The retail unit that was once home to Broadway HQ
On the corner of Broadway and Cyril Crescent stands an unassuming, small single storey retail block that is separated into two units. Back in the late 1970s through to the mid-1980s it was all one unit, with large windows and possibly the most exciting interior in the vicinity. It was a Pool hall, known as the Broadway HQ.
Sadly as a child, it was a place forbidden to me. It looked great from the outside, I think it held 3 or 4 pool tables in the main bulk of the building, and there were always several people in there playing. If I remember correctly, the windows were tinted and had the HQ logo printed on them, and ran the majority of the length of the building in a single sweep.
You entered via a doorway in the small courtyard at the left-hand side, recessed off of Broadway. You can just about see into that little courtyard to the left of the below photo. You can also see the style of the original building before it was remodelled into two units, and its red-brick construction which I think dates it to sometime in the late 1950s / early 1960s.
The side entrance to the HQ behind the wall.
Pool was not something I was big into as a child, being more of a Snooker player back then. We had our own half-sized snooker table at home as youngsters, and Pool was only really played in pubs, so for years I walked past the HQ not really bothered by it enough to want to go inside. However, there was one time I went in there as a child, and what I saw made my jaw drop and wish I was old enough to be a regular member who visited every day. Hidden from view from the street facing windows in the entrance foyer of the hall was a collection of some of the newest arcade games known to man, outside of an hour-long trip to Barry Island.
As to how we arrived there, I don’t know. I suspect we tried to get in to have a nose about, and the bloke in charge allowed us in to see if he could sign us up. I think you had to pay to enter, which as a ten-year-old was never going to happen. It might have been a monthly membership fee or an entry-fee, but whatever it was when he told us our hearts dropped as we knew we would never have the money to visit regularly. I think we asked if we could come in to just play the machines, but the answer was no, you had to be either a member or pay entry; otherwise, there was no playing. In hindsight, that could have been one of the worst business decisions they ever made, as my circle of friends and I were video game addicts, forever blowing any 10p we could lay our hands on in one of the many machines that lived in the area. I’m sure they had their reasons for this, maybe licensing related or insurance, but whatever their reason they lost out on a lot of silver.
When it came to funding our video game habit, we were sneaky buggers too. One friend would pinch fifty pence pieces from the family electricity meter jar and distribute the spoils between us all. Another friend had a habit of emptying out the large Bells whiskey jar full of coppers that sat in his gran’s front room to fund our habits. Everyone seemed to have those big empty bottles of Bells in their living rooms back then, all slowly filling up with coppers. We had one, but I don’t think ours was ever more than a tiny bit full, so it was not a funding source I could use as it wouldn’t have gone far, and any removals would have been noticed!
I probably had the least access to money of the gang of friends that played the machines. One of my funding methods was to always be friendly and smiley to an old gent that walked up our street after his afternoon session at the Cons club on the corner. I think his nickname was Nebby, and he knew our grandparents, so would often give me some of his loose change as he passed by, all of which usually ended up in the arcade machines. The arcade machines were such a huge part of our DNA that I remember frequently getting dreams about finding a mountain of ten pence pieces down one of the back lanes around me, and would often wake annoyed at the realisation that it had been just a dream!
We’re talking about a period around 1978 – 1982 when there were no home consoles, smart-phones or PCs. If you wanted to game, it was 100% pay to play on single title arcade cabinets. Loads of places around Broadway and Clifton Street had machines in them – all the cafes, the Broadway Garage, some convenience stores, chip shops, etc. Usually, it was a single arcade machine, and a tupenny-nudger fruit machine tucked away in the corner of the premises, and others had just the one arcade cabinet. However many they had, and whatever games they were, we knew them all intimately.
The games at that time were some of those iconic titles that are a part of popular culture to this day, alongside some not so classic titles that we’re forgotten not long after their release! As for the good stuff, we played Scramble, Defender, Donkey Kong, Asteroids, Pac Man, Galaxian, Frogger, etcetera and so on! Every time a new game showed up in one of the shops of cafes, we were all there checking it out trying to find money to put in them. And there in the Broadway HQ was a small concentration of some of the most exciting games available at the time, and the thrill of seeing them all was really something.
The arcade game Moon Cresta, from 1980.
The one they had that’s stuck in my mind to this day was Moon Cresta, a game that I still play to this day. I don’t know if this was the first time I’d seen it, or if it was one that was already familiar to me at that time. There was a bloke playing it in the HQ as we stood watching his progress, gawping intently as it was still a brand new game. It may seem simplistic now, but we would have been entranced by its advanced graphics and innovative gameplay. It’s the first game I remember where you could ‘power-up’ via the docking section that would double your fire power. I’m sure modern gamers would scoff at it, but the tune and effects still provide me with a nostalgic rush every time I play it. You’d think after 30 odd years, and thousands of hours playing games like it that I would be a master by now, however, it’s still as hard to get to the first docking scene on your first life as it ever was!
And that was just one of the games in there. Now, I wish I could reel off a list of the other cabinets that were in there, but I’m afraid I don’t recall any others except maybe be Defender. There were definitely more than six cabinets in that small room, and possibly a fruit machine or two as well. I recall the guy in charge of the HQ had a little booth with a window into both the arcade room and the main pool hall, so as he could observe both and supply change and Pool paraphernalia to the members of the club.
I doubt we were in there much more than ten minutes, but that one visit left an indelible spot in my memories, and a permanent regret that I hadn’t been able to access that room more often and armed with a ton of 10p pieces! As for the HQ itself, I think it closed around 1985 and was then converted into the two retail units. I’ve covered the smaller shop elsewhere, as for a time it was the three for a pound VHS rental store that I would frequent regularly. The larger unit was a grocery store for a while, but I don’t really remember it being one we used much (despite being so near) as we would usually go around the corner to Ash’s or Perriams.
I sadly don’t have any photos of it during that period either, which is a shame as I always remember the large glass frontage and the 1950s brickwork being quite distinctive, like a little slice of neon Americana plucked up and planted on Broadway, reminiscent of the famous Edward Hopper painting Nighthawks. I can place the VHS shop that replaced the HQ as being open in 1989 as I recall the damage done to it following the fire in the Broadway BBC building which happened in the September of that year. The remodelling of the building was a good few years before that event, as I remember the video shop was running down when the fire happened.
The remodelling of the building drastically changed its appearance for the worse. Where the distinctive large windows were removed, the wall was built up, and smaller and relatively standard UPVC windows were put in as you can see from the photo at the top of the page. It looks pretty shoddy these days, as it did after the work was done sadly, the pebble dash looking half-finished and the original red bricks still visible in places. As for more history on the building, well that’s it I’m afraid, but if you have any further info you think will be of interest, then feel free to hit up the comments section below and fill me in.