Tooting Granada: The Cathedral to Bingo
At 50 Mitcham road in Tooting stands a large building that you could easily dismiss, not least because when I visited a few months back it was covered in scaffolding.
But it would be foolish to ignore it. After all, inside it’s a marvel, a Grade I listed interior that’s been called “without a doubt the most lavishly decorated cinema in Britain”*
*Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England – London 2: South, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth 1983
But let’s backtrack slightly, back to the beginning and way before bingo…
Sidney and Cecil Bernstein established the Granada Cinema chain in 1930.
It’s said that the name was chosen after the Spanish city where they’d been on holiday. Apocryphal or not, if they were trying to conjure an exotic sense of other worldliness in this cinema, they succeeded.
The Granada, Tooting opened in 1931 as the flagship cinema for the chain. While the Odeon cinemas were opting for an Art Deco style, Sidney went hell for leather with quasi-Medieval, opulent Neo-Gothic flourishes can be seen everywhere.
Although Cecil Massey was the architect, the hero is really Theodore Komisarjevsky, the man who designed the interiors.
In the end, it cost a whopping £145,000 (around £7million in today’s money!)
For just over a decade the Tooting Granada entertained 3,000 cinema-goers (on my guided tour I was told 8,000 people were turned away on the opening night!)
But that footfall wasn’t to last forever. As the 1940s and 1950s came the building adapted to changing fashions, becoming a popular concert venue and hosting huge names like Frank Sinatra, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. The last big name to play the Granada Tooting was The Bee Gees in 1968.
Then in 1958, as television began eclipsing cinema, Sidney Bernstein jumped ship. He launched Granada Television Company which today is part of ITV.
Saving The Space
With the cinema only getting around 600 customers a week, the Bernsteins – incredibly – wanted to cut their losses and demolish their own creation. Thankfully though, that didn’t happen. Local councillors pursued a preservation order and the building was listed in 1972.
In 1976 it reopened as a Gala Bingo Hall and today is owned by another brand; ‘Buzz’. I like to think of it as a Cathedral to Bingo, rather like the sewage equivalent in East London.
Although you can feel the cinema and theatrical vibe in the upper levels, the seats downstairs have been replaced with Bingo booths and screens emitting a neon glow.
And this is one of the reasons it’s a lot of fun to visit. Rather than turn our noses up at the current use, I think we should be thankful it’s survived!
Plus, at least people are regularly visiting and – I hope – getting a thrill from more than just crossing out all your numbers.
Visiting Tooting Granada Bingo Hall
The building runs the odd tour and is open for Open House Weekend. However you can visit any time if you’d like to play Bingo. More info on their website here.