TODAY most are called multiplexes but there was a time when a trip to the cinema in Southampton was better known as "going to the pictures.''

One of the most fondly remembered of these palaces of dreams, where, for a few hours at least, film fans could escape from the worries and concerns of everyday, hum-drum life to the make-believe world of the silver screen, was the Plaza that once proudly stood at Northam.

For me, the cinema has a special place in my childhood as it was here back in the early 1950s that I was taken, by my father, on my first ever visit to the cinema to see the Disney cartoon film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Even now, more than half a century later, I can remember that the Plaza, which stood close to Northam Bridge on the site of the present Meridian television studios, was a grand place boasting a specially large foyer where customers could wait before entering the cinema.

Inside the 2,100 seater cinema, designed by the architect Robert Cromie, was impressively decorated while outside the building's white stone faade was illuminated by three colour floodlights.

Memories of the old cinema have been rekindled once more by the fact that Meridian is soon to leave its present premises and as part of the research into the history of the site the television company is keen to hear from anyone who used to work at the Plaza.

Emma Warwood of Meridian said: "I would love to talk to people who were members of the Plaza cinema's staff such as usherettes, ice cream sellers, projectionists or ticket sellers.

"Hopefully they will be able to describe what it was like working at the cinema and perhaps be able to recount some anecdotes of their days at the Plaza.''

Second in size to Southampton's former Gaumont, now the Mayflower theatre, the Plaza, owned by Mr J G Sprinkernell, first opened its doors to cinema-goers on October 11, 1932 in a ceremony performed by the then mayor, Councillor Fred Woolley.

At the time, with its ornate surroundings, the Plaza was claimed to be the most luxurious film theatre in the south and its first presentation was Gracie Fields starring in Looking on the Bright Side.

The film's leading lady even sent a telegram wishing the new cinema and its patrons good wishes which was read to the audience on the opening night.

Many local people will remember two distinctive features about the Plaza; the double seats, much in demand by courting couples, which made up the back row and the illuminated Compton organ, that used to rise from the floor, played by Leslie James and later by Leslie Holman which entertained the audience before the film show began. At some performances audiences, who paid ninepence, about 4p, 1s 3d (6p) and 1s 6d (7p) for their seat, would also see other entertainers, often including jugglers, performing on the Plaza's 30 foot wide stage.

One of the most popular events held at the Plaza was the children's Saturday morning club during which the cinema's chief projectionist, the late Ken Batten would play the organ and screen a serial, cartoon and main feature for the youngsters.

At one club meeting in September, 1955 the young members were invited to bring their pets along to a film show and 77 dogs, cats, mice, tortoises, rabbits, hamsters and even one chameleon were brought along to the Plaza by 200 children.

As the cinema-going habit waned as television became more and more popular the Plaza closed on Saturday, November 30, 1957 but the building was not pulled down but refurbished to become studios, dressing rooms and offices for Southern Television.

There was a sad final chapter for the old Plaza when bulldozers finally moved in and demolished the old building in 1969 during which a fierce fire swept through the building resulting in the death of one fireman who was tackling the blaze.

Anyone with memories of working at the Plaza cinema can contact Emma Warwood on 023 8071 2530.