At the movies · Notes from West London

10 Meatballs Escape from Alcatraz

Most of the local cinemas I went to in my childhood are now gone. There were two cinemas on Shepherds Bush Green. The smaller one became a Walkabout (Australian pub) and now stands empty; the larger one became a Bingo Hall, stood empty for many years, and now the building has been modified and turned into a hotel. In Hammersmith the smaller cinema on the Broadway was demolished decades ago, and the Hammersmith Odeon, which seated over 3,000 people, became the Apollo (currently the Eventim Apollo) and is used exclusively for live events. Mostly these are music and comedy shows but there have also been stage performances (“Doctor Doolittle” played there for a while, and “Riverdance” took up residence for much of the 1990s). The last movie I saw there was “Alien” in 1980.

Originally that last paragraph began, “The only remaining cinema from my childhood is the 3-screen Cineworld on King Street Hammersmith”, but as of this month it has finally closed, something that had been threatened for many years. My parents called it the Regal, which it had been in the 1960s, but in my day it was run by a variety of operators including ABC, Cannon, Virgin, and finally Cineworld.

In the 1970s and 80s all of these local cinemas displayed the names of the films that were being shown, spelt out in black letters on a white background above the entrance. That practice finished at least 20 years ago and it has always disappointed me. Instead, there was an 0870 number you could call to find out what was on. Standing on a ladder to change the names of the films being shown could be a dangerous business. In my first year at university the cinema on the Market Square displayed an incomplete film title for several days after the man who was doing this job was knocked off his ladder one Saturday night. There had been some trouble at the neighbouring pub, the Still and Sugarloaf. (The cinema and the pub are long gone, merged into a large branch of Marks & Spencer.)

Tony Blackburn, on the Radio 1 Breakfast Show back in the 1970s told a James Bond Movie-themed joke related to all of this. He had gone past his local cinema and seen the following: “You Only Live Twice: 6.30 and 8.45”.

Sometime in the 1970s the ABC (or whatever it was called) was converted to a 3-screen cinema and the names of all 3 films would be displayed above the entrance. You can picture the kind of thing: “The Champ” “The China Syndrome” “Alien”. In the spring of 1980 they were showing the Dudley Moore-Bo Derek comedy “10”, another comedy called “Meatballs” (directed by Ivan Reitman and starring Bill Murray, who would work together again in “Ghostbusters”) and the Clint Eastwood movie “Escape from Alcatraz” (directed by Don Siegel). And they were playing in that order, “10” occupying the largest screen and “Escape from Alcatraz” the smallest. The sign above the entrance displayed the current attractions as if they were one strangely-themed presentation: “10 Meatballs Escape from Alcatraz”. That’s a film I would happily have paid to see, but as it turned out I only saw the one about Clint Eastwood escaping from San Francisco’s notorious island prison. There wasn’t a Meatball in sight.

2 thoughts on “10 Meatballs Escape from Alcatraz

  1. Thank goodness you also saw it! – although the memory of seeing it on a presumably now closed cinema at the top of Edgware Road as I drove eastwards one day made me giggle all the way home and has embedded itself in my mind ever since.


  2. Ah, yes ! I remember my Dad pointing out the one on the Edgware Road as we were coming in to London from the West….you could see 10 MEATBALLS ESCAPE FORM ALCATRAZZ peeking over the top of the flyover, as though it were some bizarre headline and not even connected with any cinematic, ha ha ! Have always remembered this and just googled it. He also mentioned that one of the Capital Radio DJs had been talking about it on the air aswell in his way into Euston Tower where Capital was ! Great stuff! 🙂


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