When I grew up in the late 1940s and 1950s, entertainment was to be found at the local cinema. We didn’t actually call it the “Cinema” or “The movies” or even “Going to see a film”. It was always called “going to the Pictures“. The cinema was called the “Picture House”
The local Picture Houses all had exotic names and you could well have been watching your heroes at The Regal, The Majestic, The Plaza or The Empire. Where I lived in the Midlands, our local cinema was called The Palace. It certainly looked like a palace inside (through my young eyes), with plush carpets, and seats which folded back when you stood up. There were also the “lovers’ seats” along the back row – two in one so that the armrest wouldn’t hinder snuggling up. It also had an indefinable “smell”. I couldn’t describe it; it’s unlike anything else. Cinemas these days don’t have it – it’s gone, along with all the other things that made the Picture House special.
There were two Picture Houses in our town. As well as the Palace there was the Savoy, locally known as “The Bridge” as it was built on Bustle Bridge over a canal which ran under the main street. I think the Palace was the more popular of the two.
Outside there would be photographs on either side of the main door, showing stills from the current presentation and also one showing the forthcoming attractions. There would be queues around the building if a particularly good film was showing. In the early days of my childhood, the Pictures would run continuously all evening and, if we’d gone in halfway through the programme, we would leave at the point “where we came in”. You would actually hear people say: “This is where we came in.” and get up and leave. (Imagine knowing the end before you’ve seen the beginning!) But, within minutes the usherette would be walking down the aisle, pointing her torch to where the empty seats were. The place would be packed all evening. My parents used to go to the pictures – but not together! Mum would go early, whilst Dad looked after us, then, when she returned, Dad would go.
This system changed and “Houses” were introduced, which meant that the Picture House opened at, say, 5.30 p.m. when one complete programme would be shown. That was the “First House”. Once the place had been emptied and tidied up , the “Second House” patrons would be allowed in. No sitting twice through the programme any more!
Just before the main feature started, the house lights went up and the Ice Cream girls came and stood at the front. These were usually ladies who carried a tray of ice creams and lollipops which patrons could buy to eat during the film. A tub of ice cream came complete with a small wooden spoon-shaped spatula: if you didn’t have a “spoon” then you folded the lid in half and used that!! After a while, when the queues had ended, the girls would stroll up the aisle again, just in case anyone hadn’t been served. No popcorn in those days!
I rarely went to the pictures in the evenings when I was young but I vividly remember one visit with my sister. We went to the “First House” to see “Little Women”. I cried when Beth was very poorly and almost died: my sister was not amused and kept poking me to tell me to be quiet. I was about seven at the time!
But the best times of all were Saturday Pictures. This referred to the day and place where mayhem, disorder and pandemonium broke out. It was the day that kids went to the Pictures.
We would all queue up in an unruly mob, the boys would be shouting and fighting and generally behaving like kids did in those days. The tickets cost either sixpence or ninepence (2.5p or 4.5p) depending on whether you went downstairs or upstairs. We always went downstairs – that was where the action was!! The Commissionaire (otherwise known as “Old Smelly”) would stand by the exit doors to ensure no-one crept in the back way without paying. Woe betide anyone caught attempting to do so. There were no Child Protection or Health and Safety guideliness to be found in those days! A sharp crack across the back of the head was what they received and a quick boot outside into the street!
As soon as the lights dimmed everyone cheered – the show began. The programmes consisted of cartoons, a main complete film and a serial to encourage us to go along on the following Saturday – not that we needed much motivation. It didn’t really matter what was shown anyway, we were in heaven just being there. Kids would shout encouragement to the hero and boo the baddie. If anyone in the film started fighting, the boys in the audience would copy and start bashing each other, then Old Smelly would walk down the aisle – just a look was enough to quieten the mob! I remember one serial was “The Last of the Mohicans” (1936) and one episode ended with Alice Munro, a “paleface” woman, tied to a stake waiting to be burnt. I can tell you I was one of the first in the queue the next week to see whether or not she was saved. (She was, by the way!).
I was trying to find a picture of either of these old cinemas but they have both long since been demolished. However, my memories are still there. I rarely, if ever, go to the cinema these days. They don’t make films like the old ones. If it’s a remake you can guarantee the original storyline will be lost in a “modern take”.
But there’s one thing that won’t change with a “modern take” and that’s God’s Word in the Bible. I invite you to Google the following:
“John 3: 16 in all English translations”
You’ll find subtle differences, yes, but not one of these translations can alter the very essence of the message – that God so loved the world that He sent His Son Jesus to save us from certain death. Check it out if you don’t already know. It could save your life!
God Bless you.