12 September 2005

The Academy Cinema, Oxford Street, London

I've been looking through old film magazines recently, particularly Sight and Sound published by The British Film Institute. On the back of almost every issue I have from the 1960's there is an advertisement for a film, sometimes two at The Academy Cinema, Oxford Street.

I've been intruged simply because I know the West End relatively well and I haven't ever, in my time in London seen a cinema on Oxford Street.

It turns out that The Academy was a very important cinema in it's day, probably the most important in London outside of The National Film Theatre. As this webpage shows The Academy was '...the first and most prestigious British art house cinema.' I'd been looking on the web for a couple a couple of weeks, trying to see what happened to this place which must have been glorious and to see specifically where it stood. Sadly, it was demolished, this article explains in more detail as well as some comments from those who actually visited it along with a great photo of the inside.

The Cinema Treasures website is well worth a browse, currently it has 441 listed for UK as well as amazingly cinemas from around the world.

18 comments:

tonyb said...

On reading Richards blog about "The Academy Cinema" he might like to contact me.for some more informatiom,I
was a projectionist there many years
ago rising to "Chief",also there were
three cinemas's in Oxford St.Studio 1&2 one of which was a NEWS theatre the other was near Selfriges,called the "Cinephone" and I worked there for
a short time.

Cheers,
Tonyb

Richard Gibson said...

Tony, thanks for your comment.

I'd love to hear more so yes please do get in touch. My email is richardjgibson at gmail.com (remove the at, replace with @).

charlotte pollock said...

the academy wasnt the only cinema on oxford street up until the late 80's early 90's there was a cinema on the tottenham court road end roughly where the Virgin megastore is now. its not the only oddity I've heard all kinds of weird tales including that of a dolphinarium

Richard Gibson said...

Thank you Charlotte. I wasn't aware of another cinema on Oxford Street, Tottenham Court Road. Of course I recall going to see 'Man Bites Dog' at the one a little further along, almost opposite Time Out's offices and I think I have seen pictures of that in the 60's or 70's.

Doplinarium, now there is a thought!

Anonymous said...

There was a dolphinarium up until the early 1970's.

Was based in Oxford Street backing onto Soho Square, the building is now a games arcade, sadly there isn't much left, but you can see the base of the tank in the Post Production House in Soho Square.

Richard Gibson said...

There was a dolphinarium up until the early 1970's


Incredible! I did not know that. I must take a look next time I walk through Soho Square. Thanks for your post.

Anonymous said...

Yes, there was a Dolphinarium there in the 70's and I went with two Birthday Parties there. It was lovely (I was 12 or 13 at the time!) and there were penguins that wandered around the spectators and Seals. It was a big trpoical pool with a bridge and lots of greenery and flowers.

Anonymous said...

I HAVE A FILM CARD FROM 1946 STUDIO ONE CINEMA OXFORD CIRCUS W.1
IT WAS PRESENTING FOR A SEASON COMMENCING SUNDAY,MAY 12TH 1946
" LE JOUR SE LEVE " (DAYBREAK ) SUPPORTED BY A BRITISH COMEDY
" FRENCH WITHOUT TEARS " STARRING RAY MILLAND

Mark said...

I used to work for the company that owned the arcade above the dolphinarium in Oxford St in the 80's, we went through a trapdoor through to the dolphinarium to have a look, it was like stepping back in time (without the water and the dolphins of course) even the cardboard cutout fishes were still hanging from the ceilings...

Qwerty Queen said...

As an art student at St. Martin's School of Arts & Crafts('59-`61)I ushered at the Academy. It showed foreign films for a month so my ear got tuned to the languages as I whispered along with the dialogue. The only movies I now remember are VIVRE SA VIE, a sad B&W French flick about a woman caught up in prostitution being fought over by pimps. As a pragmatic teenager & ugly enough so no one ever fought over me, I used to wonder why she didn't just find a new line of work someplace else. Akira Kurosawa's samurai comedy THE HIDDEN FORTRESS was more to my taste. It starred the everso handsome Tishuro Mifune, a refreshing contrast to the angry, preening European chaps.

