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Ray Cobbett interview: Early Wimbledon

Do you remember Wimbledon Palais, not far from there?

Yes I do. There were two big entertainment venues then – three if you include Wimbledon Town Hall. Wimbledon Palais was where the resident orchestra or band was Ken Mackintosh and they were there for some time. Ted Heath used to play at the Town Hall which was a magnificent place. It was such an act of vandalism to have knocked it down and replaced with Tesco’s. So yes, I do remember the Wimbledon Palais. You had to get yourself really geared up to go there because it was the place to meet the girls and also the place where you could demonstrate that you could really dance. At that time it was it was mostly jiving but there was the ballroom stuff as well. I went on to a dance studio in The Broadway to learn how to dance not wanting to look a complete lemon in front of the girls at Wimbledon Palais. I gather it has all been knocked down and is now a row of shops.

Do you remember Merton Film Studios?

Yes. Later in my life when I lived around here – in Thornton Hill – I used to go running every morning on Wimbledon Common. I ran into Ollie Reed who lived locally. He was a big guy. I had no idea that he was to become famous but he often jogged around the Rushmere pond, not to mention patronising the local pubs. He was quite a fit and powerfully built fellow. I remember being invited by one of his friends to come down to the Merton Studios where they did a whole string of B pictures. Some quite famous actors went through there. Talking about films, another big event at the time – the 50s – were the film garden parties in Morden Hall Park. Here were real stars coming out and doing stunts around the coconut shies and being “kissed for a quid” or something – all for charity. I remember my sister being a terrific fan. They only had two or three of them. Then you had Wimbledon’s link with all the film stars anyway. 

Whenever I talk about Wimbledon now people say ask whether I went to tennis because most people equate Wimbledon with it naturally. I lived in Wimbledon for 27 years and never went once.