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Charles S P Jenkins: Memories Of The Slough Gala

A memory by Charles S. P. Jenkins of Gala Bingo in Slough, for an extensive view of the venue please visit the Gallery page. Charles is a published author, his eBooks are available from Amazon UK, or Amazon US. He has two great websites which we recommend visiting: East End Memories, and Stories Of London.

Slough Gala

In November 1956, my family was moved from Bethnal Green in London to one of the new housing estates built in Langley, an area of Slough, which was in Buckinghamshire at the time. My parents settled into life in Langley quickly and were soon happy. My mother and I had felt a certain sadness on our first night in the house as it was SO quiet. We were used to the sounds of trolleybuses and cars passing before our home and the silence proved eerie. Still we got used to it, but it took me some time before I settled into a life outside of London.

I remember that there were three cinemas in the centre of Slough and were run by Granada Theatres. There were in addition two other cinemas in the area, the Essoldo in Cippenham and the Ambassador in Farnham. I did not go often to the Essoldo, as it did not show many films of interest except for The Ten Commandments and the occasional Rock ‘n’ Roll film. I remember seeing Shake, Rattle and Rock there. I had gone as I wanted to see Fats Domino since I liked his music very much and still do.

Although the Ambassador was close to where I went to school, I only went there once and that was with some classmates to see Dracula with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. The film had an X-certificate, which meant that no one under the age of 16 years would be allowed entry. Naturally it was the job of all young boys to deceive box office employees and get into seeing X films. I remember going home afterwards and having to walk down a poorly lit, narrow road with no pavement, but filled with potholes and puddles. The rustling of the trees and the howling of the wind made the journey extremely creepy.

Two of Slough’s Granada Theatres were glorious examples of the cinema circuit. The largest was the Granada Theatre in Windsor Road, which had a stylish décor complete with potted palms in the foyer, a sweeping staircase leading up to a café and balcony, and a glorious auditorium complete with organ that was played when the cinema opened in the afternoons.

The other was the magnificent Century Theatre in the High Street. This was the first Granada Theatre that I went to and I was bowled over by its décor. I remember the box office agent very well. She was most likely Eurasian with remarkable cheekbones. I was enchanted by her. She had glorious smooth olive-coloured skin and dark eyes that bore into you! I never saw her smile and I don’t remember her saying anything other than a terse thank you. I was very much taken with her, perhaps best described as besotted and bewitched.

The third cinema in Slough Centre was also part of the Granada Theatre Chain, but anyone with half-an-eye could see from its décor that it was not like the others. It was called the Adelphi, a totally meaningless name to me at my young age. I understood Granada and knew that it was a city in Spain. I had even heard of Moors and had seen flamenco and understood the passion that was needed to dance it. Century also seemed a perfectly good and adequate name for a cinema, but Adelphi ……..! I learned later that it came from the Greek word adelphoi, meaning brothers, which has nothing to do with a cinema or theatre.

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The Adelphi Theatre opened on 17th February, 1930 with the film, On with the Show, starring Arthur Lake. The building was an independent cinema, meaning that it was not associated with a circuit and had been built by Slough Playhouse Ltd. with Eric Norman Bailey as architect with seating for 1,398 in the stalls and 644 in the balcony. It had a large stage capable of handling stage shows and equipped with a Christie 3 Manual/8 Rank Theatre Organ. The cinema also had a café and a ballroom above the entrance area and was situated some distance from the road allowing for a large parking forecourt.

The cinema changed hands twice in 1933: firstly to the Southern Morris Cinemas circuit and then to Union Cinemas. In 1936, the organ was rebuilt by Compton Organs and a melotone was installed and an illuminated console built around it. However, in 1937, Union Cinemas were taken over by Associated British Cinemas (ABC) operated it until February 1953. On 31st March, 1953 after a few months of operation as an independent cinema, it was taken over by Granada Theatres. The organ was once more modified, this time to resemble those in other Granada-owned establishments.

