Monday 9 June 2014

Goodbye Ohio (another piece of history goes...)

When I was growing up, in the 70s and 80s, most towns had a cinema and multiplexes hadn’t yet invaded (the first one I knew of was The Point, in Milton Keynes, which I didn’t visit until the mid-80s).  Although I went to the cinema in Corby (my Dad took me to see my first James Bond double-bill there, as I wrote about here) and latterly Bentleys in Burton Latimer, my first port of call was The Savoy in Kettering, where I saw “Star Wars” amongst many, many others.  Owned by EMI from the 70s, it was relaunched - after a short closure - as the independent Ohio cinema in 1986.  This coincided with me and my friends learning to drive so we made plenty of visits there through to the end of the 80s and most films released in that period were watched in the glamorously named Studio 1 or Studio 2, sitting on seats that had seen better days and trying to ignore the large holes in the ceiling.  Yes it was a fleapit, yes it was a bare bones operation but I loved it - the projectionist was also the man who took your money (and occasionally served you for sweets and drinks too) - and when I started going out with Alison, we’d often go there for a double-bill (£3 each for both films) on a Saturday night.

The main entrance, 2005
Two angles on Russell Street, 2005
The cinema finally closed in 1997 when an Odeon Multiplex opened up on the outskirts of town, though the Sixfields Multiplex in Northampton had surely taken away a lot of custom - yes, they were more expensive but they were also new.  I thought they were soulless too but I’m maybe sometimes just a nostalgic fool.

The cinema remained empty and most of the glass in the windows was smashed, which I always found really sad whenever I walked by and more was vandalized over the years.  When someone dug out a hole in the wood panel covering the doors, I had a peek inside and the floor was strewn with litter and rubble.

In December 2000, I began writing my novel “In The Rain With The Dead” and needed a location for my baddie, a demon called Magellan, to hide out in, that was derelict and where he wouldn’t be disturbed.  It didn’t take long for me to think of the Ohio (the book is set in my fictional town of Gaffney) and so I used it - lock, stock and barrel - in the novel.  It first appears in the flashback section - ostensibly set in the 90s, but actually written as the 80s:

Bentleys Cinema, on Russell Street, had once been an Odeon and was built with art deco grandeur. Now, however, the ground floor had been converted into a bingo hall and the cinema was crammed into what had once been the upper tiers. It was lovingly called the ‘flea pit’ by its patrons, who were invariably teenagers and couples in their early twenties, that didn’t mind sitting in a cold auditorium, with a sound system that was around long before Dolby and seats that occasionally didn’t work.

Later, when Magellan moves in, I wrote (in early 2001) about what had been there and imagined what several years of dereliction had done to the place:

     Back then, the ticket booth was at the top of the stairs, the drinks fridge and popcorn machine next to it. At the end of the counter was an open area, with doors leading to the toilets and projection booth. In the open area were some easy chairs, a pool table and a tabletop version of Space Invaders. Above the chairs, windows looked out onto Russell Street.
     Now, with the smashed windows letting in the grey evening light, he surveyed the decaying, desolate foyer, far removed from its original splendour. The ticket booth and popcorn maker were covered with a sheet that had probably once been white but which was now a dusky brown and riddled with holes. The drinks fridge seemed to have been attacked with a bat, pieces lying over the counter top and across the floor. Half the chairs were gone, those remaining had had their cushions ripped out, stuffing and springs trailing onto the floor like silvery intestines. The pool table and Space Invaders machine had gone. The heavy drapes that had been sucked through the window were stained and mouldy.

I took some photographs of the exterior in 2005, when Christopher Teague at Pendragon Press published the book and it was a sorry sight.  Even though houses encroached it and weeds (and trees) sprouted from the walls, even as it looked sadder every year, it stood proud.  Last week, my friend Jon & I walked down Russell Street and I saw, to my great dismay, that the demolition had started.  It might have been a long time coming, but very soon Kettering is going to lose a building that so much of its youth enjoyed (for whatever reasons) and which features so prominently in their memories.
The demolition has started, 4th June 2014
Sadly, I can't find any images of the cinema when it was operational but several urban explorations have taken place since it closed and the results photographed and reported on here, here, here and here.  Apart from the inevitable decay that you'd expect, the site has also seen the handiwork of vandals and graffiti artists and seeing that lovely old place treated so shabbily is unpleasant.  This is Studio 2 (entry to the left of the picture).
photograph by 'infamous explorer', all rights reserved
So long, Ohio Cinema, I’m glad I knew you when you were operational, I’m so pleased that I was able to pay homage to you and whenever I talk about Gaffney, rest assured the cinema is ALWAYS on Russell Street.


  1. Very sad. I know Kettering quite well (my great-uncle lived nearby when I was growing up – I think it was at Higham Ferrers, he owned a cafe). Anyway, I never went to the cinema here but I remember seeing it back in the '80s it must have been. Fascinating post.

  2. Wow, small world eh?

    Thanks for this, Martin!

  3. Being a Kettering lad being born here in 1945, the Savoy was a popular venue for teenagers in the early 60's. Maurice Lee was the manager and Bert Ringrose (Torchy) was the man who tried to keep order when a film suddenly stopped mid scene. Jim Dale was discovered here at a talent show. With the coming of the teddy boy era, Savoy had the foresight to open a coffee bar and hot dog stall upstairs. Great memories here.

    1. Excellent memories, thanks for commenting!