The Odyssey Cinema – St Albans

I know this cinema very well – or at least did do when it was the Odeon and went there many times in the mid to late 1950s when we saw such films as His Majesty O Keefe, Trapeze and Gunfight at The OK Corral – all good films by any standards.

In my own mind I have His Majesty O Keefe was the best of the lot because it gave us a look at the South Sea Islands – and my goodness it did look good. So did Joan Rice who starred in the film.


On a very recent visit to St.Albans, I was shown round the new cinema and chatted to some of the young people who worked there. It is now a first class venue – about as sumptuos as you could ever get.

Also the choice of films interested me – of course there were all the new releases but also an old film was shown each month and when I was there it was to be The Third Man ( which one of the young girls had never heard of ) and this month Jaws is showing.

His Majesty O’Keefe (1953)Starring Burt Lancaster Some scenes were  shot in the country’s capital – Suva.

1940's Suva, Fiji

A picture from around the 1940′s and 50′s in Suva, Fiji. Around the time His Majesty O’Keefe would have been filmed.

Filmed in Fiji in the South Seas.

The Odyssey Cinema was originally built in 1931 during the golden age of Cinema. It was one of three Cinemas in St Albans and is the last one that survives. This building was originally called the Capitol and then from 1945 The Odeon. It was converted to 3 then 4 Screens and closed very unjustly in 1995 and laid empty.

James Hannaway of The Rex Cinema in Berkhampsted was offered the building in 2010 by the property developers that wanted to demolish it. With the help of local donations and fund raising Mr Hannaway purchased the building then spent several years raising funds to restore the building. The building reopened as a restored single screen cinema on 29th November 2014 and fully to the public on 13th December 2014.

Odyssey Cinema St Albans

The Cinema is breathtaking the original Art Deco features that remained have been incorporated into the new scheme and the end result is an auditorium which is beautiful and a true picture palace which harks back to a bygone age . Unlike the multiplex’s The Odyssey has Screen Curtains and all the sense of occasion and grandure that a visit to the cinema used to have. In the Stalls area tables with swivel seats offer a different experience as you can sit at a table with a drink and then turn towards the screen as the film starts. In the balcony the rows of seats have massive amounts of leg room and the seats themselves are all armchair type offering the height of comfort.

The Odyssey technically is brilliant it has a massive Screen with the very latest digital projection technology, the sound system is the very latest reactive sound system and has the surround speakers hidden in the walls, the Odyssey offers sound and vision better than West End Cinemas in Leicester Square. The Cinema in summary is a beautifully restored Art Deco masterpiece

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Elton Hayes – Entertainer, Film Star and Farmer


The Heading just shows what a versatile man Elton Hays was.

The success of the Walt Disney ‘Robin Hood’ film – in which Elton had one of the leading roles as Alan A Dale – led to a nineteen-city tour of the USA and Canada, making 113 radio and TV appearances in 8 hectic weeks in 1952

Elton Hayes


He bought a 47-acre farm at Hartest, near Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk and soon built up a prestigious herd of pedigree pigs. He now found time to return to his youthful hobby of horses.

Elto Hayes 2

Sadly a severe stroke in 1995 put an end to these activities and Elton had to give up his farm and move to live with friends at nearby Cockfield. With characteristic courage and determination he overcame many of the difficulties associated with the stroke but lost the brave battle he had with his final illness in 2001.

Elton Hayes Farm


A friend and colleague lives close to the Farm that Elton Hayes owned in Suffolk – this was the farm he had there

Elton Hayes on stage

Elton Hayes became a star after The Story of Robin Hood and appeared on Television and Radio – and on stage – see above Theatre Bill.  He seemed to be top billed at the Finsbury Park Empire – so that must have been around 1952 after he scored his big film success.

Elton Hayes 5


Elton Hayes 4


Before this in 1949 he had minor stage parts – and is billed here as The Singer – but that would seem to be a key part in this stage play – which I have to say I am not familiar with – However he is at that time appearing in the West End so he must have been well known in the Theatre before his film work began.

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Mario Lanza – Seven Hills of Rome

After a three year absence Mario Lanza is back with the film Seven Hills of Rome – much to his liking is this one.   He did not care for Because Your Mine or Serenade which he described as having a ‘gloomy guy’ full of sadness and he felt that the fans wanted much more light heartedness and fun – and this what we got with Seven Hills Of Rome.

Seven Hills of Rome - Mario Lanza

His recordings sold in astonishing amounts – probably still do – and I have to admit that if you listen to them it is a wonderful experience.

