Empire sold to ABC chain

Watford’s sole surviving independent cinema, the Empire in Merton Road, is being sold to the giant EMI entertainment group. EMI, who run the ABC chain of cinemas in this country, take over the 534-seat Empire – the town’s oldest picture house – on December 19. The cinema has changed hands several times since opening as the Empire Picture Hall in the mid-1910s. It was completely modernised in 1952 and again seven years ago. The Empire has earned a reputation as a second run cinema showing ‘repeats’ of films which had already gained a general release. In recent years, however, the cinema has given the first local screening of blockbusters like Jaws, The Sting and Murder on the Orient Express.

[December 3, 1976]

A glimmer of hope

A dramatic drop in the rate at which crime is increasing in the county was reported by the Chief Constable at a crime prevention conference on Saturday. Opening the fourth county conference of crime prevention panels, Mr Ray Buxton said that so far this year crime was only up three per cent over last year, compared to a 22 per cent increase in 1975. Car thefts, in particular, were down by seven per cent so far this year compared to a 17 per cent increase last year. He thought the steering lock devices on new cars must be one reason for the drop, but he was sure the efforts of the crime prevention panels had paid off too.

[December 3, 1976]

Bomb scare at the Palace

The opening night of the Gilbert and Sullivan musical at Watford Palace Theatre on Monday was ruined through a “bomb” scare. Hundreds of disappointed patrons were evacuated minutes before the finish as three police vehicles attended the scene in Clarendon Road. They were joined outside the theatre by the entire cast of The Sorcerer, which is being performed by Abbots Langley Gilbert and Sullivan Society this week. But the premature finale of the opera need not have happened. For the ticking object which had been spotted at the back of the circle after the second interval turned out to be a thermos flask.

[December 10, 1976]

Pupils’ eyes at risk

The school medical services are to be asked to comment on suggestions that the large quantities of glass used in the building of Hertfordshire schools could have a detrimental effect on children’s sight. County Councillor Mrs Enid Walduck raised the matter when she asked if it was correct that children’s eyesight was suffering as a result of the use of so much glass. She had heard this from a doctor and believed it had come from a report on school health. Sub-Committee Chairman County Councillor Dr P. Watney Rose suggested they should ask the school medical service to comment.

[December 17, 1976]

Chaos in the snow

It looks as though we won’t have a white Christmas. But Friday was white enough to last most people all winter as chaos built up on road and rail. All the main routes into Watford were jammed, and as drivers crawled along in queues miles long they had to manoeuvre around abandoned vehicles. Many motorists did not get to work until mid-morning.

[December 24, 1976]

Search for a mosque

Sympathetic councillors are to help Watford’s Muslims in their vain search for a mosque. Members of Watford Borough’s Development Control Sub-Committee have ordered council officers to negotiate with Muslim leaders to assist them in their quest for a building where they can worship. The councillors offered a helping hand after refusing the sect’s request to use a detached house in Queen’s Road, Watford, as a mosque. It was a further blow to the Muslims, who have conducted a decade-long search for premises in Watford.

[December 24, 1976]

Santa flooded out of grotto

Thousands of gallons of water from a fractured pipe flooded the basements in a block of three Watford shops on Christmas Eve. First members of staff to arrive at the London Co-Operative Society’s Gade House on the Parade in the morning found the whole of the basement under three inches of water. They had no option but to close down the floor which accommodates the store’s radio and electrical, hardware, soft furnishings, linens and toy departments. It also meant an early watery end to the reign of the store Santa Claus, who was flooded out of his Story-time Glade in which he had been visited by thousands of local children in the pre-Christmas shopping period.

[December 31, 1976]

What was happening in the world in December 1976?

• The Sex Pistols achieve public notoriety as they use profanity live on Bill Grundy’s early evening TV show (December 1)

• Fidel Castro becomes President of Cuba (December 2)

• Bob Marley and his manager Don Taylor are shot in an assassination attempt in Kingston, Jamaica (December 3)

• The first longest non-stop passenger flight takes place – Sydney to San Francisco in 13 hours and 14 minutes (December 13)

• Oil tanker Argo Merchant runs aground on the Nantucket Shoals, spilling 7.6million gallons of fuel oil (December 15)

• A Star is Born, starring Barbra Streisand, premieres (December 18)