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Last chance to see....? PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 07 August 2008
Image If you don't play bingo, chances are you may never have stepped inside the Portswood landmark that is The Broadway - better known as Mecca Bingo. And with bingo halls closing across the country, Portswood cannot rely on this distinctive building being around forever. Take a step inside with our photo story and backstage report - while you have the chance....

It is easy to walk past ‘The Mecca’ with your head down and not take in its full magnificence, but stand across the road and look up and you will get a better view of the largest building in Portswood which was once a theatre, then a 1500-seater cinema and is now The Mecca Bingo. A clue to its past is in the name ‘The Broadway’ in large letters at the top of the façade.


Many original features remain in the building both from the theatre, and the cinema eras. Entering the main auditorium, you are struck by the sheer size of the interior that leads down to where the stage and cinema screen would have been.


The proscenium arch still remains. Looking back you can see the balcony with all its cast-iron seats still in place, and behind them the VIP that are now boarded up. On the back wall, behind the balcony seats, you can still see where the cinema projectors operated.

As you explore the building further, decorations and mouldings constantly remind you of its history. On one of the staircase landings leading up to the balcony, you can see an open fireplace placed there to keep the passing patrons warm!

ImageUnder the ground floor of the main auditorium is a large basement that is used for storage. In that area, there are corridors containing what would have been the dressing rooms for the theatre. Also in that area is a room that contains a huge diesel generator that provided emergency power in case of power cuts during the screening of films. In another room is the original safe for the cinema takings – too heavy to move!

Portswood ghosts

Of course, any building as old as this has its stories. The legendary doorman ‘Mack’ still makes the odd haunting appearance and the occasional sound of a woman screaming is said to be heard from the basement. Legend has it that she was trapped in a fire in the building.

In a TV programme about his life, film director Ken Russell, was taken back to The Broadway, the cinema his visited as a boy. He was amazed to see the balcony still in place and enjoyed sitting in the seats he could never afford all those years ago!

ImageIn 1964, ‘The Broadway’ was bought by the Mecca organisation, and became a bingo hall. Over many years it has flourished and has been well maintained. Its height and commanding position has made it an ideal vantage point for mobile phone communications and it sprouts an Orange masts on its roof.

Challenging times

The bingo industry has been facing serious challenges in recent times due to the smoking ban, internet gaming and the credit crunch, and the Portswood building was on Mecca’s Closure list last year. It has only won a reprieve since a new management team was brought just a few weeks ago.

New games, bigger prize money and a focus on fun have brought back the players, although in nowhere near the number of the old days.  

ImageBingo halls are closing across the whole country: Woolston’s New Century bingo hall – also housed in a 30s cinema – was recently sold and is to be demolished and replaced with shops and flats. Bingo is still popular in many places around the country but Portswood’s large student demographic does not make it a promising place for the game to flourish locally in the longer term.

For now, The Mecca still generates a good trade, and as long as this continues, we will hold on to one of Portswood’s few distinctive buildings.

Portswood.info is grateful to Richard Matthews (General Manager) and Angela Humphries (management team) for kindly showing us around the building and supplying us with much of the information in this feature.

detail from inside & outside the building

What are your memories of The Broadway? Are you a bingo player today or in the past? Maybe you have memories of the ABC Minors Saturday morning cinema club? Did you dance to the bands that sometimes played at the weekend? We would love to hear your stories.

Comments (5)Add Comment
ABC Minors!!
written by TENPEN, August 14, 2008
I've been viewing this Site for ages but only just registered. It's a brilliant Site which I found by chance. It's brought back so many memories, not least this story and the one about Strides.

I lived in Tennyson Road through the 1950's. The Broadway was a cinema and ABC Minors on a Saturday morning was the highlight of the week - especially before having TV!!

If it was your Birthday you got in free! So guess what?? We had an awful lot of Birthdays using various means to fool the staff!!

There was a side door in the auditorium which led into an alley towards the back of the building which was diagonally opposite my home in Tennyson Road (9smilies/cool.gif. Quite often on a hot day when the door was open to let in some air I - and others - would sneak in when the usherette was distracted.

I can still sing that daft 'ABC Minors' song after what is more than fifty years!!

Could we set up a history project about The Mecca/Broadway?
written by admin, August 17, 2008
Research suggests it could be possible to get some lottery money to fund a history project about The Mecca/Broadway while it is still standing. Collecting memories/photographs of people who went there over the years in its cinema & bingo days. Maybe we could hold some public events with Mecca's co operation - movies? gigs? an exhibition? It's early days, but if you could be interested in getting involved, please get in touch via the site.
Nice piece
written by mikeh, August 31, 2008
Really enjoyed this 'behind the scenes' look at the Mecca building - which I've never been inside. Many thanks for your efforts
written by Jeremy Moulton, October 08, 2008
It's a great building. I visited it a few weeks ago to talk to staff about concerns the bingo industry faces nationally as a result of double taxation. An anomaly in the tax system sees them paying both gaming duty and VAT. This coupled with the smoking ban is seeing many bingo halls around the country close.

Jeremy Moulton.
Conservative Candidate for Southampton Test

Memories of 1960
written by martindoddles, January 23, 2009
The Broadway was my Saturday morning escape. Sporting my glow-in-the-dark ABC Minors badge I would sit in the 6d seat (in the stalls) with my Ice-Pop, or Black-Jacks (4 a Penny) or my Gobstopper [What was the name of the Sweet Shop? close by?] and watch the shorts before the main feature. Anyone remeber "Jungle Boy" andn how you had to wait a whole week to relive the tension of the cliff-hanger at the end of the previous week's offering. I also recall feeling cheated in another serial worrying all week about the fate of two middle-class children who had been kidnapped and were being held in the back of a runaway van hurtling towards the walls of a stately home certain to be mutilated on a cold Saturday morning, escaping by leaning through a gap and pulling on the handbrake (and they were at least fifty yards back up the driveway 7 days later).
I recall the visit of Coco the Clown (from the Italian clown family)playing a trumpet with his hair flipping upwards when he played the high notes. i also was the beneficiary of 16 bottles of Sparkling Corona to be delivered to my door in St. Denys Road over the next four weeks. It was as the result of a Road Safety Colouring Competition, and my sister (3-4 years my senior) had helped colour the picture in. I had my picture in the 'Echo' with the poster of 'The Dark at the Top of the Stairs' in the background.
Altopgether now--Follow the bouncing Ball-- We are the boys and gilrs all known as, 'Minors of the A - B- C. And every Saturday all join up. To sing the songs we love and shout aloud with glee.'

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