The Cathedral of the Movies

If you find yourself on Mitcham Road in Tooting, nip into the Gala Bingo hall where you’re in for a surprise. This is the former Tooting Granada, a movie palace of the 1930s, and its amazing interior has been kept intact, give or take an X-Factor slot machine or two. If you ask the lady behind the desk nicely, she’ll let you look around and give you a printed sheet by Richard Gray on the history of the Granada.
I’ve never seen anything quite like the auditorium of the Granada. Gray calls it “Shakespearian Gothic” and says it was created by stage designer Theodore Komisarjevsky (1882-1954), an emigre from revolutionary Russia, who was given the freedom to go crazy with his vision of a sort of medieval cathedral of film. Apparently even the great Wurlitzer organ has been restored to rise again, although sadly it was damaged by flooding in 2008 and continues to be repaired.
And don’t knock the bingo games that are going on in the middle of these strange surroundings – since 1973, when the rise of TV caused the closure of the picture palace, bingo kept this place alive. Now, by the look of it, online casinos are killing off live bingo, with just a scattering of solitary older players the day we were there. The Streatham Hill bingo hall, once the Streatham Hill Playhouse, is still limping along but has so few visitors that it had to close off its upstairs section. Buildings such as the Granada may be listed, but if they’re no use to anyone they’ll have to be shut up, and then who will get to appreciate them? Can’t we think of something new to do with them, when the last old lady puts down her pen and sadly goes home to spend her time looking at instead?

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