Thursday, 21 February 2013

The Last Picture Show

Taken 15th Sept 1993 (originator unknown) this is a photo of my hometown, St Helens, Cannon Cinema (formerly Savoy and ABC) in its final day before it closed down and was subsequently demolished. Note the 'We thank our patrons for their support' message. The final showings on its three screens were the films Sliver (in the main rather posh theatre) Jurassic Park and Made In America.

I have very fond childhood memories of trips to this cinema, including standing in a queue round the block to be admitted. The staff wore proper uniforms and I vaguely recall - though I may be wrong - epaulettes. You bought your tickets from a proper box office. Each theatre or screen had curtains, with screen one having a very impressive draping gold curtain. In the 80s of course you could still smoke in the cinema and I well remember a blue fug across the screen. There was even a woman with choc ices etc standing in the corner of the theatre. Their was a real sense of cinema going tradition going on in there, even in the 80s and early 90s. It was a certain type of class and glamour, albeit fading. But with just three screens, I guess it could not compete with multiplexes and the new audience and more relaxed modern day desires of film goers.

Some of the films I saw at Cannon in my childhood that I can properly remember (don't judge, it was my childhood and it was the 80s!) included Boys In Blue (my first ever cinema visit) Return To Oz, Three Men and a Baby, ET, An American Tail, Star Trek 5 and subsequently Star Trek 6, Dick Tracy, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, The Sword and The Stone, Little Shop Of Horrors (went with my sister and her then boyfriend, I was fascinated by the singing plant but ultimately it spooked me!) Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Honey I Shrunk The Kids - I remember that one clearly. My mum had taken me to see Oliver and Co a rather forgettable Disney cats and dogs updated version of Oliver Twist, a story I was obsessed with as a child. We were taken into the screening to find it completely empty. After a while, a lady came in to explain to us it was not possible to see the film and would we want to see another PG or U friendly film in its place? With little else on offer we saw Honey... and it was to my child eyes a pleasant surprise. When we either were told my little cousin had fallen and cracked his skull or, that had already happened earlier that week, and left we had to visit him in hospital. I'm a little hazy on that detail, I just know both events go almost hand in hand. I still to this day have never seen Oliver and Co haha!

Here's the cinema the decade before, in the late 1970s, when it was an ABC. Again, as with all the photos in this post, alas I don't know who took it

I'm presuming that's Dracula with Frank Langella and Laurence Olivier, The Lord of the Rings is the cartoon version and Invasion of the Body Snatchers is the Donald Sutherland remake of the 50s classic. This photo would therefore hail from 1979, the year I was born.

And here is an interior shot of one of the screes/theatres, which I hope shows the glamour that was once there

But perhaps the best depiction of the glamour this grand cinema had is this advertising feature, originating from 1934 

George Tonge the architect was a renowned cinema architect who hailed from up the road in Southport, Lancs. The cinema was built upon the site of the previous cinema, also known as The Savoy which was there from 1910 to 1934. Tonge's new Savoy finally opened on March 23rd 1935. 

The cinema was The Savoy until 1961, when it became known as The ABC Savoy and eventually upon reopening, after a renovation that saw the seating triple with 494 new seats in the circle and a further 284 and 179 in the rear stalls, on 14th Dec 1978 (just before the '79 photo above) it became simply The ABC. Latterly it would become part of the Cannon group and remained so until 15th Sept 1993.

A quick look on local community sites has some fond albeit bluntly humorous memories of the old cinema, in particular its staff with many noting the box office woman wore far too much make up ('drag queen' one remarks) as well as several digs at a man I well remember working there who lives three streets away from me who is referred to as 'Goofy' and 'Baldy' respectively! he's certainly learning disabled that's true and struggled to find work following the cinema closure. When I last spoke to him he told me he was volunteering. Oddly, he's one of those people who seems to have never aged. He looked the same in the 80s as he does now; perpetually 40 something, though he must have been much younger when I was a child.

One of the most amusing memories one cinema goer from the 70s has to share on that site is the night they accidentally ran The Exorcist backwards!

Upon its closure in 1993, the site lay dormant well into that decade and was eventually demolished I think in either the very late 90s or the very early 00s. A new structure was put in place relatively quickly and it was for a long time rumoured to be an over 30s nightclub, but the owner could not get permission for such a venture. For a time it was rumoured to become a Cafe Bar called with a nod to its past The Savoy, but it remained frustratingly dormant. Finally after being left empty for a good ten years it eventually opened as The Chinese Buffet


  1. Ah yes, the "drag queen". She was very kind IIRC, though dressed far too young.

    Intermissions were good circa 1989: high-street-psych oil-blob projections and Ken Dodd's greatest hits on the deck(!!)

    I vividly recall seeing 'Star Trek 3', 'Aliens','See No Evil - Hear No Evil' 'ST 5', and 'Erik the Viking' there

  2. That's rings a vague bell now you mention it!!

  3. I remember watching Jurassic Park at this very cinema a few days after getting my GCSE results. I didn't realise the place was weeks away from closing

    1. The last days. Thanks for stopping by. Nice to see fellow St Heleners online

  4. I'm actually a Rainhillite but don't hold it against me. I've enjoyed reading through the blog, especially the Jon Finch and Hywel Bennett pictures.

    1. Haha, wouldn't hold it against you at all. Especially if you're a fan of Finch and Bennett :D Thanks again.

  5. its now also a smokehouse restaurant under the Chinese buffet too :)

  6. Thank you for posting this. I also saw Jurassic park there before it closed. It was the first cinema I went to, the first film I saw there was beauty and the beast. I remember the red velvet and gold, and the vendors selling popcorn. It was spacious and stunning. Dane