The Adelphi Theatre screened films from all distributors, but mainly those shown on the ABC Circuit. The first film I saw there was The Green Man with Alastair Sim and Terry Thomas along with a host of British character actors. I remember not being overly impressed with the film, but I suspect that were I to see it today, I might think otherwise. At the time, I preferred glitzy widescreen films made in glorious Technicolour and those starring Brigitte Bardot, which were often shown at this cinema.

As I got older, I started going to the ballroom at the Adelphi. I went on Saturday nights and occasionally on Wednesdays too. There were two dance halls in Slough at the time, this one and the Carlton in the High Street, where I heard The Rolling Stones appearing in the early 1960s before they gained fame.

The Adelphi Ballroom was not large but it had a podium complete with a large band that played the latest tunes and old favourites. Dancing at that time consisted of waltzes, jiving and twisting – it was the early 1960s after all! There was the usual spherical Mirror Ball that hung from the ceiling and revolved and threw magical reflections about the room when the lights were tuned low to allow dancers to cuddle, smooch and shuffle their way about the room. In summer, the large French Windows were opened to help cool the room and allow a slight breeze to enter. I used to enjoy my visits to the Ballroom. It was always an occasion and I met some great girls there!

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Besides screening films, the Adelphi presented Rock ‘n’ Roll Shows while I was at school. The first was with Paul Anka, which was followed a month later with Lonnie Donegan. I remember seeing both shows. However, it was the third show that was going to prove a must-see, as Jerry Lee Lewis was to appear here in May 1958. I remember buying tickets and got places close to the stage. I was really looking forward to seeing him perform, but then the scandal broke. Apparently he had recently married his youthful cousin of 13 years of age. This bombshell produced a great hoo-ha in the press and caused him not only to cancel his performance, but to flee the country. The fallout of the scandal following him back to the U.S. and continued to blight his career for a number of years. I was none too pleased myself and very upset at the cancellation!

Stage shows continued through the 1960s with the appearance of many top artists. I remember seeing Cliff Richard on two occasions when he was still young and raw and still presented himself as a rocker. I also remember seeing Emile Ford & the Checkmates. After that, my musical tastes changed and I began going to Jazz Clubs and listening to modern jazz and thought myself far too sophisticated for pop music!

However, I certainly would not have turned up my nose at seeing the performer, who was to appear at the Adelphi on 7th October, 1962. On this memorable date Little Richard was slated to grace the stage. I was very upset about the date chosen, as this was the day I was to leave home to go away to college. Regrettably I missed the show and never had the opportunity of seeing Little Richard scream and cavort in his prime. A great loss! Sometime later in 1963, the Beatles arriving by helicopter appeared at the theatre and caused a sensation, as they did everywhere they went.

The theatre was also used for Wrestling and all the stars appeared there during the late 1950s and 1960s and were cheered and booed accordingly. I don’t remember if boxing was ever presented, but I know that the ex-Middleweight Champion of the World, Randolph Turpin, appeared there, but this might have been in his wrestling days.

I cannot remember the last film I saw at the Adelphi for certain, but I believe it was Sweet Bird of Youth in 1962 just before I left school. I learned that the theatre closed on 21st January, 1973 following the screening of Komm, liebe Maid und mache, which was translated as Sex is a Pleasure – go figure! On 18th May, 1973, the building was reopened as a Granada Bingo Club and operated as such until May 1991 when it became a Gala Bingo Club.

Over the years, I used to pass the Gala during visits to my parents’ home and then later to visit their graves. I always wondered what changes had been made to the building, but never went to see for myself, that is, not until a Sunday in November 2011.

I had gone to visit my parents’ graves and was returning to Slough Centre with a walk through Salt Hill, which is a park close to the Gala. As I was passing by, I saw a number of people going in for the afternoon session. I remember thinking it might be interesting to take a look at the place now. I felt a little embarrassed as I had no idea how to join a Bingo Club. I should not have worried as registration proved easy and soon I held my own club membership card and was swiping it through the machine.

