If you stand in the middle of the “Pagoda island” and look towards Smallbrook Queensway, what can you see?

To your left, and built on an impossibly small corner of land at Holloway Circus, the glittering £72m Beetham Tower is the city’s tallest building.

In the distance, the £500 million Bullring shopping centre – 10 years old this month.

And to the right? The disjointed curves of the early 1960s’ Scala House where there’s no modern aquamarine colours to lighten the mood beyond the drab, faded-white concrete and tatty windows.

It’s hard to believe that this used to be home to Birmingham’s plushest cinema, the Odeon Queensway, which closed its doors for the last time 25 years ago in September 1988.

Mike Ellis can hardly believe it either – and he was the youngest cinema manager in the country when he started working there in 1977.

Soon he was welcoming guests from director John Boorman to Mandy Rice-Davies, and from Crossroads’ star Gabrielle Drake to wrestler turned actor Pat Roach.

Always keen to put the show into showbusiness, Mike became the Odeon’s runner-up in the national Manager of the Year awards, and Showman of the Year for the Midlands.

The exterior of the Odeon Queensway in 1984.
The exterior of the Odeon Queensway in 1984.
 

Today, only five brackets on the wall offer the slightest evidence that there used to be a vertical Odeon sign hanging there.

At ground level, where the small foyer is long gone, the frontages now range from fast food outlets to a barbers, “To Let” opportunities and boarded up windows.

And the cinema? Well, there’s an old curiosity shop.

The main screen 40ft underground below the pavement-level foyer, with two smaller screens upstairs on the first floor.

Like so much of Birmingham’s post-war history, the Odeon Queensway’s fortunes rose and fell according to planning ideas that you could treat people like, er, moles.

It originally opened as the single-screen Birmingham Scala Superama Cinema on November 23, 1964 when Compton Films was distributing sexual foreign films to its venues in London.

The Rank Organisation took it over from February 22, 1970 and it was renamed the Odeon Ringway until June 1972 when it became the Odeon Queensway.

Refurbished in 1983 it was suddenly closed down in 1988.

Mike begins his journey down Memory Lane in the subway below Holloway Circus.

It was here that the old exit doors remain in a dark green recess which today reeks of urine.

A square on the wall is where access could be gained to the projection room.

Mike shows me an imaginary line in the subway tunnel.

Mike Ellis in the main Screen 1 auditorium of the Odeon Queensway.
Mike Ellis in the main Screen 1 auditorium of the Odeon Queensway.
 

“Once the queue got to here, I’d have to say: ‘Sorry, we’re full’.”

Oh well, at least they were undercover in the tunnel!

If Mike’s projection bulb burned bright, it was also unexpectedly short-lived, too.

In 1988, Odeon had decided to convert its dual-purpose New Street theatre thanks to the NEC’s success with bigger rock concerts.

But it also wanted to do the job on the cheap.

In order to complete the work for less than £900,000, seats and projectors from Queensway were moved over.

Mike’s pride and joy was shut down, even though he believes Odeon still had another 25 years to pay on the lease on a site which has remained empty ever since.

When he was interviewed for the job on New Street, Odeon chose Keith Lane from Leicester’s cinema instead.

“The managing director, Jim Whittell, had a “hurdle test”,” says Mike.

“They wanted New Street to pay for itself within two-and-a-half years.

“They couldn’t risk Odeon Queensway taking some of the money so it had to close.

“My view was that it could have stayed open, we would have just programmed it differently.

“In Keith, I think they chose somebody who was more likely to do as he was told.

“Jim had always said ‘Nobody knows his business more than the cinema manager’.

“So when the company wanted to make screening times on Sunday the same as during the rest of the week, and for those times to be the same across the country, I’d said: ‘No’.

“We used to take more money on a Sunday than Saturday... and our customers wanted to be able to leave the cinema on Sundays in time to either get to the pub before it closed or to be at home for 11pm to be ready for work the next day.

Mike Ellis with BBC Midlands Today newsreader Kay Alexander.
Mike Ellis with BBC Midlands Today newsreader Kay Alexander.

“So I said: ‘I know my cinema best’.”

Mike programmed the final day on September 18 when he screened Return of the Jedi, Ghostbusters and Aliens back to back.

That same year, he had been awarded the City of Birmingham Award 1988 at the fourth Birmingham Film and Television Festival.

