Retired hairdresser John Gale has kept up his weekly cinema routine since the age of five, clocking up at least 7,500 films at his beloved Swiss Cottage Odeon. And yet he never tires of the movies’ escapist magic…
‘I was born at the start of WWII, and I’ve been going to the Swiss Cottage Odeon at least once a week since I was five. I lived near it then and I still do now. It’s my second home. I ring up and they’ll say, “Is that John?” I sit in the same seat: the back row, in the middle.
When I started going to the Odeon you still got queues outside. I used to skive off school and go to the cinema – you could just sit and spend the whole day there because you didn’t book a seat. There was a pay box in the foyer and a lounge upstairs where people used to wait for the film. It was really beautiful.
Then they cut it in half to get more screens in and started ruining it. It’s changed so many times, but now they’ve refitted it as an Odeon Luxe and finally got it right. They’ve done an amazing job with the new screens and the reclining seats: creamy beige, soft leather, incredibly comfortable, like business class on a plane!
I grew up with film in the ’40s and ’50s. I like the sort of films that they couldn’t make any more even if they tried, because they haven’t got the same stars: films like “Peyton Place”, “Casablanca” and “Giant”. Most of all I love the old musicals. My favourite is “With a Song in My Heart”, from 1952, with Susan Hayward.
These days I love the blockbusters. James Bond is my sort of film, and Daniel Craig to me is the only James Bond. The Indiana Jones films were great, though I can’t believe Harrison Ford is doing another one – he’s my age! Christ, I can’t imagine him jumping off trains and swinging on ropes now.
But all these superhero films? I can’t watch them. I’m also not a horror person and I can’t bear sci-fi. I walked out of the first “Star Wars” in 1977 after three-quarters of an hour, and I’ve never seen another one. And even though I love old musicals, I absolutely hated “La La Land”. The only bit that I enjoyed was the dance number: that was beautiful. I was brought to tears, actually. I do cry at the cinema. You go to a film, and you get lost in it.
I don’t usually buy snacks: I can sit for two hours without food. I think I love the Odeon so much because people go there to see the films. They don’t go to jabber-jabber or sit on their mobiles. I know some people watch films on computers and iPads at home, but I couldn’t. For me, you have to see it in the cinema with great sound on huge screens – like “Dunkirk”, which was sensational on Imax. You were there on the ships with them.
Cinema was what I wanted to do, profession-wise. Today you can do exactly what you want, but back then, they’d have thought I’d gone stark raving bonkers if I’d said I wanted to work in films. So I became a hairdresser and I bloody hated every minute. I’ve been retired 12 years, and it’s been the best part of my life.
I go to the cinema in the afternoon. Mainly I go on my own, because I enjoy it better. I always watch the trailers – I love knowing what I’m going to see next. I’ve seen more than 7,500 films at the Odeon and I know I’ll still be going down there when I’m God knows how old.’
Interview by Emily Mackay.
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