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I had noticed that the old wooden entrance doors with their huge glass panes had been replaced and saw the foyer was almost unrecognizable from what it once was. Gone was the box office once present just inside the left-hand door and a huge reception area had been installed in the centre of the foyer. The décor had been completely changed and the predominant colours were now yellow and blue. The carpet was also blue with a motif of stars, moons and suns. There was a new ceiling with small lights. Gone were the advertisement boards presenting coming attractions. The steps leading up to the auditorium were still in place along with the central metal balustrade with its rope & tassel decoration, but which was now silver and blue in colour.

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I went up the steps and entered the auditorium through new doors painted blue. I was amazed at what I saw. The auditorium seating had been removed and replaced with small tables each sitting four patrons. To my right was a bar, which at the time, was closed. I looked out at the auditorium and noted a huge console against the left wall, where the manager sat calling out the numbers to the handful of patrons involved with their cards, each hoping evidently to win Big Money.

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At the far end of the auditorium was the stage. The screen had been removed and replaced with a huge television set against the back wall. Seating and tables were also present on the stage. Across the top and sides of the stage were draped enormous curtains in the style often used in the past to simulate a proscenium. The effect was not without its charm as were the colours chosen.

I made my way onto the stage and looked out at the auditorium and up into the circle. I was amazed at the sights as little had been changed in their conversion from cinema/theatre to Bingo Hall. The plasterwork was unchanged and was still tasteful and attractive. Certainly the colours used to decorate the auditorium had changed, but they were not gordy or glitzy or offensive to the eye, but were of warm autumn tones and gave it a pleasant look if somewhat sombre.

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The old light fixtures were still in place except for the central chandelier, however its surrounding plasterwork was still present. The decoration on the side walls was unchanged and consisted of pseudo-picture frames between columns with speakers and covers at their pinnacles.

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I made my way up to the circle area where I noted that the seating was still present. The circle had still divided into front and back regions by a walkway. The seats covering had been replaced, as had the carpet. I sat in the back row, which had been a choice spot when I was young, as it was here we used to bring our girlfriends here so as not to be disturbed by wandering usherettes and their flashing torches. Here many relationships were begun, leaving me to wonder how many continued on. Obviously none of mine did!

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Eventually, I left thoughts of my youth to my memory and got up from my seat and made my way back down to the foyer. I went into the auditorium for a last look around. It was now lunchtime and the number of players present had increased. Some were enjoying Sunday Lunch purchased from the diner that was now opened before getting down to the serious business of playing.

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As I left the building, one of the receptionists wished me a good day and requested that I come back soon. I smiled and thought that if I still lived in the area, I might well take her up on the offer.

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I wrote to a friend of mine recently from Slough. I have known her and her mother for a while now. They lived in Slough from the 1950s until the mid-1970s when her mother moved up the road to Burnham and she to Langley. I remember her telling me about the fun she and her friends had as a young girl growing up and going to the Adelphi as it was called then and learning to dance. I thought it might interest readers to hear about her memories in her own words. And so, without more ado, let me present to you Ms James:

Susy James of Langley/Slough wrote:

I used to go to the Adelphi on Sunday afternoons in the late sixties and early seventies. The cinema showed two films at the matinee: first a B-film followed by the main feature. During the interval between the films, a local amateur pop group played. There was a different group each week and I remember some were good while others were less so. These groups replaced the organist who would normally play between films. After the matinee, we used to go up to the ballroom where we danced to records and to the group.

I also remember going to the Adelphi ballroom on Saturday mornings to learn ballroom dancing. I was about 12-, perhaps 13-years old at the time. I remember that Slough was the home to a famous ballroom dance troupe at this time.

I remember when the Adelphi closed as a cinema and opened as a Mecca Bingo Club in 1973 and also when it became a Gala.

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