GLASGOW really was 'cinema city' when the Paramount in Renfield Street screened the Bing Crosby romantic comedy 'She Loves Me Not' in 1934.

Art Deco glamour

Designed by the London architectural practice of Verity and Beverley, the Art Deco venue had opened on Hogmanay 1933/34, and film mad Glaswegians had never seen anything like it.

In the 1930s Glasgow boasted over 110 cinemas and a total seating capacity in excess of 175,000. That was more cinemas per head than any other city in the world. By the 1950s Govan alone had nine cinemas, one more than the city of Aberdeen, which had twice Govan’s population. Mind you, when many of the city’s 1m plus population were crammed into often-overcrowded and cold and draughty tenement flats, the city’s cinemas provided a degree of privacy, in centrally-heated comfort

The Paramount was one of the first buildings in Glasgow to be fitted with neon outlining and floodlighting – and, as you can see, it looked sensational.

More than a movie…

It wasn’t only a movie you could enjoy. This was a multi-entertainment venue. The five-storey, white granite façade concealed two cafes and a restaurant, with the auditorium doubling as a music venue, with 15 dressing rooms hidden away backstage.

On this night in 1934, and you might have to squint to read it, Canadian star Teddy Joyce and his band were playing for your dancing pleasure. Nicknamed 'The stick of dynamite', due to his energy, Joyce died, aged just 37, in 1941 after collapsing on stage at the nearby Green's Playhouse (later the Apollo).

By that time the Paramount had changed its name to the more familiar Odeon. In 1939, at the first sighting of the storm clouds of war gathering over Europe, its original, US studio owners had sold up all their UK cinemas.

Oscar Deutsch, the founder of the Odeon chain, was only too happy to snap it up. Canny businessman that he was, he guessed that war would only increase the demand for cinematic escapism

As for the old saying, that ODEON stood for ‘Oscar Deutsch Entertains Our Nation’, well, it’s just dumb luck that his initials formed part of the Greek word ‘Odeon’; meaning a place built for music, singing exercises, musical shows, and poetry competitions.

Beauty was a beast

Seen from any angle other than this, the cinema was a bit of an ugly brute, offering only blank, red brick walls to passers-by in West Nile and West Regent Streets, but this corner was a beauty, all sleek lines and elegant curves.

Built to seat 2800 film fans, the cinema was a resounding success, becoming one of the busiest and most profitable in Britain.

As well as an ice-cream, patrons could enjoy the sounds of a huge Compton organ, which would rise, from the understage area, before spinning around to face the crowd. Remarkably, the organ survives, at the Summerlee Heritage Park, in Coatbridge, where it was restored by the Scottish Cinema Organ Trust. There was also a full orchestra pit, which would rise and fall at the touch of a button.

The rock’n’roll years

With the arrival of the 1950s the Odeon became a theatre for live music acts in between cinema screenings, hosting big names from Ella Fitzgerald, Dusty Springfield, and Bill Haley, to Roy Orbison the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

When the Stones arrived in October 1963, they took time out to open the new McCormack’s music store, in Bath Street, sadly now also long gone. The original McCormack’s was, of course, in the old Coocaddens.

Johnny Cash, The Clancy Brothers, Count Basie and Georgie Fame also performed at the venue, as did Bob Dylan, who caused a stushie in 1966, when he discarded his acoustic guitar for an electric one. He stayed at the North British Hotel, at Queen Street Station. Go online, and you might find some curious footage of the Bobster, watching a Police dog display in George Square.

By the end of the 1960s, as television began to outgun big screen entertainment, the Odeon fought back.

In 1970, the cinema closed for a year, with one screen becoming three screens. In 1988, the three screens became six, and, by 1999 the venue boasted nine screens – each about the size of your average church hall.

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Picture: The Rolling Stones open McCormack’s music store, in 1963

Memories are made of this

Whether it was a band or a hit movie you saw there, almost every Glaswegian of a certain age will have a personal memory of the Odeon; from first dates, to fallouts, queue conversations (often entertained by buskers), to being turned away from a ‘full house’ – no online booking in those days.

My two abiding memories are separated by about six years. In the early 1970s, my mum took myself and my big brother to meet my dad, to watch a Disney classic (I can’t remember which one). My brother, seeing my dad approach the cinema foyer, ran full pelt to greet him – not realising they were separated by the plate-glass doors!

I still recall the look of horror appearing on my dad’s face as he realised what was about to happen – and the resounding ‘thunk!’ my brother’s head made as it bounced off the glass. I think I enjoyed that more than the film!

A few years later, in 1978, I joined thousands of other Glasgow weans at the Odeon to travel to ‘a galaxy far, far away’. I emerged, two hours later, swinging an imaginary light sabre, a lifelong Star Wars fan.

The last picture show

During all these conversions, the Art Deco corner entrance suffered a fair few insults; being wrapped in corrugated steel, and hidden behind a three-storey ‘readograph’ (a posh word for an illuminated ‘what’s on’ screen), before being partially restored to its former, 1930s glory.

Sadly, despite all these changes, the Odeon couldn’t keep pace with the out-of-town multi-screens, and, in 2006, it closed its doors for the final time.

Since then, the huge auditorium has been demolished, to be replaced by an office block. Thankfully, this landmark Art Deco corner remains. Cleaned up, revamped, and now shining like a new pin, it currently awaits a new tenant. I wonder if there are any takers for a movie-themed bar and restaurant?

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