Married ex-staff who met at cinema recall its heyday

SEVENTY years ago, the New Victoria Cinema was the latest attraction on the Southside, and Jean Melrose was a 16-year-old usherette.

Now, at the age of 85, she has returned to the boarded-up cinema to visit the place she once worked - and met her husband of 60 years, James Barker.

The Evening News joined the Barkers as they returned to the cinema, latterly the Odeon, which has lain empty for seven years and is back on the market until January 5.

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Behind the boarded-up facade, the foyer today bears few traces of its original art deco design. The curved lines of the ceiling are the only reminder, with fallen ceiling tiles now stacked around the dusty modern ticket counters.

But things were a little different in Mrs Barker's day. She recalled: "We all used to wear a blue dress and a forage cap. It was a big, big place - all the usherettes would be lined up in a row in the foyer. I enjoyed my job here."

The New Victoria opened in 1930, and Mrs Barker began working there in 1941. Mr Barker would take her home on his motorbike. Apart from her wartime naval service she worked there until 1950, when they married.

The Cinema Theatre Association Scotland has raised concerns about the condition of several parts of the building, but behind the foyer, the Crush Hall is clearly recognisable from photographs of the cinema in its graceful heyday. The long, curved hallway retains its plaster mouldings in immaculate condition.

Past the peeling paint on the stairs, the first floor bar/cafe area is also recognisable from period photographs, with its glass doors giving onto the balcony and graceful archways around the room.

In the main auditorium the seats are gone, but the original art deco plaster designs on the walls are still marked out in vibrant blue and white paint, and the star-shaped light fittings scattered across the ceiling remain. Many of the alcoves that once held statues sit empty after vandals broke in and damaged them.

In Mrs Barker's day, however, the auditorium was the venue for glitz and glamour, with visits from the stars of the day such as Norma Shearer and Robert Helpmann.

She recalls: "I was lucky to meet the Queen, Princess Margaret, and several film stars.

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"There was an organist called Richard Telfor and we had what was called 'A Sunday Concert' during the war years, when there were full houses of people joining in singing."

Pleased to revisit the cinema as its future hangs in the balance, she said: "It brought back memories. I'd like it to go back into being a cinema, but I don't think that's going to happen. But whatever it's going to be, I hope they'll leave it there and not knock it down."

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