As a child, one of the highlights was a trip to the cinema. My earliest memories are of going to the cinema with my grandmother at The Dominion in Chapel Allerton. There were two types of cinema visits, depending on who took me and my brothers. If it was my mum or my grandmother, then it was normally cartoons or musicals, but if it was my father it was usually cowboys or adventure films.
It wasn’t a long walk to the Dominion in Chapel Allerton, but at a young age it seemed a long way, particularly after one of grandma’s extremely filling dinners. My grandmother was a short, stout lady and walking always made her out of breath. The cinema dominated the corner opposite the primary school towards the next parade of shops and it was quite a majestic building. I am unsure as to whether the first time was Dumbo or Fantasia, but certainly they are my first memories. They were not new films even in those days, but still firm favourites with children and adults. On later occasions we went to see new releases before the cinema closed in 1967. Mary Poppins (1964) and the Sound of Music (1965) were two of the films we saw there. It was a real treat and I don’t know how much it cost her, but I know she never had a lot of spare money. No visit to the cinema would have been complete without either a Kia-ora orange drink in a plastic beaker with a foil top, Butterkist popcorn, or an ice-cream tub with a small wooden spoon. I can still taste the creamy flavor of the ice-cream, mixed with the wooden taste of the spoon. It was only ever one of the three. The treat was normally bought during the intermission, halfway through the film, or between the B-movie and the main film. A lady with a tray would march down the aisle and stand at the front whilst a queue of eager children, or parents would form. The sizes of the drinks and tubs were tiny compared to what people would expect nowadays.
When we entered the cinema we entered a world of wonder. There were people in uniforms and tickets were bought at the foyer ticket booth. Clasping the tickets, we went up the stairs, had them torn in half by the man or lady on guard and headed through double doors with round windows into a strange, vast space with row upon row of seats. This was short trouser time and, in fact, it was shorts until the second year of Roundhay School. We would find a seat, not too far back, not too near the front, shuffle along to try and get to the middle and then would sit. This wasn’t easy when you were little, as the seats had to be pushed down before you could climb onto them. When you were sitting, the pile of the seat fabric would push into your legs and they could go a little dead if it was a long film or a double bill. Grandma would normally sit between my older brother and me. I am not sure if this was so she could control us better, or to stop us interacting and misbehaving. Anyway, after a long wait and the influx of patrons, the lights would dim a little and there would be twenty minutes of adverts. I am not sure if Pearl and Dean were advertising when I was very little, but they were when I got older. I’ve just checked this and they started in 1953, so it would have been them. These were rather boring, but the trailers that followed showed films that would be on soon and they were much more interesting. Finally the lights would drop down to almost pitch black and the film would start. Sometimes there was a round of applause, if there was a large young audience, and then we were captivated by a world of wonder and colour. Not all films were in colour, but the Disney ones were. I remember well 101 Dalmations and the nightmares I had for years after. Cruella De Vil scared the life out of me, but even worse was the Disney film, Darby O’Gill and the Little People. The Banshee arriving with the ghostly carriage still haunts me to this day. I am not sure that storytellers in the 1940s, 50s and 60s had the same concern for the emotional welfare of children that they do today. Or was it just me being a sensitive soul?
Regardless of a couple of trauma inducing parts of the films, my experience was mainly joyous and grandma seemed to enjoy them. Afterwards we would wearily make our way back to her house in Regent Terrace and even more food. The Dominion closed and our trips then would be to The Clock Cinema. As we were older, my brother and I would sometimes go to the Saturday Matinee. This was a thrill for a number of reasons. The first was because we went on our own and the second was because it was a bit of a wild experience. The matinee would start with the rigid control of the male usher who would leave us in no doubt that any misbehaving would be very severely dealt with and this started with the orderly queuing to pay for the tickets. There were hordes of excited children of quite a range of ages and they chatted frenetically and tended to push from behind. Woe betide anyone who was caught. Their afternoon excitement would end before it even started and the usher had a memory like an elephant and he would catch those foolish enough to try and enter again. A physical clip on the ear was not totally out of the question. Once we had passed the first test and got our tickets we entered the cinema proper. The Clock was bigger than The Dominion and grander. It looked much more like a theatre than a cinema and it was resplendent, with layers of curtaining that were raised and pulled apart to reveal the screen. I believe there was even an organ that could rise up in front, but maybe that is just wishful thinking. The noise in the cinema filled with hundreds of children was deafening and the excitement was even greater if you were on the upper level. Attendants patrolled, torches in hand and there was no hesitation in evicting anyone who upset them in any way. Trips to the toilets were scrutinised to ensure that rogue children weren’t allowed admission through the fire exit. We did try it a few times as we got older, but the attendants would often check the tickets of those returning from the toilets. It must have come as a great relief when the show started. There were no films of any great merit. Silent movies would be mixed with a range of cowboy films, often The Lone Ranger. Laurel and Hardy were still on the go and I am sure that I remember a very early silent movie of Batman. I know there was a 1926 film, The Bat, which was an inspiration for Batman, but I am sure I remember Batman climbing on old cars in chases. Maybe someone can help me here. What I do remember well was that the films always seemed to snap or melt during the most exciting parts. Great cries of anguish would erupt from the audience, the lights would come on with a slide telling us that the performance would resume as soon as possible. The attendants went into action. An example would be made of a group and an eviction occurred and this had a calming effect on the remainder.
After what seemed like a lifetime, the film would have been spliced and off we went again. The lights dimmed and applause resounded around the cinema. Eventually the show ended and tired, but still excited droves of kids left through the exits and I am sure that some of the attendants must have heaved a sigh of relief, some needing a stiff drink. In winter, dusk would be setting in and we would trudge up the hill of Upland Road to our house in Gipton Wood Crescent.
We did go to the cinema with my mum and my dad, but never together. I believe it was used to give them a bit of time on their own, but I will share some of those exploits next week.