In the early 1960s for a couple of years or so I went every Saturday morning to the ‘Flicks’ at the Granada Cinema at the bottom of North Street in Rugby opposite the posh new Council offices to the Saturday morning pictures. What a fleapit. It was an old brick building built in the late 1950s and totally without character and charm. Present day residents of Rugby will recognise it as the home of Gala Bingo, what a tragedy!
Every Saturday morning we would get the Midland Red R66 bus, which left from the top of the road, into town and our main objective was to get to the cinema early in order to get a seat in the front row of the balcony if we could. We weren’t allowed through the front door because of the damage we could potentially do there but had to queue down the side of the building and were admitted through one of the exits at the back. It cost sixpence (two and a half new pence) to get in and the queue was always long even before the show opened and the big boys would more often than not push in the front of the queue.
Inside the cinema was dark and smelt of stale cigarette smoke with seats covered in a red sort of velveteen. Unlike real velvet, however, this material was not soft and for boys wearing short trousers it made your legs itch, which made it impossible to sit still and I am sure that it was the same for girls in their little skirts. The noise levels inside were unbelievable. About three hundred children aged between five and thirteen would scream, whistle, shout and boo at any and every opportunity. To try and keep some sort of order the Manager had a cunning plan, which was to give out silver shillings to children who were sitting still and behaving themselves. Throughout the show, cinema staff would pass through the building and randomly hand out the coins to kids who were trying desperately to behave. Once you had got the shilling of course you could do pretty much behave as badly as you liked!
The show began with some old bloke on an organ that would rise out of the stage floor, like a poor mans Reginald Dixon show, and there would be ten minutes or so of community singing. Next came the birthday spot and paid up members of the Rugby Grenadiers Club whose birthday it was this week were invited up onto the stage to receive a present. After the present came the ritual humiliation of ‘Happy Birthday to You’, that was normally sung by kids in the auditorium with all sorts of unsuitable for print alternative lyrics.
There were always cartoons to get things started and then there were usually about three features each week. A serial (to make sure you came back next week), a short comedy (Laurel & Hardy was always my favourite), and a feature film. This was usually a western that had the good cowboys in white hats and smart clothes and the bad guys in black hats and with unshaven faces and who always looked untidy. The camera would pan from the good guys to the bad guys constantly to cheers for the white hats and boos for the black hats. In these films no-one’s gun ever ran out of bullets but surprisingly the good guys never seemed to get seriously injured. Bad guys fell over clutching a fatal wound, but there was never any blood and the good guys always got winged in the arm without causing any real damage. This was completely unrealistic of course. Six shooters in the old west were notoriously unreliable and if someone was unfortunate to take a bullet this would have done the most horrendous damage to flesh, muscle, sinews and important internal organs. Bullets, or slugs, were made of soft lead and of relatively slow trajectory so if they entered the body they would have bounced about doing unimaginably painful damage and if shot it is completely unlikely that anyone would have shrugged it off as a flesh wound and carried on fighting as they did in these films.
If there was a sci-fi feature this would be something like ‘Jet Speed and the invaders from the dark side of the Moon’. The special effects left a lot to be desired and the aliens were always ugly creatures that were always after our women, which thinking about it now is a bit improbable. A scaly black lizard creature is probably more inclined to have the hots for another scaly black lizard creature back home on Mars rather than a soft milky white earth female. Like cowboys the space heroes were dressed in white, often with goldfish bowls over their heads. The aliens usually wore black and had ingenious secret ray guns. As with the westerns we cheered at the whites and booed at the blacks.
If there was a period epic then this would be something Robin Hood, William Tell, Richard the Lion Heart and my all time favourite, Zorro. Zorro, which is Spanish for Fox, and a by-word for cunning and devious, was the secret identity of Don Diego de la Vega a nobleman and master swordsman living in nineteenth century California. He defended the people against tyrannical governors and other villains and not only was he much too cunning and clever for the bumbling authorities to catch, but he delighted in publicly humiliating them while riding on his horse, a jet black stallion called Tornado. Zorro was unusual because he was dressed all in black with a flowing Spanish cape, a flat-brimmed Andalusian style hat, and a black cowl mask that covered his eyes. His favored weapon was a rapier sword which he used to leave his distinctive mark, a large ‘Z’ made with three quick cuts. It was strange for a hero to be in black, so for Zorro we had to remember to cheer for the blacks and boo and hiss at the Mexican soldiers who were dressed in white.
For the staff this must have been the worst day of the week, I bet sickness levels were high on a Saturday morning. This must have been a bit like trying to deal with a prison riot. When the films reached the exciting bits we would flip our seats up and sit on the edge and kick furiously with our heels on the seat bottom and make a hell of a din while we reduced the plywood base to splinters. The manager didn’t like this of course and would frequently stop the film and appear on stage to chastise us. This was usually met with a hail of missiles that were lobbed at the stage. The cleaning up afterwards bill must have been huge.
I stopped going to Saturday Morning pictures about 1966 and the Granada cinema closed down because of dwindling audiences about ten years later. I’m guessing it must have been 1975 because I think that the last film shown there was the Towering Inferno, which opened in January of that year. The Granada cinema closed because of dwindling audiences but predictably the last film was a sell-out all week as people of the town flocked to the cinema for the very last time before its conversion to a bingo hall.