vries and Ati Mul, on the early animation films of Arthur Melbourne-Cooper, local film pioneer. The book, product of many years of research, much of it in St Albans, is about the animation films made by Melbourne-Cooper at his Alpha studio, some in the basement of the Alpha Picture Palace in London Road, the site of the present Odeon. The Odeon we were going to tear down and replace with a block of flats.
Melbourne-Cooper, born and bred in St Albans, was the son of a local photographer. The family lived at 99 London Road (now the Esso garage). Arthur, presumably having learned the basics of the trade from his father, became assistant to an American, Birt Acres, who had a studio in Barnet, and now was by the 1890’s making short films of current news and educational interest. But Melbourne-Cooper seems quickly to have realised the dramatic and narrative opportunities offered by the new medium. In his early twenties he showed his first programmes round village halls in Hertfordshire, taking his equipment by horse and cart. Cooper would pick six boys of suitable size and weight, and sit them on the gas bags to compress the gas supply which lit the projector, as they watched the films in the no doubt crowded and smoky halls. (So much for Health and Safety.) He then set up the 2 acre Alpha studio on land in Alma Road. There is now a plaque there on Telford Court, put up by the British Film Institute.
With the money he made he was able by 1908 to rent from Bennetts, a family of local builders, the St Albans Poly, a recreational building just opposite in London Road, the site of the Odeon. He converted this into his revolutionary concept of showing film. The feature which most caused interest was that the most expensive seats were at the back. It was only experience that convinced audiences that this was the best way to see a film. But the Alpha was not just a picture palace. While outdoor film making continued in Alma Road the basement of the Alpha was a state of the art indoor studio. In 1909 the Herts Ad sent a journalist to interview Melbourne-Cooper about the mysteries of this new art industry. He seems to have been a generous and confident interviewee - ‘There are no secrets in our business,’ he declared, before a tour of the studio fitted by Messrs Tilley and Gitten with exceptionally powerful Davy photographic electric arc lamps, a current of about 200 amps, capable of giving a candlepower of about 700,000 candles. It is here, with professional working London actors, Melbourne-Cooper made films and the animations which are the subject of Mr de Vries’ book.
But maybe for us what is most touching is the Alpha Picture Palace itself described in the magazine the Bioscope at the time as ‘the favourite place of amusement of the district’. Every week the Herts Ad carried large ads for the Alpha. In January 1909 it promises 2 performances nightly at 7 and 9 with seats at 2d, 3d, 6d. There was also the Palace Lounge open to the public from12 to 10 30 pm. On January 23 the Alpha was showing a film of the great Sicilian earthquake ‘the only picture showing the burning of Messina town hall and the king of Italy officially attending the wounded.’ There must have been some controversy about the veracity of this early disaster/news coverage because on February 6 the ad reads ‘This picture is NOT fake - was photographed by A.West of our Navy’ ( so must have been all right then). By February 6 the ads carry a telephone number for the first time ‘call 152 St Albans to book’ So much, so fast. Electricity. Moving pictures. Telephones.
But the Alpha was not just a for profit organisation. It did charity shows – on February 15 1909 it put on a special matinee in aid of the Police Orphan Fund. It also realised its best audience was the young. Later the same year it has started a special children’s matinee on Saturdays for ½ d. Was this how Saturday morning pictures, that much loved institution, began?
In May the bill has become far more ambitious: The Last Days of Pompeii( a most marvellous and sensational picture) plus Oliver Cromwell (artistically coloured) and, possibly the most successful venture of all, the 1909 Cup Tie final when Man United played Bristol City (1nil to Man U. if you must know).The ad finishes

