The Astoria Theatre on the Old Kent Road, in Bermondsey, London was built as a single screen Super Cinema with stage facilities and opened on the 10th of February 1930 with the films 'Innocents in Paris' and a Laural & Hardy short called 'Two Tars', and included a variety show on the stage with the Theatre's own orchestra.
Above - The Site of the Astoria, Old Kent Road in May 2009 - Photo M.L.
The Theatre was built by Edward Albert Stone and was the second of four Astorias built by him for the independent film exhibitor, Arthur Segal. Following the building of the Astoria, Brixton Segal went on to build the Astoria, Old Kent Road, which has since been demolished; the Astoria in Streatham which is now an Odeon Cinema; and the Finsbury Park Astoria, which has since been converted into a church. Stone also built the former Astoria Theatre in Charing Cross Road and the Astoria, Brighton.
The Old Kent Road Astoria was built with an exterior of faced white stone and an auditorium on two levels, Stalls and one Circle, designed in the Art Deco style but was described as being in the 'Semi-Atmospheric' style, a feature present in the three other Segal Astorias, although this one was in fact the least 'Atmospheric of the group.
The Theatre had a fully equipped stage and fly tower, ten dressing rooms, a cafe for patrons, a Compton 3 Manual 12 Rank Theatre organ, and a projection box complete with four Simplex Projectors.
Above - The stage console of the Compton dual-console organ of the Astoria Cinema, Old Kent Road. A John D. Sharp Photograph - From the 21st Anniversary edition of 'Cinema Organ' December 1973.
The Astoria was very successful for most of its life as a Cinema. In 1930 it was taken over by Paramount Pictures Inc as were the others in the group, and then by the Odeon Theatres Chain in 1939, although the Theatre's name was not changed to Odeon as the others were.
Under the ownership of the Rank Organisation the Theatre was finally closed on the 29th of June 1968 with the Films 'The Further Perils of Laurel & Hardy' and 'Woman Times Seven.' Subsequently the building remained empty and unused until it was converted into a Skating Park called the 'Mad Dog Bowl' and Squash Courts in May 1978. This was later altered with the inclusion of a Gym and Sauna and renamed the Astoria Sports Centre but wasn't a success.
Above - The former Astoria Old Kent Road whilst in the guise of the Mad Dog Bowl skating park - Courtesy Alan Griffiths.
Sadly the Old Kent Road Astoria was demolished in October and November 1984 and a 'Magnet' DIY store was then built on the site.
There are some interesting photographs of the Old Kent Road Astoria, including demolition shots, here.
A visitor to the site, John Wall, who worked at the Astoria in the 1940s has sent in this message about his time there: 'I began working at the Astoria in April 1947 in the projection room. The Chief Projectionist was Mr. James Pettit. A staff of six in two shifts of three made up the compliment. Managers were at different times Mr Ray Taylor and Mr Keith Hahn. The latter ended up at the Gaumont Lewisham. In 1949 I met my wife who was an usherette and we were married in March 1950. Some years later I arrived back at the Astoria as Assistant Manager under Mr. Horatio Burton. The front of house staff consisted of four doormen, plus ten usherettes, two cashiers, three ice cream ladies. Behind the scenes, apart from the projection room staff, were a House Engineer and his assistant and lastly a Fireman who was required by law as the Astoria had a full stage and a safety curtain that had to be lowered and raised daily in view of the audience, normally before the last performance began. Oh happy days never to be seen again.' - John Wall.
Getting Better Acquainted
As a Patron of the Old Kent Road Astoria you are the recipient of the current issue of our monthly magazine - "The Old Kent Road Astorian." You have adopted the Astoria as your Picture and Vaudeville Theatre, and we further hope that you will become a regular reader of "The Astorian."
Just as the Old Kent Road Astoria has been built and furnished in a manner never before known in the Suburbs of London, providing an entertainment seldom equaled in the West End Cinemas so "The Astorian" is provided in a manner different to all other cinema announcements to keep you au fait with everything taking place in the Theatre. Month by month you will find in its pages particulars of all Talking and Silent Pictures with photographs of the Stars, together with particulars of all Vaudeville Acts, mainly illustrated, due to appear during the month of issue.
Interesting articles on some phase of the cinema, or cinema activities, will appear in every issue, and every effort will be made to hold your interest so that you will keep your copy until the next one is due.
