Travel Reference
In-Depth Information
tion, equally rich and comprehensive. Those playbills are like messages from a lost world
- near in time but as defunct as the baked clay tablets from Babylon. It is amusing to see
how the florid tradition of the playbills ('entire disregard of expense') survived as lately
as the Great War, for a Collins's bill of this period - featuring Gracie Fields in small let-
ters - offers a 'spectacle of Egypt, the Pyramids by Moonlight, the Sphinx, etc., etc.'. The
Crummles family would have been perfectly at home at Collins's, right up to its last days.
They would have approved the faded golden interior, the fish-tailed gas jets, and dusty
magnificence. Nor would the other acts on the bill have seemed startling to them, for me-
lodrama was always a strong suit at Collins's, and I have seen some few that could never
have appeared anywhere else in this century - tear-jerking pieces somehow misplaced in
time. If you felt magnificent, a box was obtainable at Collins's for a few shillings. These
were furnished with basket chairs that had seen palmier days, and from a box the evening
at the music-hall could be enjoyed in full. Part of the feast was, of course, the audience
which was curiously restless. Collins's patrons were given to leaving their seats suddenly
for no apparent reason, and parking themselves somewhere else. Others would talk across
the rows to friends or produce packets of food. This created I know not what sensations in
the mind - only Dickens could describe it - and this lassitude was reinforced by the turns
which alternated floosies with melodrama. Somebody who had sung something in Italian
(terrific applause) earlier in the bill would reappear on a trick cycle balancing plates on her
nose, perhaps, or the man who sang 'Mandalay' in evening dress would turn up later as a
drunk in an Irish sketch - but nobody seemed to mind. In the end, a disastrous fire made it
impossible to carry on, and Collins's rang down the curtain for the last time, positively the
last appearance.
Not far from Collins's is an amusement arcade. There are several in London, all vari-
ations on a similar theme and all characteristic of a certain kind of London life. In them
are large numbers of pin tables, decorated with scantily dressed females, skyscrapers, and
other choice decorations of transatlantic influence. Some have one-armed bandits or fruit
machines, glittering in chromium plate, and in most the pin tables have alluring names
such as Ace High, Big Time, Thrillmaster, Atomic Jackpot, and so on. It is a curious fact
that the male teenage patrons of amusement arcades have dark hair and wear thick-soled
shoes. The youths and their girls (flappers they were called in the 1920s when these ar-
cades began) lounge over the machines, shoving coins in, steadily chewing. Some give
up and make for the door, staring at the sky and the reflections in the wet road. They are
irresolute, afraid of the labour of thinking what to do next, and join in again for another
off-hand session, uncertain, restless, wavering. The Islington arcade was once a cinema.
The interior has fat Tuscan columns and the initials E.T. on a cartouche, standing, one pre-
sumes, for Electric Theatre. The exterior as seen from the street is domed and surmounted
by a Classical figure, and the place has been a 'sports garden' since the 1920s. They still
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