Cinema paradise of days gone by

John Ward
John Ward
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WARD’S WORLD: By John Ward

As we are now in the “digital age”, I find it amazing that I am seemingly re-tuning the flat screen marvel that is the telly from week or month to month, to find many more “added” channels that seem to cater for so many tastes, needs or perversions (depending on your outlook) that go from cooking (groan) to tattoos, as in having them, then once out of favour, their removal, buying diamonds and other similar sparkly baubles alleged to be worth thousands but yours for a trifling £34.99 or so, plus postage, to keep fit things that seem to wobble parts of your body slim (allegedly) and all this joy is via the multitude and ever-growing channels as compared with years ago, when you tuned into the four main – or only – channels and it stopped that way for years, or until the family pet raccoon passed away.

Having said that, I just have come across, among the over 200-plus it claims to have found in the tuning process, one that did surprise and amaze me and is the Talking Movies channel, as it caters for those who can remember films that no longer get shown on what could be referred to as mainstream channels. As well as old – and not so old – films shown on this channel are television programmes from the 1950s onwards, some I have never heard of to be honest, but are quite entertaining regardless and compared with the constant repeats on the aforesaid mainstream channels, come as a breath of fresh air – true in some cases 1940s vintage onwards, fresh air.

I found this channel on Freeview 81 although I am given to understand it’s also available on other programme systems and the one thing I like about the films shown is that the advert breaks appear to come at the end of each reel of film, as in feature films, as opposed to the usual six to eight minutes in and every ten minutes thereafter, so you do get to understand what is going on and not be either distracted or thrilled that a supermarket has oven-ready albatross on offer that coming week, plus a free bottle of paint stripper.

I would point out I have no involvement with this channel other than as a very satisfied viewer and feel that they should have a bigger audience, more so among those of a certain age that enjoy a decent film with an understandable plot that’s does not involve the planet being blown up.

I will admit to a certain interest, as during my formative years in the 1960s I worked full time as part of the projection team in a cinema (the Savoy cinema in Kettering, now sadly no more) that showed these films and they bring back certain memories but in those days we/I rarely saw a complete film as we were busy overseeing the projectors running, plus changing the reels over and rewinding the film, to be shown again in the “second house” performance – remember them?

In those days you could buy popcorn with mere pence, without checking first the exchange rate for Krugerands and gold bullion prices like today, were not frisked at the door for bringing your own eatables in and you were shown to your seat by an usherette with a torch to guide you in most cases.

I found some diaries or notes recently of my experiences while working there and I am currently scribbling away writing a book (they say there is a book in everybody, and in my case, if the x-rays are anything to go by, it’s that dull grey bit near the top on my ribcage, just to the left) and presently – no, please, you’ve got this far and it’s only fair to let you know – I am on about 60,000 words with quite a bit to go yet as I unravel my jottings from those years ago.

Social history section: It was not so much the job that was interesting, but the customers or our patrons that made it so involving and at times made the likes of TV’s “Last of the Summer Wine” and similar seem quite normal. There was one patron who attended quite a few matinees who brought a packed sandwich lunch with her, including flask of tea – “I don’t take sugar as it upsets my back you know, dear” and a small trifle in a small china bowl, with spoon, and basically set it all up as a picnic on the adjacent seat. Afternoon tea with Dickie Attenborough? – No problem.

Another regular came on a bicycle, and always locked it to a metal drainpipe outside the cinema and found on one memorable occasion that somebody had stolen the chain and the padlock but left the bicycle. Interpol were not alerted.

Another brought her pet cat, or rather her neighbour’s cat that she had entrusted her to look after while she went on holiday, hidden in a shopping bag to a matinee performance as she didn’t want to leave it all alone at home and, during performance, it escaped. Here was a real touch of the Mrs Slocombe character from BBC TV’s Are You Being Served? years beforehand, as she reported the matter to the kiosk staff who rang to tell us “A lady has lost her pussy down in the rear stalls” and if you thought seeing it in the afore quoted sitcom would be hilarious, we had it for real. It took three of us with torches going up and down the rows of seats, whispering “Here, kitty, kitty…” Luckily not many people were in as it was a matinee, but we eventually found Sammy in the orchestra pit, all curled up asleep on some old tabs (stage curtains).

Another incident was when a budding Steven Spielberg dropped in to discuss “hiring the place to show his movie films” of his family’s holiday in “foreign Spain” (not to be confused with anywhere on our mainland, then) as he had a whole 13 rolls of film he had taken on cine camera eight millimetre film, in colour, approx an hour long in theory, to show to all his family and friends and wanted to know what the cost would be, and pointed out he was “happy to fit in time-wise” with any of our closed days, but would need ample warning, due to the invitations being sent out. We operated 24/7 – so he was given a polite “No way”.

These are but the tip of the intellectual iceberg and ripe for a sitcom in their own right possibly, but interestingly I was called upon at short notice to give a talk a while ago (the chap booked was ill) and I included some of the above in my “usual stuff” and was pleasantly surprised when one of the audience had been a patron of the Savoy whenever he visited his relations there many years ago. Sadly, the Savoy has now been demolished – look it up online – but in its day it was a place of work, entertainment and gross stupidity, and they often overlapped and I enjoyed it – and lived.