Rugby Granada Cinema and Saturday Morning Pictures

 Photo Credit – Paul Bland

For a couple of years or so in the early 1960s I went every weekend with some pals 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.  It was an old brick building built in 1933 and originally it was called the Plaza but later changed its name in 1946 in the same way as so many others as they borrowed continental place names such as Alhambra, Rialto and Colosseum to make them sound more exciting.  Later car manufacturers did exactly the same and we had the Corsair and the Cortina, Toledo and the Dolomite and the Ibiza and the Cordoba.

After it closed as a cinema it became a bingo hall – what a tragedy- and late in 2011 it was demolished to make way for a new development.

Every Saturday morning we would get the crimson 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 to the fixtures and fittings 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 come along later and 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 sort of maroon velveteen.  Unlike real velvet, however, this material was not soft and for boys wearing short trousers it made our 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 and once they had all been given out it was absolute bedlam!

Cinema Interior

The show began with some old chap on an organ that would rise out of the stage floor, like a poor man’s 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.

 

Excuse me digressing here for a while but 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 wasn’t a western then quite often there would be a sci-fi feature and this would be something like ‘The Creature 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 or wherever else it came from rather than an 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 like 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 hat, and a black cowl mask that covered his eyes. His favourite weapon was a rapier sword which he used to leave his distinctive mark, a large ‘Z’ made with three quick slashes. 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 about ten years later.  I’m guessing it must have been 1976 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 in a nostalgic tsunami  before its conversion to a bingo hall.

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9 responses to “Rugby Granada Cinema and Saturday Morning Pictures

  1. Thanks for the memories Andrew. My folks did not allow me to venture to the cinema when young for just those scenes you describe and yet I remember the cartoons and newsreels pre film and all those great Westerns and period pieces. I guess that is what was still playing as an adolescent. Zorro you fox.

  2. Christopher King

    Thanks for your text. I noticed this as I used to be the organist for the Saturday morning shows. I pressed the button for the console to rise up while playing the Dam Busters march. After this the manager attempted to get everyone singing, and for this 10 minute slot I was paid the princely sum of half a guinea. I was about nineteen at the time and living at Coton House. I am now eighty-one.

  3. Interesting Blog, especially regarding the Granada. A couple of points; you have used my picture, presumably taken from flickr, of the exterior, taken from my car with the wing mirror clearly visible. I never mind my pictures being used, although it is common courtesy to be asked, especially as the cropped version of this picture has appeared on another web-page, crediting you as the photographer! Secondly, Christopher King was, indeed the organist, and taught Physics in Northampton. Attempting to contact him a couple of months ago, I discovered he died early last year. i look forward to hearing from you.

    • It’s a fair cop – I am suitably chastised and apologetic! What is your interest in the old Granada, that part of the town looks so different without it!

      • The links are that Chris King taught me, and also installed a cinema organ in Northampton Grammar School, so he was responsible for starting my interest in things cinema and cinema organ. I photograph cinemas, so have included those from Rugby, as Granada acquired the other Rugby picture houses, although these have now been put to other uses. Also, my son and his family live in Rugby so we are frequent visitors. Finally, I thought it a shame that the old Granada deteriorated and, finally, disappeared.

  4. Steve Lawrence

    I used to play in a band called The Saints. We played at one of the Saturday morning sessions sometime around 1966/7. For us, the venue seemed massive compared to the social clubs and youth clubs that we were used to. We couldn’t hear what each of us were playing so God knows what the audience heard, if anything!!!

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