In addition to "The Astorian" being the means of keeping you up-to-date as to programmes, etc, it is our wish that it should become a medium to bring the Patron and the Management into closer touch with each other. It will be a pleasure to receive letters from our readers, and should there be cause for complaint in any way, write and let us know - no names will be disclosed without permission, but all communications must have the names and addresses of the writers.
In conclusion may we repeat our avowed Policy: -'
"To show only the best Talkie arid Silent Pictures; to provide high-class Orchestral and Organ Music; to introduce the best available Vaudeville Acts in short to provide a West End House with a West End programme at suburban prices. Charles Penley.
Your Own Theatre
We are particularly pleased when we hear a patron say that he or she has adopted the Old Kent Road Astoria as his or her "house." That is how we wish all patrons to regard it - as their own theatre. And in the theatre's own magazine, therefore, we are this month printing a photograph of what we regard a a particularly pleasing portion of the house.
The photograph on the left illustrates many points of the building. You can form a good idea of the decorations by the wall Paneling, which is dignified and stately, and in perfect keeping with the general design. The balcony is just seen in the photograph but sufficient of it to give an idea of how good the view is from any one of its comfortable chairs. It is not too steep - the rake - or slope is easy, and every seat commands a straight view of the screen. Then the stalls are seen in the lower part of the picture. They look comfortable - they really are - and the photo shows that there is leg room aplenty.
Left - Caption Reads: 'A corner of the Old Kent Road Astoria, showing the comfortable seating and beautiful decoration.'
The Old Kent Road Astoria could have been made to seat at least another thousand patrons but the Directors preferred to have that many less in order that the others should have additional comfort. No one can appreciate entertainment either on screen or stage, if they are not comfortable, therefore comfort was the first consideration. The comfort is not confined to the parts of the theatre seen in the illustration, it extends right from the entrance vestibule to the exits. At the payboxes there is no waiting. The latest machines issue tickets very quickly, and the cashiers are quick and obliging.
From the vestibule access to the theatre is easy - you simply step right in. If perchance you do have to wait for a seat, the waiting-room is comfortable, and there is no crushing. Access to the balcony is just as easy, and you can have a dainty tea in the lounge if you wish to wait.
Our policy of Popular Prices has proved eminently acceptable, and it is gratifying to see that the schedule laid down before the building was opened has not needed revision or alteration in any respect.
Right - Caption Reads: 'One of the beautiful panels embellishing the Auditorium.'
Those of us whose senses of sight and hearing are normal are apt to forget our less fortunate fellows. In assessing the actual position of the various priced seats this important factor was ever in our minds. Whether your sight and hearing are good or not we can cater for your pleasure.
Those of you who patronise our 6d seats will by this time have learned that the large number of seats available to you at this price permit of your sitting close to or well back from the stage, in accordance with the time you make your visit. On the other hand the number of 1s. seats in the front section of the stalls afford ample accommodation for those who want to be close to the pictures and performers.
If you desire a seat at 1s. 6d., the choice of Stalls or Circle is yours as a number of seats are allocated at this price in both parts of the house. The 2s. seats are, of course, situated in the front half of the Circle.
An Astoria Service Feature
Below we reproduce a photograph of the Old Kent Road Astoria Lounge, and have pleasure in announcing that Miss Herley, the famous Manageress of the ground floor cafe at the Coventry Street Corner House, has been engaged to preside over the catering arrangements. These will be on a scale hitherto unknown in the cinema world, and will constitute a service which we will take considerable pride.
Above - Caption Reads: 'Grand Circle Foyer and Cosy Tea Rooms.'
From 11 a.m. till 10 p.m. business folk and local residents will have a rendevous where refreshments ranging from a cup of coffee to a full meal may be obtained at absolutely popular prices. The Astoria Lounge will, in fact, provide a West End service under West End conditions, at strictly suburban prices, and will be open to all whether visiting the Cinema or not. On Sundays the Lounge will be open from 4 p.m. till 10 p.m.
May we suggest that a visit to the Lounge, a dainty tea, and a visit to the entertainment will make a perfect finish to a day's shopping - rest, refreshment, and entertainment.
The Text and Images from the Old Kent Road Astorian Magazine above were very kindly sent in by Kevin Phelan.
If you have any more images or information for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.
You may find the following pages from this site of interest: