Travel Reference
In-Depth Information
redolent of Imperial expansion and big cigars. Fortunately the earliest cinema in London -
the earliest in the country, in fact - still survives in Wilton Road, Victoria - the Biograph,
originally the Bioscope. My drawing of it is reproduced here. Pimlico people have been
'going to the Bio' since it was built in 1905 by an American, George Washington Grant.
The Bio still has its classical fa├žade, and apart from changes in the equipment, the only
alteration was when the auditorium was enlarged, the new wall being a replica of the old.
But the gas jets have gone and the commissionaires with heavy moustaches - gone like
the horse buses that used to run along the Vauxhall Bridge Road. When my drawing was
made, the customers were watching The Fiend from Outer Space instead of Mary Pickford
as the little slavey with a heart of gold.
Inside, two Corinthian columns, wallpapered with Anaglypta below, support the pro-
jection box, the width of which is that of the cinema in 1905. Below the 'ceiling' formed
by the box runs an Edwardian egg and dart moulding - a typical early cinema decoration.
In the foyer a framed copy of the Biograph Weekly News , distributed gratis. This forms
rich reading at the present day. The issue in the frame is that for the week commencing 16
September 1929, and has the headline: 'Talkies Coming Here!!' A letter from the manager
announces 'our first talking picture' - Show Boat on 30 September. Elsewhere in the paper
a newsy item states that 'workmen were labouring day and night to bring you the greater
talkies as soon as possible'. Other forthcoming attractions of that period included William
Boyd in The Cop and a supporting film called The Mystery of the Louvre . Betty Balfour
was to appear in Paradise and Rin Tin Tin in The Million Dollar Collar . Prices were 2s.,
1s. 3d., and 9d., children at reduced rates, 'special children's matinee 4d.' (I remember
those children's 4d. matinees; how noisy they were and the way the films rained! And
those serials, ending each instalment on a fantastic note of drama - the heroine hanging
by her finger-tips over a well of crocodiles. The week which had to elapse before her fate
could be known was unendurable, but next time she had simply got out, one never knew
how, and we were building up to a new crisis even more hair-raising than last week's di-
lemma.)
No doubt those impecunious or thrifty patrons who ricked their necks in the ninepennies
would be glad of the optician's advert in the free paper, for an optician was offering 'Good
News for the Weak Sighted' - spectacles 'complete with spherical lenses' for 4s. 6d. with
sight testing thrown in for nothing - 'Usual price 21s.' Generous measures!
If you have a mind for it, you can pretty well drink all round the clock in London pubs,
by an elaborate system of timing which includes visiting dockyard pubs with special li-
censing hours and those of Covent Garden also with special arrangements for the conveni-
ence of market men. One of the striking characteristics of London pubs is the way in which
different pubs have an appeal to different kinds of patrons. I am not here referring to those
the character of which has been deliberately fostered by the brewers by shipping in odds
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