Address: 194-196 Holloway Road
The Grand must have been a very impressive addition to Holloway Road with an imposing frontage that was flanked by two towers that looked a little like castle battlements.
Entering through a handsome series of swing doors [there was a] brilliant entrance hall under a dome of stained glass. The prevailing scheme [was] dark red … the walls further decorated with plaques of Roman armour [and] the building steam-heated throughout…It even had a sliding roof that was thought to ‘add greatly to the comfort of the patrons’*.
On opening in 1913 the Grand had a capacity for 650 people; however, very quickly the auditorium was enlarged to make room for another 350 cinemagoers by adding a balcony, removing the manager’s office and extending the auditorium into the lobby a little way.
In the days before the ‘talkies’, the Grand had both an organ and an orchestra, which would play along with the films but being quite inventive the cinema management also employed a professional singer to provide a special type of musical accompaniment, one that involved singing and dancing along to the silent films. In the 1930s, a few years after sound was introduced to film and the days of live musical accompaniments were gone, the cinema changed its name to the Regent.
With the declaration of the Second World War on the 3rd September 1939, all cinemas in the UK were closed by Government order. This was due to the fear that places of public entertainment might be destroyed during bombing raids causing mass death and injury to those inside the buildings. However, within days – and after much criticism – the importance that cinema could play in boosting the moral of the nation and disseminating information was recognised and the ban was lifted. The playwright, George Bernard Shaw was one public figure who clearly voiced his disapproval at the idea of closing all the cinemas at such as time by writing a letter to The Times (5 September 1939), calling the closure policy a ‘masterpiece of unimaginative stupidity’. In any case, the Regent, as it was then known, quickly reopened however by the following September the decision had been taken to close again, this time voluntarily – like so many other cinemas – due to the fear of the damage and potential death brought by the continual nightly bombing raids across London. It was a number of years before the Regent was able to open again.
At the start of the 1950s the cinema was open once again and under new management, and with it another new name, this time: the Century. The Century quickly passed into the hands of the Essoldo Group who purchased the cinema in 1955 and like all of the cinemas they took over, it was renamed the Essoldo. By this time the cinema that had started out being called Holloway Grand Pictures was far from ‘grand’ and was described as ‘a proper old bughole’*. However after purchase the Essoldo Group invested £40,000 into the refurbishment of the cinema and the place got a new lease of life.
From screenings of the surreal Fantômas series to the literally ‘shocking’ cult-horror film The Tingler, programming at this cinema tended to be quite experimental. In February 1961 for example, permission was granted (for one week only it should be noted) to install ‘Tingler Percepto’ devices (made out of electrical buzzers left over from the war) onto the underside of the cinema seats that would enable the cult movie ‘The Tingler’ to be fully experienced. Towards the climax of the movie the Tingler – a parasite living in human beings that feeds on fear – is shown escaping into a movie-theater; as this happens the projected film on the screen seems to break as the silhouette of the Tingler moves across the projection beam. The screen in the cinema where the films was being shown would then go blank, the auditorium lights would go out and the creepy voice of Vincent Price would be heard warning the audience: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, please do not panic. But scream! Scream for your lives! The Tingler is loose in this theatre!’ This cued the projectionist to activate the ‘Tingler Percepto’ device which made the seats vibrate giving audience members an unexpected shock – and undoubtedly causing them to scream loudly as Vincent Price had told them to do!
On the 29 April 1961, two months after The Tingler was screened the cinema closed for the last time. The building had been served with a Compulsory Purchase Order and was soon demolished to make way for the then Polytechnic of North London extension plan. Today, it is a prize-winning geometric university building – designed by renowned architect Daniel Libeskind.
Quotes from cinemagoers cited in Draper (1989). See Further Reading.