By Bernard Taylor
The Danilo opened its doors to the public on Bank Holiday Monday, August 7th 1939. The entertainment showing that day was ‘Charlie Chan in Honolulu’ starring Sidney Toler. The supporting programme, which of course was always a feature of cinemas in those days, was Jane Withers in ‘Always in Trouble’. In the week ahead James Mason appeared in ‘I met a Murderer’. Ticket prices at the time were 6d; 1/- and 1/6 and with the opening of a new attraction for the area the Saturday afternoon Matinee was introduced. A weekly serial began on August 12th with Episode One of ‘Blake of Scotland Yard’.
Sidney Toler and James Mason
Getting ready for the opening night of The Danilo
The cinema had been built on the site of a derelict property called Apsley House. The house and land was once the home of Edwin Danks, a boilermaker whose firm was in Oldbury. Mr Danks was a well-known Quinton benefactor and a founder member of the local Methodist Church.
Apsley House – the home of Edwin Danks
The demise of the cinema was determined by the outbreak of the Second World War. For safety reasons all cinemas were closed by Government Order. In the early days of war an anti-aircraft gunnery was built at the far edge of the car park. Part of the base remained there until demolished in 1971.
The cinema had other uses during the war. It acted as a base for Quinton’s Home Guard and at one time the residents of Quinton Hall were evacuated to the building when a land mine was dropped on the Hall’s coke heap. The residents of the home, who were all male, spent several days and nights in the stalls. However, the cinema still kept going showing newsreels and feature films to patrons who occupied the circle.
The Quinton Danilo was, and still is, a very popular cinema and attraction for the residents both local and neighbouring. In July 1939 the following headlines appeared in an issue of ‘The Weekly News’; “Only eight years prior, Quinton had been a quiet country village, but had now become a thriving township, with an estimated forty to fifty thousand people living within two miles of the new Danilo”.
Many cinemas nearby closed to falling numbers but the Quinton Essoldo, as it was then called, moved with the times. Live shows were staged and on a Thursday evening in October 1959 there were two house of ‘The Marty Wilde Show’ which also included Vince Eager, Terry Dene, The Dallas Boys and an unknown singer by the name of Billy Fury. Over the coming months artists such as Johnny Duncan and the Blue Grass Boys, Terry Lightfoot’s Jazzmen, Cy Laurie Band and Dill Jones. After that came the hits of the 1960s with Craig Douglas, The Mudlarks, The Avons and many more appeared the crowds were dancing in the aisles and the bands were playing to full houses.
Catering facilities were offered at and around the cinema. On the opposite side of the road to the cinema, situated where the M5 Motorway Bridge presently, stands was “The Milk Bar” run by a well-known Quinton resident by the name of Arnold Parkes. The cinema also opened a café to the left called “The Refectory”. Mrs Hackett, who sold the business to two Salvation Army men, Ron Pritchard and George Skett, originally owned the café. The café would open at 7am and serve hot sandwiches and drinks then at lunchtime a hot meal was served such as roast beef, lamb, steak and kidney pie etc. In the afternoon tea and scones and the café would remain open till 10pm at night. Businessmen would travel from the offices around for lunch served at small round table with chairs around. The lease expired in the early 1960s and was not renewed, presumable because of the threat of the motorway. However, the café was re-let to someone else and became “The Omega Café”. Later, in 1972, when the cinema changed ownership and the previous tenant had left, the café was opened through into the foyer and used as part of the cinema. The café closed in 1979.
The greatest threat to the cinema was soon to arrive in the form of the M5 Motorway and plans had been made to demolish the building as it was situated right in the middle of the proposed route. Essoldo, the owners who had bought the chain in 1954, fought vehemently for the plans to be changed and employed the services of a leading QC to fight its case in the courts. Justice was done and the road was re-routed.
In April 1966 the plight of the cinema came under threat again when the Borough boundary changes occurred, placing it in Halesowen and not Oldbury. The significance being that the cinema opened on Sundays but other cinemas in Halesowen had never wished to open on Sundays and had never applied for the licence. The council was willing to apply but needed to hold a “Public Town Meeting” before going ahead. The meeting was held at the Borough Hall and an agreement reached that application was to be made, unless a petition was lodged within seven days “of not less than 100 signatures”. The Lord’s Day Observance Society collected the required signatures against Sunday opening resulting in the need for a full-scale local election. In the meantime, a loophole was found in the law, Parliament was asked to give permission. Both Houses passed the legislation, which meant that the Essoldo was the only cinema in the country to open on a Sunday.
The Essoldo struggled through the bad times but still managed to just keep its head above water. An important date for the cinema was 25th November 1961; this was the day that The Rank Organisation decided to close The Warley Odeon and decided that it was top class site for a Top Rank Bowling Alley. The decision by Rank to close a cinema, which boasted reasonable audiences, was a stroke of fortune to the Essoldo. The attendances increased and it allowed them to show ‘Rank release’ films as well as ‘ABC release’ – the decision by Rank proved to be the wrong one. Bowling was not that well attended and it led to the closure of the Bowl on 29th April 1970 and the site was sold for development.
To this day, people call the landmark the Warley Odeon and even the Highways Authority, when renaming certain road junctions, suggested calling it “Odeon Crossroads” but on reflection and consultation with the history society settled on “Beech Lanes Cross”.
In 1972 the cinema became the Quinton Classic and work began to change the cinema into three auditoriums. On July 26th 1973 the grand opening took place with screen 1 showing ‘Cabaret’; screen 2 ‘The Ten Commandments’ and screen 3 ‘The Sound of Music’. In 1978 a fourth auditorium was added with the opening day showing of ‘Watership Down’ on Boxing Day. In May 1986, after much refurbishment and structural changes, the cinema changed its name yet again to “Cannon Cinemas”, then later the ABC and finally as the Quinton Odeon.
No finer accolade could be placed on the cinema than the closing comments made by the Black Country author and historian, Ned Williams, in his book ‘Cinemas of the Black Country’ published in 1982. He stated that he had enjoyed visiting the Quinton cinema on many occasions and expressed the hope that it would long continue to entertain cinemagoers from the Black Country and beyond, and referred to the cinema as being a “shrine to the Danilo Circuit”.
Recent press articles have highlighted the possible demise of the cinema. Odeon was recently taken over by UCI cinema chain and have been told by the Office of Fair Trading that the Odeon is too close to other multiplex cinemas and could face being challenged under monopoly and merger regulations. In a nutshell the OFT have told the UCI Chain to sell off the Odeon Quinton. Andrew Dowler, a representative of Terra Firma, a parent company of the UCI Group has given the following statement to reporters from the Evening Mail and Halesowen News, “It is true that we are being forced to sell various cinemas in Quinton and Sutton Coldfield but they will be sold to another cinema operator and will continue to be run as cinemas.”
Your history society is collecting signatures on a petition, similar to the one undertook in 1966, to hand to Terra Firma, the UCI Group and the Office of Fair Trade. The petition reads as follows – “We the undersigned would like to request that the cinema now called The Odeon Quinton remain as a cinema for the entertainment of the residents of Quinton and neighbouring areas. It is a resource for the community which avoids the need to travel to large multi-screen cinemas, especially for the elderly, infirm and our young who are either unable or not old enough to drive” Please sign the petition – hopefully we will succeed!
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