Although I seem to spend quite a big proportion of my time in London nowadays, I’m still a West Country boy at heart and I’ve lived the majority of my life either in Bristol or Gloucestershire. I’ve always loved visiting the cinema, and my future career seems to have been mapped out for me at a very early age. Growing up, I may have adored everything Star Wars-related, but the cinema posters which always caught my eye were those advertising sex films. I can distinctly remember staring goggle-eyed at the beautiful Tom Chantrell artwork for Confessions from the David Galaxy Affair when it came to my local Odeon in 1979. When I finally met the artist 18 years later, I told him how much of an impression that poster had made on me as a small child.
However, it was the poster for another ‘Confessions’ film which particularly caught my imagination. In 1980 the 11th naughty instalment of the German-made Schulmädchen-Report series finally made it to the ABC cinema in Gloucester. Salaciously re-titled for British audiences as Confessions of a Naked Virgin, the poster showed a naked blonde being manhandled by an older man. I recall studying that poster for quite a while; at the time, it was probably the most explicit thing I had ever seen. Today, happily, I own that ‘dirty’ poster and it now hangs on a wall in my house. I still think it takes the gold medal for best title of any sexploitation film ever released. She’s naked, she’s a virgin, and she’s going to confess… although, having said that, what secrets does a virgin actually keep?
As a teenager I lived opposite a local flea-pit on Bristol’s busy Stapleton Road named (rather appropriately for the city which gave the world the first supersonic airliner), the Concorde Cinema. Originally called His Majesty’s Cinema, it had been playing a regular programme of ‘X’-rated sex films, and second-run pictures, since 1973. I could see it from my bedroom window and it looked incredibly seedy from the outside, although I now hugely regret never sneaking inside. The Concorde made the national press in 1990 when just one solitary punter came to see The Emerald Forest in screen-one and nobody at all came to screen-two. Months later it closed and, after a (allegedly deliberate) fire, it subsequently became a second-hand furniture warehouse.
The old ABC cinema in Gloucester has gone too; it’s now a cavernous Wetherspoons pub. And, sadly, this month another one of my childhood haunts is also getting acquainted with the wrecking ball. The old Odeon in Winchcombe Street, Cheltenham was built in 1933, and remains the only Art Deco building in the town. Aside from films, the auditorium was also used as a concert venue and the Beatles and Rolling Stones played here in the 1960s. Sadly, it has lain derelict since November 2006 and is currently being razed to the ground to make way for yet another dreary development of ‘luxury apartments’.
Mary Millington’s films played here in the 1970s. An old friend of mine worked as a bouncer at the Odeon in 1978/1979 where midnight double-bills of Come Play with Me and The Playbirds were screened. These late showings often got quite rowdy, meaning he had to fling misbehaving punters back out into the street. The saddest thing about the Odeon’s demolition is the loss of the two beautiful Art Deco figures which adorn the front of the building. This pair of nude ladies have seen it all – the good, the bad and the ugly – the original King Kong in 1933, Brief Encounter, Confessions of a Window Cleaner, Star Wars, Mary Millington’s True Blue Confessions, Back to the Future, John Waters’ Hairspray, Four Weddings and a Funeral… some 10,000 films in total.
So it’s farewell to a happy part of my early life, and the two naked virgins who never confessed, but faithfully kept their secrets for 81 years.
All words and original photos strictly © Simon Sheridan 2014-2015