Seven Hills of Rome - Mario Lanza 2

Described in the Picturegoer Film Annual as a ‘svelte like thirteen stones  – as opposed to the ‘over twenty  stones’ he had weighed in at some time in the last few years, he had seemed to settle down and following a sell-out tour of Britain he had intended to make Europe his base.

Sadly that was not to be. He suffered a heart attack and died in October 1959 at the young age of 38.

He was very much a family man.

This article cannot do justice to this phenomenal singer and film star – it is only looking at this one film and includes pictures above –  taken from The Picturegoer Film Annual.

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Fair Wind to Java

An epic from Republic Pictures.  An adventurous captain of an American  merchant vessel – played by Fred MacMurray – is looking for a sunken Dutch vessel that contains 10,000 diamonds. However, he is not the only one searching for this treasure. The island where the diamonds are supposed to be has an active volcano on it.

Native girl Vera Ralston falls in love with him and defies local laws to help him. She is punished by the island rulers, compelling MacMurray to spirit both Vera and the pearls off the island.

As they make a last desperate attempt to escape, a lava-spewing volcano threatens to destroy the island.

The climax to the film – a volcanic eruption is wonderfully created  by miniature experts Howard Lydecker and Theodore Lydecker.

Fair Wind to Java    

 It was based on the 1948 novel of the same name by Garland Roark. His first novel Wake of the Red Witch, published 1946, was a Literary Guild selection and adapted later by Republic Pictures company starring John Wayne and Gail Russell.

Fair Wind to Java - Poster


Fair Wind to Java was filmed inMalibu, California, and on the Republic Pictures backlot.

Vera Ralston said that shots of Java inserted in the film were made by John Ford, but there are other angles on this story – so not quite sure. Either way there was a lot of model work cleverly cut into the film.

Fair Wind to Java 2

In glorious trucolour! Another Republic storybook masterpiece from the last 5 years of the studio -this is an Indiana Jones pirate/volcano movie before anyone had done it.

I wonder if Steven Spielberg saw this as a youngster and took inspiration from it.  

FAIR WIND TO JAVA stayed in cinema circulation even after 1960 and was often seen in cinema screens at Kids matinees with other Republic films.

The 1969 Cinerama sized KRAKATOA EAST OF JAVA  might have attempted a bigger screen and scope, but this 1953 version with Fred and the pirates – and genuinely beautiful art direction and great modelwork, is a lot better.

I do remember seeing Krakatoa Esat of Java at the cinema – it had a big build-up – and was a must see film at the time. I enjoyed it though.

Fair Wind to Java - Poster 2


A Republic Picture – filmed in Trucolor


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Congo Crossing 1956

This was an old fashioned jungle melodrama set in the Congo and released by Universal in Technicolor.

Universal International

Although filmed mainly in Hollywood and not on location the way this is done is first class as we can almost feel the heat and humidity of the jungle

Congo Crossing 1956 8

ABOVE: Virginia Mayo takes the film’s main role with George Nader - a handsome leading actor who does a good job in this one.

They’re both in a real sleazy town in the French Congo where Peter Lorre runs a rather loose enforcement policy. There’s also Michael Pate who seems to have been sent to track down Virginia Mayo.

Rex Ingram plays  a black doctor running a hospital. 


Peter Lorre


Among the supporting Cast of Congo Crossing as already mentioned is Peter Lorre – in a scene above –  as a cynical Police Inspector and Rex Ingram as a dedicated doctor.

Peter Lorre appears unwashed and  quite shabby, hanging about in his dirty uniform, covered by medals in the style of a South-American dictator.   Needless to say his time on screen is a joy to watch

 Congo Crossing 1956 2

I have read  that Universal got Virginia Mayo’s services for Congo Crossing in exchange for Rock Hudson going to Warner Brothers.

Congo Crossing 1956


Congo Crossing 1956 3


Congo Crossing 1956 4

Shot in the Botanical Gardens of Los Angeles  ABOVE – where some of the Bomba films were also shot – this good action adventure film has Virginia Mayo as a socialite on the run and George Nader an engineer on a surveying mission.


Congo Crossing 1956


Congo Crossing 1956 2

Steamy Jungles where people are eaten by flies – in this case Virginia Mayo on the boat fending off those creatures ABOVE.

