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Saturday Morning Flicks at the Century

If you could afford it, Saturday mornings at the flicks was definitely the place to be. It cost 6d to get in to the morning matinée show. You had to be aged seven or over to get in. I used to go along with my older brother sometimes, when I was younger than the age of entry. I remember being given my brother's cap to wear which was supposed to make me look older. I still remember how very nervous I felt at being found out as I paid my 6d for my ticket at the foyer.

Sometimes, as a bonus, the Manager stood in the foyer given away free bars of Palm toffee to the first few dozen or so kids through the doors. I can't recollect getting one, but my mate Bert says that he used to get so mad when he'd see him with his younger sister Fay and say, as he gave them one bar, "She's wiv you so ya can share wiv 'er! Move along."

Now if you were extra cunning, you got a mate to go in and he would then sneak behind the big old 'black out' curtains. These heavy black curtains still hung in front of each Exit door. They were used during the war years to prevent the theatre lights from showing outside at night, letting the enemy see a possible target to bomb. Once positioned and hidden behind them you'd push the bar on the door down; open it up a bit; just enough to let your mates in for free. Inside, hundreds of kids were all babbling loudly, filling up the many rows of theatre seats.

The best way to sit on these flip up seats was on the edge of the upturned seat, in order to get a better view of the screen, as we were only small fry then. Many of the kids sat on the arms of the seats, with their shoes on the seats, but the ever-vigilant usherette lady with her big long chrome torch shone it at them and told them sternly to "Sit down properly!"

These closely packed rows of kids came from all kinds of homes and were often from large families that were having to live in too small a house, which meant overcrowded bedrooms and unhygienic living conditions. Fleas and head lice were quite common in these poorer children and they'd bring their tiny bloodsucker hitchhikers along to the flicks.

In those days each local picture house was colloquially named 'the flea pit' because of this well- known reputation they had as a source of getting infected by these wee jumping critters.

In all honesty though, our local flicks was quite clean. I went to the Globe's Saturday morning matinée and it was grubby and even more rowdy than our local flicks. Some of the kids had rubber bands and they fired staples at the big screen and it was peppered with tiny holes.

I remember when Tommy Steel told his recollections about his childhood visits to his local fleapit matinees. The kids there bombarded the organist with every thing they could get hold of, as he rose majestically up from the orchestra pit, still managing gallantly to keep playing a tune on the big Wurlitzer organ as he ducked and dived trying hard to miss the great volley of missiles aimed at him. What a way to earn a crust, poor fellow.

At our local flicks though, the music was played from records. It would strike up when announcing Uncle Tom. He would bounce onto the stage and tell a few jokes and announce some kids' birthdays, along with the following week's coming attractions, competition winners and what have you

Once, when he was trying to speak, the kids were being extra noisy, so he threatened to expel any one who continued to make a noise.
Now, my wee friend Ken; he was totally deaf; his mum paid for Ken and me to go to the pictures. This gave me a spare tanner to spend on other goodies. This particular Saturday, though, another friend, Robert, had taken Ken to the pictures instead and so I missed out.

When, after this threat, Uncle Tom heard a child make a noise he immediately had him removed from the show. I looked across at these kids who were being evicted and saw that it was Ken and Robert. I thought, Cor blimey, that could've so easily have been me! Shortly after this I saw them both returning down the isle and back to their seats, each holding a LARGE ice cream in a cone. It transpired later that when they found out that Ken was deaf and that this was why he'd made a noise, as he didn't know he shouldn't, they were each given a big ice cream each, to make up for the mistake of expelling them. I remember feeling very peeved about this, because I was the one who normally always took Ken to the Pictures and reasoned, quite reasonably I thought, that it should have been ME enjoying that big ice cream cone. Life can be very tough sometimes, especially when you're a kid!

Yes, it was sure packed with hundreds of rowdy and very excited kids at those matinées. As the lights dimmed down and the piped background music faded away so did the noise from all the kids. The fire curtain was raised and very gracefully the stage curtains, beautifully lit up, were drawn open as the beam of light from the projectionist room flickered above our heads and the screen lit up with the first cartoon film, loudly accompanied with its own familiar catchy theme tune such as, Bugs Bunny or Woody Woodpecker's, all firm favourites, as the kids loudly cheered their approval.

When the kid's National Anthem was loudly struck up, the cheer went up as well, as this was the very popular, 'Night Riders In The Sky' song, sung so stirringly by Frankie Lane, a top pop singer of those days.

As this song was cranked up to full potential on the speakers, his deep rich voice sang out those so familiar lyrics and, right on queue, us generation of baby boomers boomed out loud, in total unison, with all the voice we could muster, the words to the chorus, "Ghost Riders In The Sky." Gee, it sure stirred us all up as being one big loyal family.

This was only a warm up, though, to much bigger things to come. The real action started when the feature films lit up the big silver screen and the heroes acted out their daring deeds. Such stars as the Cisco Kid or Roy Rogers and his white horse Silver; Batman and Robin; the Lone Ranger and Tonto; Tarzan and the Apes, and so many more. We kids would get right into the action, all booing and shouting our anger at the villains, and then cheering at the tops of our voices, as we spurred on the cavalry or our heroes, with our hands and arms frantically waving and our bodies shaking and straining forward. Our faces would be contorted with scowls of anger as we continued to hiss and boo, and then at the very next scene we were cheering and clapping and shouting again, as each dramatic turn of events unfolded; all being acted out right in front of us. A child's world just couldn't get much better than this.

Then it was the much looked-forward to funny films. Kids' laughter, so infectious, rolled in great waves through out the theatre, as Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplain, The Three Stooges, The Marx Brothers, and similar comedians of the day did their wonderful and outrageous slapstick routines.

Later on, there might be a feature film such as 'Lassie Come Home'. The kids would sit enthralled, eyes wide with intense concern as the story unfolded; you would have been able to hear a pin drop, it was so quiet. Then, later in the film, when Lassie got so exhausted and weak, and she looked as if she was going to die, while the film's violin music played so softly, there wasn't a dry eye in the theatre.

Such were the treats that we Common kids would talk to our mates about at school on the Monday. Then, up on the Common, we'd act out our hero's role, doing battle; the 'goodies' against the 'baddies'.

Colin Weightman




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