Signed by Coun Albert Bore, now leader of Birmingham City Council, it was “for recognition of a significant and original contribution to the cultural life of the city”.

After joining Odeon in 1976 and undergoing six week’s training in Bradford, Mike worked as a trainee assistant manager in Leeds and Bradford before landing the plum job at Queensway in September, 1977.

The site had originally opened 50 years ago as a Scala Superama, but by now was a fully-fledged Odeon – a company founded in Birmingham and built up nationwide during the recession-hit 1930s by city-born Oscar Deutsch.

“I was 24 and at the point the youngest cinema manager in Odeon’s history,” he says proudly.

Yet when he arrived, the Odeon Queensway was already struggling.

“It was showing movies like Black Emmanuelle Goes to Tokyo,” he says, making up a ridiculous title to sum up the situation.

“My brief was to turn it back into a legitimate 70mm cinema and to show high-class products in a high-class way.

“I started with a double bill of Gene Wilder’s The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother (1975) and Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein (1974), which also starred Gene Wilder, and that package went round the country after I had shown it.

“We showed Woody Allen’s Annie Hall (1977) that first Christmas and it ran for six weeks, and for four weeks nobody else could play it.

“Before it could go to cinemas in the suburbs we were taking a lot of money.

“In 1979, we screened Allen’s Manhattan and again wanted to offer an alternative to kids’ movies that other cinemas were showing.

“Then there were ‘grey area’ movies people weren’t sure of. One of those was Chariots of Fire, which we played in July 1981 before it won the Oscar the following year.

Crossroads stars Gabrielle Drake and Tony Adams at the Odeon Queensway.
Crossroads stars Gabrielle Drake and Tony Adams at the Odeon Queensway.

“Gandhi ran for 13 weeks in 1983.”

To see films like Richard Attenborough’s Oscar-winning epic here in glorious 70mm, as I did, was to experience a quality of presentation that even Cineworld’s £1 million IMAX screen cannot match today.

Screened at twice the resolution of standard 35mm and with the sheer warmth of celluloid, the speakers behind the screen were augmented by others in the ceiling.

What even the incredibly immersive IMAX system lacks, though, is the sense of occasion that only the traditional opening sweep of a pair of curtains can provide.

“Our philosophy was that you would never see a blank screen,” says Mike.

“To me, that’s the equivalent of having dead air on the radio.

“The curtains would turn from yellow to blue, and the certificate would appear on them as they were opening.

“The screen would become larger as the film began.”

The Odeon acquired two neighbouring smaller screens from rival operator Cinecenta.

Suddenly, the site’s total seating capacity was up from 555 in the main screen to include 115 and 116 in the other two.

Odeon’s idea was to knock through – until it realised pillars were in the way that were holding up the rest of the building.

In order to let customers walk in from the foyer to the screens upstairs, its compromise was a covered walkway built out on to the pavement.

It was an odd arrangement, but the smaller screens were great for showing second-run films and horror movies at night.

But the main screen remained Mike’s pride and joy.

Mike Ellis with wrestler turned actor Pat Roach.
Mike Ellis with wrestler turned actor Pat Roach.

“It was beautifully designed in terms of sound and 70mm projection and we were a cinema business where it was all about the films.

“Concessions sales were important, but never more than the films.

“In 1978, When Star Wars was showing at the Gaumont, we screened Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which had been shot in 70mm, exclusively for two weeks.

“We had 12,525 admissions in the first week.

“Our capacity then was 604 and we had 21 performances, so the most we could have had in was 12,684.

“In those days, you could stand 40 people at the back and we did 11,800 admissions the following week.

“You’d have the curtains opening, the building up of the music and then... BANG!

“You were in the middle of this amazing sandstorm and people would jump up out of their seats.

“The only reason we closed was that we couldn’t get any more people in.

After leaving Odeon, Mike started work at Aston University as a commercial and finance manager with a £1m budget.

After fulfilling his three-year contract, he went into business with his wife Pauline training teachers how to mount visual displays in classrooms.

And so, while Mike regrets the way the Odeon Queensway folded, he remains philosophical about his abrupt exit from the industry he loved.

“I think I might have got out at the right time,” he says.

“The Rank Organisation was a vertical business with cinemas, ads, production and Pinewood.

“Then it started to sell everything off and become horizontal by acquiring things like nightclubs and bingo which it didn’t understand.

“It was no surprise when it went to pot.”