For a couple of years or so in the early 1960s I went every weekend with my pals, Tony Gibbard and David Newman, 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 in 1946 changed its name to the Granada 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 of course 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 very pleasant and for boys wearing short trousers it scratched and made 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!
The show began with a young man called Christopher King on an organ that would rise out of the stage floor accompanied by the ‘Dam Buster’s March‘, 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 and would be more inclined to run off with an iguana 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 or my all time favourite, Zorro. Zorro, which is Spanish for Fox, and a by-word for cunning and deviousness, 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.
Lovely piece…..( just fags then……..no popcorn?)
I remember a lady came around in the interval selling ice creams. That must have been an awful job!
My husband just said it would have been just ice cream lit up with a tray!
Weren’t those days great! Everything seemed larger than life.
Indeed they were and never to be enjoyed again.
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I think the Rolling Stones played here in 63 or 64?
I think they did! How amazing is that?
Great memories, Andrew. I have to reciprocate
Did you actually experience Saturday Morning Pictures as well? I am so jealous I missed out on this.
I certainly did. An organ came out of the pit to play us in and the MC led us in “here we are again – all good pals and jolly good company”
Great memories Derrick.
Jolly Good Company indeed. Sounds like a weekly event not to be missed.
It was – no TV in those days
I went to the cinema every week for Saturday Morning pictures.
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Andrew, I am rolling on the floor with laughter. It sounds like total pandemonium. Every bit of bad kid behavior all rolled into a single morning in a single theatre. That kind of fun is never allowed any more. I agree with you that it must have been the worst day of the week for the staff – and lots of sickness suddenly appeared Saturday morning, haha. When I read about this phenomena on Wikipedia, I got an entirely different impression of a sweet, subdued, sun-dappled gathering of good-natured children sharing in a common experience together. Community singing sounds just delightful, but “ritual humiliation” of singing alternate versions of the birthday song sounds much more accurate and so hilarious. It’s not surprising that the idea eventually lost its appeal, but it is surprising that it lasted as long as it did. Thank you thank you for writing this. I think your essay on Saturday Morning Pictures needs to be archived somewhere, so others can relive the memories with you.
Thanks Crystal, I enjoyed dragging up those memories. Saturday Morning Pictures were really fun.
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That was a really excellent piece of writing, one of your best. A colleague at school told me that in Nottingham in the mid-sixties they used to use long flexible batons like they now use in the Tokyo underground to get the kids to fill up all the seats and to get them to behave. I’m not sure about that, but that’s what he said.
Zorro brought back some memories. I’d like to know, though, why it made me think of Sugar Puffs.
Thank you John, I really appreciate that.