Congo Crossing 1956 5

Action and colour in the Jungle as their boat is attacked ABOVE

Congo Crossing 1956 6


Congo Crossing 1956 7


Congo Crossing 1956 4

More action Scenes from Congo Crossing 1956

Congo Crossing 1956 9


Congo Crossing 1956 10

This is a much better film than you might imagine – very colourful and is able to put over a film that you would think had been filmed in Africa – as the Producer, Director and Set Designers seem to have got the style and mood very accurately – and we think we are there.

Peter Lorre

Peter Lorre ABOVE.

Congo Crossing 1956


Congo Crossing 1956 2

Action Scenes ABOVE

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William Simons

This is a picture of William Simons posed for when he was out in Africa filming ‘West Of Zanzibar’ with Anthony Steel in 1953 – Filming actually started in January of 1953 – the film being released in 1954.

William had spent quite a long time over there – again with Anthony Steel – when making ‘Where No Vultures Fly’ – so in those couple of years he had lived on the African Continent for months.


William Simons

However this would seem only a short time span when years later he was cast as Alf Ventress in the long running TV series Heartbeat – and that meant he virtually lived in North Yorkshire for 18 years. I do think that he was in every episode – but I am wrong here. There were 372 episodes made and William was in 355 of them.   Wonderful achievement.


A child actor from the age of eight, William has starred in many popular TV dramas in a career spanning more than 60 years.

William Simons 2

Above: William Simons with Tom Baker in Dr.Who

He had this to say during a 2013 newspaper interview :-

“I grew up in south Wales because my father was stationed there during the war and then we moved to north London.

“As a boy, I showed an aptitude for acting, singing and dancing, so my mother was asked if I’d like to star in family drama No Place For Jennifer (1950) with child actress Jannete Scott. ” I spent 15 months in the Kenyan bush playing Anthony Steel and Dinah Sheridan’s son, Tim, in Where No Vultures Fly (1951) and the follow-up West Of Zanzibar (1954)

“Aged 15, I developed acne so bad, I just wanted to run away and hide. Rather than go to university later on, I became a stage manager.

After four years, it felt like too much hard work and I decided to try my luck as an adult actor.

William Simons

“Funnily enough, I was also playing another policeman called Inspector Fox in the BBC’s Inspector Alleyn Mysteries, while making the first two series of Heartbeat. “Alf Ventress had no particular ambition in life.

He spent his time behind the desk; he was a heavy smoker – unlike me. I don’t smoke, so we used herbal cigaaretes.

“Heartbeat gave me enormous pleasure because everyone got along so well.

William as Alf Ventress

Above: In his most famous – and longest running – Role as Alf Ventress in Heartbeat

People still stop me to say how much they love watching the repeats.

“In 1994, my late wife, Janie [who died in 2002] and I bought our little cottage near the Heartbeat location. I sold it 14 years later because it was impossible to step outside without being recognised as visitor numbers escalated with Heartbeat’s popularity.

“The cast have all kept in touch and I always look forward to our reunions.

“I’ve been a patron of the Changing Faces charity for 11 years. They do brilliant work in helping people and their families who have suffered terrible disfigurements. My acne is relatively minor, but I’ve seen how people have managed to take control of their lives thanks to Changing Faces.

“Although I am available for work, I’m enjoying the easier pace of life. But if the phone rings and it’s something I’d like to do then I’m happy.”

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David Attenborough on Television spanning the Years

This man is certainly ‘flavour of the month’ at the moment with his very popular BBC TV series  - However he has been very popular for a good many years on British Television

David Attenborough 3

Some of these pictures date from 1961.

David Attenborough


In an article he wrote for one of the Film Annuals in 1961 – one of the first things he states is “I will not be a ‘personality’ – and all that lark!”

Well – maybe he is very much a personality and celebrity now.

David Attenborough 2

Above with his TWO Brothers – two of which we know well

David Attenborough

At this time he is doing ‘Zoo Quest’ on BBC Television

David Attenborough 2

Above – With Guide in Africa in the very early sixties.

David Attenborough with the Queen in her Garden


Above – we now jump forward  a few years to 2018 and see the Queen walking round her Buckingham Palace Garden with David Attenborough – and it seem making him laugh with a remark she has made.

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Battle of Rogue River PLUS Drums of Tahiti

Now what could be better than this – a visit to the cinema in 1954 to see TWO Technicolor Productions – On an action packed Western and then an adventure on the South Sea Islands.

At the time it would be every young lad’s dream to see this programme I reckon.

Double Bill from the USA


Below: Richard Denning

Battle of Rogue River

Battle of Rogue River



Battle of Rogue River 2

George Montgomery seemed here, to be at the height of his success,  making one good  Western after another, often with William Castle as Director.


