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So Long, Hackney Rd Bingo Hall

January 2, 2018
by the gentle author

The monumental Odeon in the Hackney Rd opened on 27th July 1939 featuring Max Miller in Thank Evans. This was the 124th Oscar Deutsch Odeon Theatre to be built and one of eleven by architect Andrew Mather.

Designed in the Art Deco style, the cinema was more austere than some of its era. The plain facade was covered in cream faiance tiles, adorned only by a vertical sign just off centre which originally had the Odeon name and an overhanging slab across two-thirds of the top of the building. Inside, seating was arranged in stalls (1,260) and circle (666). There were two large glass light boxes above the circle and decorative ribs across the ceiling with horizontal bands along the walls.

In 1961, the cinema screened its final programme featuring Ian Carmichael in Double Bunk and Johnny Biggs in Wind of Change on 20th May, before becoming the first Odeon to be converted to a Top Rank Bingo Club.

Both incarnations served as a vital community focus for generations for the people who lived in the surrounding streets until eventual closure on July 15th 2015. The building was sold to Jersey-based Hackney Property Holdings LLP for £4.5million. Subsequently, Mecca Bingo have been providing a minibus to ferry local residents to their club in Camden.

In the face of campaigns and a petition to list the Odeon, and demanding a replacement community asset, planning permission was granted last year by Hackney Council for demolition to construct a ten-storey block of luxury flats with just 20% ‘affordable’ housing despite the Borough’s policy of 50%.

All that leaves us is to take one last look around the empty building, courtesy of these photographs by Thomas Best, and say goodbye to this venerable place of public entertainment which has been cherished by so many residents of this corner of Bethnal Green for more than seventy-five years.

Odeon Hackney Rd in 1938

The interior in 1938

Top Rank Bingo Club in the sixties

Colour photographs copyright © Thomas Best

Forthcoming development by Jersey-based Hackney Property Holdings replacing Odeon Hackney Rd

You may like to read my interviews with members of the Hackney Rd Bingo Club

Sarah Ainslie’s Bingo Portraits

More of Sarah Ainslie’s Bingo Portraits

27 Responses leave one →
  1. Ron Bunting permalink
    January 2, 2018

    Really impressive design for a movie theatre in 1938! A great pity it won’t be saved,So yet another cheaply constructed block of expensive apartments can be put in it’s place. In my city we too have thousands of new Apartments under construction ,all aimed at the higher income groups but fat chance of them all selling to locals ,as most of the new owners will be from places far to the east of us.

  2. January 2, 2018

    Oh how awful. An eyecatching and useful building, gone forever.

  3. January 2, 2018

    I remember going to the Odeon for Saturday morning Children’s cinema which used to cost 6d. Pity it will soon be good to make place for more luxury flats. I wish you a happy and healthy 2018! Valerie

  4. Greg Tingey permalink
    January 2, 2018

    Can they really not do better for the “replacement” … oh dear

  5. Paddy K permalink
    January 2, 2018

    Another piece of London history gone,to be replaced by a monstrosity,how depressing ☹️

  6. January 2, 2018

    Shame on Hackney Council. Not for the demolition of the cinema – no point in standing there unused and unloved, remarkable though it might be – but for ignoring their own quota of affordable housing. And unscrupulous property developers too.

  7. StephenJ permalink
    January 2, 2018

    I have sometimes idly wondered how the Odeon acquired its name, and there we are, just when it is too late to enjoy a visit.

    The alternative repurposing of these places, at least in my locale has been that of converting them into multi-screen arrangements, and they seem to be lasting longer than the bingo conversions.

    I wonder whether Hackney had, or maybe still has, one of those huge pipe organs that rose out of the floor just in front of the screen? They used to cause much derision amongst Saturday morning picture attendees in my area.

    Lastly, a facetious observation, based on a recent piece by your good self.

    Maybe the developer can be persuaded to leave that magnificent facade behi…

  8. January 2, 2018

    Painfully sad. So long bingo hall…

  9. January 2, 2018

    A great shame it couldn’t be re-purposed once more. I suppose the costs of removing the old fittings and putting in new ones would have been prohibitive for the sort of organization that might have needed it for a worthwhile cause – ie, anything other than Yuppie flats (is ‘yuppie’ still au courant, by the way? I’d hate my derision to seem dated).

  10. Avril Towell permalink
    January 2, 2018

    Saturday morning pictures was my memory of the Odeon cinema. It was always packed and a great meeting place for your friends who lived in the terraces of Haggerston that no longer exist. I remember sometimes a celebrity of the film world would appear at an evening performance and we as children would wait outside to see them. I expect a lot of memories will be triggered now that the actual building will disappear soon.

  11. aubrey permalink
    January 2, 2018

    As a child, I remember the times I used to stand outside this particular cinema with the intention of seeing an “A” film and asking passing adults “can you take me in please”. It was the only way of an unaccompanied under aged kid getting in legally, The other way was to ‘bunk in’ through the emergency doors at the back! (Oh and don’t know whether I always said “please”).