Andrew Hoellering said...

Thank you for your interest, Richard. I’m the son of George Hoellering,who chose the films for the Academy with my step-brother Ivo Jarosy and ran the cinemas as Managing Director for 37 years. The cinemas were my education in film from boyhood on and I also worked there for a time with my father and brother. The photo of its demolition even today breaks my heart.

My father died in harness in 1980 and my brother soldiered on until he closed the cinemas on 2 April, 1986. They were indeed glorious to behold, and over the years they screened many of the best films from all over the world,.

Why then did they close? My brother, Ivo Jarosy said that they had been losing money steadily for two main reasons, 1. The quality films (as opposed to increasingly frequent blockbuster movies elsewhere) were drying up. 2. The loyal Academy audience who had supported the cinemas over the years were getting on, and increasingly preferred a night at home –remember this was the time when BBC 2 was transmitting seasons of the best foreign films (alas, no more!) A third reason is that Ivo himself found the job of running the cinemas an increasingly lonely one; he himself was getting on in years and looked forward to his retirement.

The Academy was a great loss, and regulars even today speak of it with both affection and gratitude. If you are interested, you can find more on the cinema and its achievement on the BFI website –just insert George Hoellering into Google.

Anonymous said...

I remember the Academy cinemas very well in the 1960s - they would show "Les Enfants du Paradis" for about a year. How the management survived commercially is a good question. I think that I had my first education in what cinema can do at the Academy. I am eternally grateful. (By the way, the Paris Pullman in South Kensington was another cinema worthy of note for the same reason.) Nick of Tokyo

robert said...

Lovely stuff about The Academy Cinema.
I'm trying to track down a film produced by Gabriel Pascal called
Der Hauptmann von Kopenik shown at The Academy sometime in the 30's...Elsie Cohen was the manager at the time. Can anyone help? Where could I find listings for that period?

thanks Robert

Robin said...

I saw two of the last films shown at the Academy in 1986, a good film about chess players called Dangerous Moves and a French film The Wanderer, from the novel Le grand Meaulnes, the archetypal story of nostalgia for the lost enchantment of childhood. The latter was in the small studio cinema which had deep luxurious seats. The afternoon I went there was only one other person there - part of the reason the cinema closed, I guess. For some time after the closure you could still see the posters advertising The Wanderer, aka The Lost Domain - appropriate and poignant.

Anonymous said...

i cant believe it.was looking on here for some information about he academy cinema as my uncle was telling me about it .he was a projectionist before doing hes national service.he was the under study to the chief who later become his brother-in-law.he had some great stories about then.

Ian Johnson said...

A piece of music that always brings back the memory of The Academy is the exhilarating scherzo (piano and orchestra) from Litolff's Concerto Symphonique. It was played before the start of a number of films I saw in Academy One, so whenever I hear it I'm right back in The Academy! I assume the projectionist and management were particularly fond of that piece. A gem of a cinema, greatly missed.

Anonymous said...

The cinema near the Tottenham Court Road end of Oxford Street was originally the Classic cinema, and was also the Cannon cinema when they took over the classic chain in the 80's. It was a 5 screen complex, with the smallest screen seating only 48, and was also 16mm! I worked there in the early 80's...awful place to be truthful, all underground, dark, dingy, no character or atmosphere whatsoever. There was also another cinema near Oxford Circus, previously belonging to the Cinecenta chain. I think it was called the Studio Oxford Circus, and had 4 or maybe more screens.

Anonymous said...

The first film I saw at the Academy was, I think, Badlands; the last, again I think, The Aviator's Wife. The Academy, along with the NFT, was something of a refuge from life for me during the '70s and '80s, for which I'm eternally grateful.