The stories of the Electra cinema in Queen Street, Oxford, brought back memories of other well-known city establishments.

Reader Bob Hounslow recalled how a youngster would pay to go into the cinema, then let his friends through the back door to see the film free of charge (Memory Lane, February 8).

Now fellow reader David Brown has acquired an Electra programme from 1931, writing: “It is eye-watering to see how the cinema has changed in 90 years.”

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The programme includes an advertisement for Grimbly Hughes in Cornmarket Street, which supplied families with everything for the larder and much more besides.

It promised “grocery, provisions, fruit and flowers, cakes and confectionery, chocolates and sweets, table stationery, cooked meats, continental delicacies and toilet requisites”.

It added: “If you are not a regular customer of Grimbly Hughes, why not give them a month’s trial?

“In this way, you can make your own comparison of quality, value and service.”

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There were also advertisements for Acotts, the music shop in High Street, which closed in 2011 after trading for two centuries, and Drings Coaches, of Windmill Road, Headington, which traded as Oxford Blue Coaches at the time.

Many readers will also remember supporting another advertiser, Field & Jacob, which offered “distinctive and exclusive floral designs” in the Covered Market.

The featured film that week was Trader Horn, “a thrilling adventure in the darkest parts of Africa”.

It included “fights with animals, catching pythons with ropes and flirting with death to satisfy sensationalism”.

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Seats cost 8d, 1s 2d, 1s 10, 2s 4d and 3s (equivalent to 4p, 6p, 9p, 12p and 15p) and the three higher-priced seats could be reserved.

The cinema was known at that time as the Electra Palace, and according to the owners, was “now comfortably established as THE cinema in Oxford, the home of the latest in everything”.

It also boasted to customers: “You must see our wonderful three-colour concealed lighting, gorgeous effects.”

As we recalled, the Electra opened on March 25, 1911 with seats for 300 in an oddly L-shaped auditorium.

The seating capacity was later increased to 1,200.

It closed on August 28, 1958, with Errol Flynn in Too Much, Too Soon, and was replaced by a Co-op store.

The building was demolished in 1978 and replaced by the present Marks & Spencer store.

Oxford was well blessed with cinemas, with the Ritz in George Street, the Super in Magdalen Street, the Regal in Cowley Road and the Scala in Walton Street.

Filmgoers also had the choice of the Ultimate Picture Palace in Jeune Street, off the Cowley Road, and the Not the Moulin Rouge at Headington, which was run by American-born journalist Bill Heine, who died in 2019.

The cinema got lots of attention due to the model of a pair of dancer’s legs which Mr Heine placed above the entrance.

When the city council dropped its opposition to the dancer’s legs Mr Heine climbed to the roof to celebrate.

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About the author 

Andy is the Trade and Tourism reporter for the Oxford Mail and you can sign up to his newsletters for free here. 

He joined the team more than 20 years ago and he covers community news across Oxfordshire.

His Trade and Tourism newsletter is released every Saturday morning. 

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