Anti-aircraft gunfire at Ilford’s picture palaces

The Ilford Hippodrome was hit by a German rocket in January 1945 and was later destroyed.

The Ilford Hippodrome was hit by a German rocket in January 1945 and was later destroyed. - Credit: Archant

Following on from his last column, local historian John Barfoot continues to reminisce about the picture palaces that used to entertain pre and post-war audiences in Ilford.

You may recall my last column ended, walking home to Ilford, from the Rio, opposite Barking Railway Station.

One memorable occasion we whiled away an afternoon at the Rio, watching a Deanna Durbin musical, at the end of Dad’s seven day leave, a brief interlude of calm serenity before seeing him off at the station.

Picture palaces had closed at the start of the war, but soon reopened and much to our delight even air raids wouldn’t close it again.

When the projectionist would screen a warning that the air raid sirens had sounded, few of the audience left, most of us would remaineseated watching the film, on some bizarre occasions even with the accompanying sound of anti-aircraft gunfire.

Early in the war, I went to the Astoria at Seven Kings without my parents; as a special treat an afternoon off school had been arranged for children with fathers that were serving in the armed forces.

We watched Hoppity Goes to Town, but it was a one off outing, perhaps after that too many fathers were called up to make it a practical undertaking.

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A tiny short lived cinema opened in Seven Kings during the early 1950’s, if readers remember the Empco, situated in a hall off the High Road, perhaps they will remind me which road?

I am certain about the film I saw there though, The Third Man Zither music resounded off the walls of the small building!

But it has to be said that my favourite local picture going was without a doubt, The Empire in Ilford Lane, not because it was close to home, but because of the Saturday mornings I enjoyed at the ‘tuppenny rush’ in the happy, pre-war days.

Like the Astoria, the Empire was not large or grand enough to really be classed as a picture palace, but it still provided a fantastic venue to enjoy a picture or two.

Destroyed by bombing during the war, the Empire, Super and Hippodrome never became bingo halls or nightclubs of recent years, following the post war-revival on a grand scale of television sets in the home.

One wonders if the demise of those vast, cinema going audiences may account for the recently-thriving gym industry, as picture goers back then we kept fit walking home.