Nostalgia needs a bit of help

By Keith Newbery

Published on Friday, January 11, 2013 - 11:15


Nostalgia needs a bit of help

How the CP recorded the loss of the Theatre Royal.

THIS ISLAND LIFE I MUST have spent hundreds (if not thousands) of hours in Ryde’s three cinemas during the Fifties and Sixties, each with its own special charm and eccentricities.

The Scala was the archetypal flea-pit and many a Sunday evening was wasted in there watching films deemed so scary they warranted an X certificate.

These days, you can see most of these movies on afternoon television and they usually involve men in diving helmets and rubber suits emerging from a studio swamp to threaten the world.

The original Commodore, with its vast foyer containing a galleon disguised as a ticket booth and a sweeping staircase, was certainly the grandest of the lot.

But I always had a soft spot for the old Theatre Royal, with its air of cosiness and faded grandeur.

Memory is a peculiar thing and I have no idea why this particular moment should have remained in my mind after all these years but it has.

I recall being in there one Saturday afternoon to watch Elizabeth Taylor and Peter Finch in Elephant Walk and, before the main feature, the music of Mantovani came soaring out of the ornate speakers, which were fixed at regular intervals between the junction of wall and ceiling.

As we sipped our Kia-oras in the half-light, while the smoke from a hundred cigarettes drifted upwards and the air was filled with the smell of old dust and new polish, I remember thinking, 'I really like this place’.

When this majestic building (classic Victorian) was destroyed by fire in the early 60s and replaced by that monstrosity of a bank (classic Lego), a little bit of the heart went out of the town.

But I didn’t realise just how much until, for the first time in 50 years, I saw a photograph of the Theatre Royal in its pomp at Ryde Heritage Centre.

Some of you may not know of this remarkable place, because it is a treasure and, like all real treasure, it is buried.

In this instance it can be found in the atmospheric cellar space beneath the Royal Victoria Arcade in Union Street — but be warned.

Once you venture down there and pay the modest admission price, bring a flask and a packet of paste sandwiches, because you will want to remain there for hours.

Many old Rydeians of my generation will have last visited this basement back in the early Sixties, when it was called the Diamond Club and provided a slightly racy Friday night environment for us 15 year olds, as we swigged Coca-Cola and scoffed crisps.

But the scruffy old Diamond Club is unrecognisable these days, thanks to the efforts of a determined bunch of enthusiasts who would receive gold medals should David Cameron’s 'big society’ ever get round to officially recognising outstanding achievements by volunteers.

Driven on by the redoubtable Diana Wood, Historic Ryde Society was formed in October, 2009, and it is extraordinary that a little more than two years later, by dint of grants, money from the Heritage Lottery Fund and sheer hard work, they have produced a centre which should help ensure the history of a proud old town is secured forever.

There are memories wherever you look. For example, were you a Puckpool Park swinger?

If you were, you will know it was nothing to do with any dubious shenanigans in the car park when the sun went down.

You will, instead, have been one of the thousands of Ryde youngsters who, over the years, squatted in those distinctive little chairs which, with the man-powered roundabout, were a much-loved part of the Puckpool play furniture.

One of the swings is on display at the centre, with so much other memorabilia, photographs and computer-controlled displays that I urge you to visit the centre alone.

If not, you will find your quiet reverie and gentle meander down Memory Lane constantly interrupted by a friend or family member summoning you from a nook or cranny at the other end of the building with that fateful cry: 'Hey! Do you remember this?’

Of course you will, because the entire display is a nostalgic masterpiece, artfully arranged to stir the deepest pools of reminiscence and allow visitors to indulge in a private orgy of retrospection.

The centre may have been created quickly but it was certainly not easy and there is still much to do.

Its continued existence relies on a handful of volunteers — and they would be delighted to hear from anyone willing to offer practical building help with the museum’s continual programme of improvements.

Perhaps you could help with the day-to-day running of the place. Training will be given if you can.

For further information, call the centre on 717435 between 11am and 4pm every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday, or log on to

The past is precious, and it needs to be looked after carefully.

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