Don’t miss this Bumping programme

In the summer of 1909 (with electric fans and cycle storage offered) there is on the bill Suffragette wants a husband. And in 1910 there is a special bound programme for Ramona, made by D.W. Griffith in California ( maybe the first Hollywood blockbuster ever for St Albans ) a story of the white man’s injustice to the Indian. It gives a full synopsis of the film’s story but no mention of the director or its star, Mary Pickford. And for this there was a special no-smoking matinee every Thursday at 3.
But sadly, as for many pioneers, Melbourne-Cooper’s boldness out-stripped his resources. He built another cinema in Letchworth. But unlike the worldly, sociable citizens of St Albans who knew a good thing when it was offered to them, the church- going population of Letchworth did not take to the movies. Melbourne-Cooper fell into financial trouble. The Alpha went to other owners, was renamed, burnt down, was rebuilt, and entertained St Albans until shut down in 1995. Much of the credit for Melbourne-Cooper’s work was given to others and it is only thanks to the efforts of his daughter Audrey Wadowska and to the de Vries’s, that we see him start to get some of the acclaim he deserves.
You can buy They Thought it was a Marvel (Eu 39.50 - e mail via or you can support James Hannaway’s bid to buy and rescue the Odeon ( e-mail the Do both. And when eventually (we hope) you do stroll down London Road to take your seat in the back seat of our new cinema remember the people of St Albans who flocked there in the early years of the terrible twentieth century to be enthralled and informed, and also Melbourne- Cooper’s clever, ground-breaking films, made there in the basement studio, which are amongst the earliest ever made. And just be glad it’s not a block of flats.

With thanks and acknowledgments to Tjitte de Vries and Ati Mul

Thursday, 7 January 2010

the Alpha St Albans..cheques for ABL now

Latest news from All about St Albans site

In January 2010, James Hannaway, CEO of The Rex Cinema in Berkhamsted told us that the structural survey had been successfully completed and that contracts are due to be exchanged in early February.
James also made the following statement:
"Thank you for your commitment towards the restoration of the Odeon on London Rd. Please send cheques only at this early stage*. Other methods of payment (BACS, standing orders etc) will be available soon.
ABL (Advanced Booking List) Membership: £285 limited to first 1000 names.
Sponsor a seat/chair: £1,000 each, limited to the first 500 sponsors.
Donations: to kick start the project you can give as little or as much as you like. Please indicate how much (this option is included by request).
Sponsoring other things: The screen, projectors, sound system, lighting and digital equipment will be offered later in January, alongside the other essentials: carpets, curtains and box office systems etc. Please ask about this.
Please make cheques payable to The Alpha St Albans Ltd and send them to:-
The Rex Cinema, High St, (Three Close Lane), Berkhamsted, HP4 2FG

This is a new bank account to raise funds exclusively for the purchase and restoration of the old Odeon, London Rd (originally named THE ALPHA c1920s, thus the name on the company bank account)

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Doors and the Odeon 6 1 2010

the present front door - grim black hardboard with a miserably symbolic padlock. Often covered with posters advertising some esoteric music event or other. The day this horrible door goes, to be replaced by the appropriate sparkling glass and chrome will be the day we'll know the cinema is really back

Above - one of the doors to the back staircase opening on to London Road.In 1964/5 some of my school friends travelled from Finchley to see the Rolling Stones play here. They then hung around on the back stairs hoping for who knows what to happen.
Brian Jones came out and threw a fire bucket of sand over them. They were thrilled, of course.

Above that, is the back door by the steps, seen here in atmospheric dobby snow. For me this has more urban bauhaus glamour than the others. Maybe it's the pipework. Also fondly remembered as the door by which some of us used to slip out, thus avoiding the crowd and getting home in moments.

Top, the Doors movie - which played to a thronged Odeon in 1991. All us locals have long lists of films seen and enjoyed here, but not all of them had music as good as this.

London rd near the Odeon 6 January 2010

Usually London Road can see off snow- the volume of traffic just hammers it out of existence. But not this morning. At ten the snow was definitely winning, especially up at the Peahen for the driver of a black Audi trying to turn down Holywell Hill.

Bleak as it is, doesn't it remind you of how nice it is to go to the cinema on a snowy afternoon...

More snow 6 January 2010

The Odeon and the steps in (even more, better) snow. Using these steps in such weather takes nerve. Long ago someone ( a neighbour I suspect, not the council) used to scatter ashes on the steps so no-one coming home from the station or the Great Northern, or the pictures, would break their neck. Not now. We just have to be very careful.