Martha Hyer’s career was also taking off at this time, and she’d be nominated for an Oscar for Some Came Running (1958).

Richard Denning was in the excellent Hangman’s Knot (1952 ) – but I mainly remember him myself for a favourite of our family – ‘Beyond  The Blue Horizon’.  Come to think of it – this would fit a Boyhood dream of being on a tropical desert Island as much as ANY film would – this one fits the part perfectly.

A scene below with Richard Denning and Dorothy Lamour from the film we love – Beyond The Blue Horizon

Beyond the Blue Horizon 1942

Above:  ‘Beyond The Blue Horizon’. Richard Denning and Dorothy Lamour – This film was in Technicolor

Richard Denning  was in  Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954)

Richard Denning was married to the beautiful Universal horror star Evelyn Ankers. She also appeared opposite Lex Barker as Tarzan in Tarzan’s Hidden Jungle.

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Alan Ladd in The Black Knight 1954

Made in England this is a well remembered film – at least to me  it is – with Alan Ladd in good form.


My previous post showed Alan Ladd and his wife at the Royal Command Performance in 1948 but this was much later.  At this point in 1953 Alan Ladd had signed a film Deal with Warwick Films – and this was one of the ones he made here in England. Another was The Red Beret.

This is a great publicity shot that I have come across BELOW :-

The Black Night Alan Ladd

Alan does not look too interested in this shot above  though.  Overall his performance  was pretty good but he did seem to have a laconic style which must have been appealing to Cinemagoers at that time because he had been so popular although this was towards the end of his peak film years.

The Black Knight was the third film of three that Alan Ladd did for Warwick that were released by Columbia in America. The first one, The Red Beret was a World War II story and he played  a Canadian to explain his non-British accent. The second, Hell Below Zero, was a modern story set on a whaling ship –  he played an American.

Director Tay Garnett handles the battle sequences in The Black Knight well  and the rest of the British cast were well up to the mark.

During filming at Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire, which began in September 1953  I always remember Dirk Bogarde saying that he talked with Alan Ladd in the Canteen at times and asked Alan what he had done that day to which he replied ‘ just a couple of good looks to the camera’ – and Dirk thought to himself that this was indeed a really good tip for film acting.     As Dirk said – Alan was a very experienced film actor and he his remark went right back to basics  - Don’t overplay things on screen’

Alan Ladd never did that – and he had a very long and successful film career.



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Royal Command Performance 1948 – Alan Ladd meets the Queen Mother

The Heading I have used states the  ‘Queen Mother’  but that is more to identify her, as we knew her for so long – but in fact at this point of course in 1948,  she was The Queen although not the Monarch.

he Royal Command Performance was for the premiere of ‘Scott of the Antarctic’ on November 20, 1948.

Royal Command Performance Alan Ladd

Here she is meeting celebrities at the Empire Leicester Square in London.  She is seen greeting Alan Ladd who quite rightly bows – and to the Left of him is Vivien Leigh – than to the right of him is his wife Sue Carroll, then Jean Kent and Glynis Johns -( who would be very young at the time) – and in the picture on the far right is Princess Margaret.

Alan Ladd in London 2

Above – Another picture at the same event - Alan Ladd and his wife arrive at the Empire Leicester Square.

Ronald Reagan and Patricia Neal

Patricia Neal and Ronald Reagan at the Royal Command Film Performance of Scott of the Antarctic at the Empire Theatre in London on November 20, 1948.

I had not realised this but of course Ronald Reagan and Patricia Neal were here in England to film ‘The Hasty Heart with Richard Todd.  I had not realised that they were here at the same time as  Alan Ladd, although as far as I can see Alan Ladd was not here to make a film – but he was here quite a bit in the early fifties for The Black Knight and The Red Beret.

I did read somewhere, and have it in my mind. that Alan Ladd would not travel by air – it seems he had a fear of flying.   Not sure if that is true but I as reminded of it when this 1948 snippet came up and wondered how he had travelled.

It seems from the picture below he did sail to England on the Cunard  White Star R.M.S. Mauretania

Heading for England 1948


Heading for England 1948 2 Alan Ladd, Joan Caulfield, Patricia Neal, Michael O’Shea, Virginia Mayo, and Sue Carol Ladd sign a black and white publicity photograph of themselves on the deck of theCunard White Star R.M.S. Mauretania

Heading for England 1948 3

ALAN LADD with is Wife SUE CAROL LADD – on board the Cunard White Star R.M.S. Mauretania

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