Jess Conrad: “When I walked on my knee to enter the Brixton Ritzy cinema”Reading time: 2'

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Now a famous actor, as a child Jess Conrad used to crawl in round by the side of the cashier of the Brixton Ritzy cinema

Jess Conrad. Sixties pop idol Jess Conrad and his wife Renne pictured at their home in Denham, Buckinghamshire.
Jess Conrad. Sixties pop idol Jess Conrad and his wife Renne pictured at their home in Denham, Buckinghamshire.

My life was always in cinemas, never at school! I was lucky to grow up in Brixton with so many great cinemas around me. I recall the Astoria, a truly wonderful, wonderful theatre – which had a fishpond in the foyer, also nymphs and statuettes and was so atmospheric, it was sensational.
My favourite cinema really depended on the film playing at the time.

Along with the Regal, there was also what is now South London’s oldest operating picturehouse, the Electric Pavilion. We called it the ‘bughutch’ and the ‘fleapit’, but today it is the Brixton Ritzy. I never paid to get in, of course! In fact always used to bunk in, often helped by other people!

I felt sorry for the lady cashier as she seemed to be stuck in her paybox, which was right out on the street. She must have sweltered in Summer and froze in Wintertime. To avoid paying, I would get on my hands and knees and crawl in round by the side of the kiosk.

The Brixton Ritzy: Coldharbour Lane, London SW2
The Brixton Ritzy: Coldharbour Lane, London SW2

Into the Brixton Ritzy

It was an unusual cinema in that it played off-circuit releases. Aalso continental and subtitled films, and some of the more risqué fare, such as The Outlaw. On Sundays, there was always a double-bill and I mostly remember watching Laurel & Hardy, The Marx Brothers and early King Kong films. The Pavilion was certainly run-down, its worn-out seats often had their springs pushing through. And the side-door was always open, meaning easy access in.

[Jess Conrad pictures courtesy of Entertainment People]
[Jess Conrad pictures courtesy of Entertainment People]
I was recently in a film called Telstar and, last year, had opportunity to revisit the Ritzy with Ralph Little and Nick Moran, for a Q&A session – and how it had all changed. Despite the initial culture shock, I was thrilled to be back. Brixton is now a fashionable place to live, a far cry from the black-and-white world I inhabited back then. Today’s Ritzy is all so very swish, all paved and modernised. You could easily see people sitting at their laptops having coffee and smoking outside.

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