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Granada FoyerGRANDEUR OF THE GRANADA
by Bernie Dennison

It was reported recently in the Daily Express that the Granada Tooting was the first cinema to receive Grade 1 listing in this country. The Granada now operates as a Bingo Hall. The announcement evoked very happy memories as I was born less than a hundred yards from the Granada built in 1931. With the coming of sound at the start of the 30’s cinemas were being built with remarkable speed all over the country. Tooting alone could boast of having seven cinemas including the Granada. Fyodor Fyodorovich Kommisarzhevsky the Russian director and set designer (It's thought that his parents were dyslexic Scrabble enthusiasts) was commissioned by the exiled white Russian Sidney Bernstein to bring exotic glamour to this area of South London.
From the outside it is true the building is relatively unassuming. The foyer is impressive enough. An assembly of gothic arch mirrors, faked leaded windows and pilasters with gilded ornamentation, sweeping marble staircases leading to the grand circle. But it is when you pass through the swing doors into the auditorium that you experience the full blast of the designer’s ambition. Under a Renaissance ceiling Komissarzhesky has assembled a bizarre collection of architectural decoration. Cathedral porches, medieval murals, rood screens, heraldic symbols, hanging glass chandeliers. Everything in the main auditorium was a copy of the inside of the Alhambra Palace in Granada.Komissarzhesky was the son of a famous opera singer, he immigrated to England in 1919 and was briefly married to the British actress Peggy Ashcroft. The stage at the Granada was big enough to stage large productions rivalling any West End Theatre. It was also the only suburban cinema to have its own permanent 20 piece orchestra. The Granada was built just as we were coming out of a depression at the start of the 30’s and with war looming at the end of the decade this tended to heighten the wonder and awe that the Granada held with everyone. The Granada was always way ahead of all its rivals, mainly because of its attention to detail and the highly organised way it was managed. The staff uniforms for example. The Usherettes wore gold silk blouses with blue slacks; pill box hats; blue cloaks over one shoulder and white gloves. The Commissioners at the front of house wore an all blue uniform with brass buttons; braided peaked caps; gold epaulets on the shoulders and white gloves. The Senior Doorman was widely known in the area as “Tiny” who was a very imposing figure standing at 6’ 4” and weighing 18 stone. As I only lived yards away from the Granada whenever I passed by before opening time you could see all the staff lined up for inspection by the manager. Always ahead with new innovations there were 2 cash desks with 2 girls in each, one working the ticket dispensing machine and the other issuing fast change down chutes as in the underground stations. The queues simply melted away. Service provided included tea or coffee served at your seat in the interval for a small fee. Also you could change your seat during a performance for a small transfer fee. Disabled clients would be brought in and out by staff at rear exits to avoid steps at the entrance.On the Granada’s yearly anniversary or Christmas time a huge multi-tiered cake would be baked by Hutchins the Bakers next door to the Granada. Brought in on flat trolleys in huge sections assembled and iced in situ. The cake was over a ton in weight. If you find this difficult to believe, the Granada held over 2,400 people, 3 shows a day, 7 days a week. Considering every customer had a slice of cake it is not quite so surprising. Again the Granada was one of the first cinemas to install a Mighty Wurlitzer Organ played by all the top organists of the day. Reginald Foort; Reginald Dixon; Robinson Cleaver; Sandy Macphearson and many more. Can you imagine being in the audience when every child was given a stick of Blackpool Rock on Reginald Dixon’s birthday?Regularly through the season there were extended shows on special occasions with two full length feature films, a cartoon, newsreel and an hours stage show. Over 4 hours entertainment for a top price of 3/6d (17½p new money)Who would have thought all those years ago when as kids we could for a few pence be transported into a fantasy land for 3 to 4 hours. That now today we can make and edit our own films and watch them in colour in our own living room .But finally I think the memory of watching “Gone With The Wind” in the summer of 1940 with an air raid in progress and being more concerned for the safety of the citizens of Atlanta as their city was consumed by fire in the American Civil War than for our own.All those years ago I vowed that if I ever had the chance to travel to Granada I would. The opportunity finally came in 1973 and I am not so sure that the Granada in Spain did not come second best.“Two tubs and a choc ice please miss”

SECOND TAKE December 2000

Tiny

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