  12. January 2, 2018

    A similar fate met the Bolton Odeon and later Mecca Bingo Hall. It had a suburb art deco interior but was demolished at least 10 years ago. Now it’s just patch of waste land in the town centre, shielded by wooden fencing, though home to a fairground this Christmas.

    Mecca moved to a purpose built bingo hall/casino. It seems difficult to find users for these wonderful old buildings. An old contact of mine is involved in keeping an old cinema in Hackney open, but impossible to save them all, I guess.

  13. January 2, 2018

    Another scandalous example of a gentrification planning initiative for the few and not the many. Even the “affordable housing” won’t be affordable.

  14. David Barrington permalink
    January 2, 2018

    If you were to pull a stroke like this in any other industry you would have an investigation looming.

    This is just what you get when you appoint a so called council which then appoints a department consisting of not one person that has any association with the area , history or local community needs.

    The policy is ….
    Sell it off…..Profit over people.

    Maybe the ” Brown Nosing Minion ” that came up with this notion has scored a few Brownie Points and is now recovering from all the ” Well done”s ” and back slapping they received.

    Stay tuned for the next programme of demolition….wont be long !!!

  15. Eddie Johnson permalink
    January 2, 2018

    Although I preferred Mile End Odeon, the Hackney Road one was nice. The locals in the 40’s & 50’s referred to it as the ‘Foresters’, not sure why. Does anyone know?

  16. Sue Hare (Radley) permalink
    January 2, 2018

    I remember my aunts all going there to play bingo together. They didn’t have much but really knew how to enjoy themselves. It may be rose coloured glasses but people worked longer hours and seemed happier.

  17. Gary Arber permalink
    January 2, 2018

    It has been happening everywhere. Last year (2017) the magnificant Towers cinema at Hornchurch was demolished despite over two years of protest and a Aldi is now rising on the site.

  18. Bob Penn permalink
    January 2, 2018

    Remember going to the Odeon with my Grandma in the 40/early 50’s and one time having to leave because it was so smoggy we couldn’t see the screen very well. Getting back to Holmes Street was no fun either – ah happy days.

  19. January 2, 2018

    What a wonderful set of photographs. It is so sad this building could not have been saved. There are so many opportunities for these historic buildings to be reused. There are cinema companies around that will reopen them, they can become mixed entertainment venues (theatre, cinema, music). Although I hate to say it, it would have been better as a Wetherspoons than being knocked down to be replaced by that modern monstrosity.

  20. Jill Wilson permalink
    January 3, 2018

    That makes me so cross – especially as what they are putting in it’s place is yet another mediocre block of flats….grrrrrrr! Something really imaginative could have been done with the building. I’m sure that in years to come people will look back on our time with disbelief that so many classic buildings are being destroyed to be replaced by modern c**p (a bit like we are horrified by how many great Victorian buildings were knocked down in the Sixties and Seventies!)

  21. Ian Silverton permalink
    January 3, 2018

    Looks like me coming out of the phone box,main picture? Who knows,went there long before it went BINGO, many happy times spent 3 rows from the back, only joking,brings back special times of my youth, Jersey Based Hackney Company, spells East End Boys Done Good,IMHO

  22. Ian Silverton permalink
    January 3, 2018

    Not main picture,fourth one down,it’s me for sure,about 20 yrs old,

  23. Martin Palmer permalink
    January 3, 2018

    I, too, recall Saturday morning pictures at the Odeon, with all us kids ‘hooraying’ and ‘booing’ at the good guys and bad guys.

    And in an earlier time, my grandfather would go to the Odeon once a week in his retirement years. Having spent his working life as a clown, making people smile and laugh, he became a crusty old curmudgeon in retirement. The family story goes that shortly before the end of each show he attended he would begin to complain loudly and persistently, so the staff would return his money. And the next week, he would do it all over again. In his final few years, he was bedridden and could not do the short walk from Nichols Square to the Odeon. Yet, when he finally died, the Odeon staff, having not seen him for those years, sent a large wreath to his funeral. What do you know, they must have loved him after all.

  24. John Munday permalink
    January 4, 2018

    Endorsing everybody’s reminiscences of the Saturday morning pictures, all together now…..

    We come along on Saturday mornings
    Greeting everybody with a smile
    We come along on Saturday mornings
    Knowing it’s well worth while.

    Then running back home with your mac done up at the collar pretending to be somebody from the big screen.

    Who would have though the old area would later become trendy (but still scruffy) and a world famous film star would be living just a stone’s throw from the Odeon!

  25. Peter Wade permalink
    January 5, 2018

    Hackney Council should be ashamed, we are losing so many iconic buildings in and around the east end, I remember going to this odeon in the early sixties to see Cliff Richards in Summer Holiday with my sister, later in life going to play bingo there with my Mum & Dad.

  26. sajid permalink
    June 9, 2018

    So sad to hear the old bingo hall has been demolished..
    I remember vividly walking past that place on my with parents to my aunts home in nearby turin st e2 aswell as on my way to Brick Lane..
    so many memories slowly being erased and as usual the locals dont get anything…

  27. August 9, 2020

    I worked at the Top Rank Bingo hall in 1962, I have happy memories of my employment.

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