History: Opening night at the Odeon

Opening night at the Odeon

By Ryan Karolak

FOR those who lived in Harlow during its first 10 years, amenities relating to leisure and entertainment were light on the ground to make way for the significant infra- structure that needed to turn Harlow into a New Town.

Although there were ingenious ideas in place such as turning an old storage factory in a makeshift cinema (the Regal), purpose built facilities started to turn up during the 1960s.

As it was to be on February 1st 1960 when the Odeon Cinema in The High, Harlow New Town was opened with a Gala event with a
mixture of invited guests in the “stadium seating‘ and paying public in the stalls. It was reported in the Harlow Citizen on 5th February 1960 with a headline ―Harlow‘s ̳first night‘ brought life to the town centre‘ alongside a photograph of the cinema‘s new manager Mr. Peter Davis. It is noted that this cinema was the first purpose-built cinema in England since 1939, built by George Wimpey and Co., Limited of Hammersmith Grove, London.

The event was started by the Metropolitan Police Central Band on the Councils band- stand playing pieces from Oklahoma with a further musical piece by Gerald Shaw on the electronic organ. It was a cold day which may of dampened the entrances, but the cinema was noted to be ̳nice and warm‘ and a ̳first real test‘ of its heating and air conditioning features.

Alongside a number of telegrams from the previous Regal congratulating Mr. Davis on his appointment, there were a number of celebrity telegrams from Norman Wisdom (who starred in the opening night film), and Sir Alec Guinness adding an additional touch of prestige to the event. The films screened at this event were ̳Walt Disney presents The AMA Girls‘ and ‘The Rank Organisation presents “Follow a Star‘.

In recognition of the title of the film shown that opening night a huge star was erected at the top of Hughes Tower shown in the aerial photo above at the bottom in the centre of the photo and smaller stars along the road that used to lead adjacent to Market Square to the Odeon (shown at the top, to the right a little, in the aerial photo.)

Ryan Karolak
Curator Harlow Museum

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