As a youngster I had gone with my older brother to watch the matinees at the Clock Cinema. The cinema was an impressive building and had an art deco feel and look. Entry was through glass panelled doors and the curved ticket booth faced you. Tickets were bought and then there was a climb up the stairs past a waterfall. At the top of the stairs the tickets would be checked and torn in two. You were given half the ticket back and you could then enter. There was an upper balcony and it was always special to go in there, particularly if you could get a place at the very front. You were wise not to sit directly below in the stalls as some horrible youths would drop things down onto you, and some even spat onto the heads of those below. The cinema, I believe, had an organ in front of the stage, but I don’t remember much about it and I never saw it used. I don’t know if it was ever used as a theatre, but it looked very much like one. The curtains were full, rich red velvet, that matched the seat coverings and there was a complicated arrangement of curtains being drawn back as the lights partially dimmed and the adverts came on. For the trailers the lights dimmed further and the screen was revealed and then when the feature film started the cinema was in complete darkness. The whole process was grand and impressive. The sound was loud and with the beams from the projector streaking across the heads of the audience, it was a magical experience.
The matinees were crowded, crazy affairs with hordes of children noisily watching, shouting and running around. The films were ancient even to us and they often showed silent movies, Laurel and Hardy, some cartoons and I even remember Batman in black and white, with old cars and I believe it was silent. The most common staple were the old cowboy films. The ushers were strict, elderly men and women, who marched down the aisles with their torches and woe betide you if you were picked out for noisy misbehaving. If you were lucky you were warned, if not, thrown out and suffered the embarrassment of being marched past everyone else. We got quite savvy and money could be saved by one paying for entry and the others standing outside by the fire exit. When the lights went down the one inside would sneak to the toilet, go to the fire exit and open the doo,rs. If lucky the whole group would get in, but sometimes an usher was waiting, wanting to see our ticket stubs. If you couldn’t produce one you were escorted out. The quality of the old film reels meant that there were often breaks and we would watch as the celluloid films melted and then there were loud groans, boos and the stamping of feet as the film stopped and the lights came on. The ushers became quite angry as there was little they could do to quell the mass anguish of hundreds of children. They did manage to make an example of one or two and the scene of children being escorted out did have a limited impact on the rest. After a wait the film would be spliced together and continue, but not always from the same place in the story.
Apart from the matinees, I had spent many times attending the cinema as a child, usually with my dad, but becoming a teenager meant being able to go without parents. At first we used to go in groups and our choice in films was not ones that my parents would have wanted to see and, to be honest, I wouldn’t have wanted to be seen anywhere with my parents at that age. We did go to range of cinemas, both in Leeds city and the suburbs, but the Clock Cinema at Harehills was the easiest to get to and our usual haunt. My friends and I could walk there and it had the added advantage of being fairly cheap. The cinema is still there, but has been put to other uses for many years, but in the 1960s and seventies it was still a thriving cinema. The films it showed were the blockbusters of the time, but maybe a week or two behind the city cinemas. In these times it was permissible to smoke in the cinemas and the air could be thick with the smoke. Later, the cinema was split into smoking and non-smoking sections. When I was about thirteen years old I had become a smoker and an evening in the cinema meant that you and your clothes stank afterwards. My friends who were non-smokers must have suffered quietly as they sat with us. There were ashtrays at the back of the seats in front and the cinema was dotted with light as, like fireflies, someone would strike a match or use a cigarette lighter. The risk of fire must have been high, but I don’t ever remember hearing of fires. One danger was sitting too close to those on the balcony above as I have, on more than one occasion, seen a cigarette end flicked down into the audience below by some horrible oik of a teenager.
If you were lucky and had a bit of money then there was the opportunity to buy drinks, Sunkist popcorn, ice-cream tubs or a Split ice lolly. If not, then you just had to make do. When I was a teenager, films had the added interest of having love scenes, but when I was a young lad these used to spoil films. I remember my favourite film up to this point was Zulu as it had no love content, but as an almost teenager I went to see Dr No. I would only have been ten in 1964 so it may have been a re-run a short time later. I thought it was fantastic and Ursula Andress walking out of the surf in her bikini had a profound impact. This was followed up in 1965 with She, where the glamorous Ursula impressed again. Cinema-going held a whole new attraction for me and I was even more impressed when One Million Years BC was released in 1966 with Rachel Welch scantily clad. I didn’t care that it was historically anachronistic; it had everything I wanted in a film, adventure and beautiful girls.
Needless to say, there was a year or two when the cinema was meeting my growing interests and desires and then came the tour de force, Barbarella, in 1967.
‘Barbarella, an astronaut from the 41st century, sets out to find and stop the evil scientist Durand Durand, whose Positronic Ray threatens to bring evil back into the galaxy.’
That may have been the plot, but who cares! It was a movie based on sex and Jane Fonda was delightful. The stripping off of her spacesuit is a scene that is forever burnt into young impressionable minds, to be replayed in the memory over the years.
When I became a little older and we had developed a circle of friends in the youth clubs, larger groups of us would go. We were made up of friends, girls and boys, but none of us had had ‘girl and boy friends’ up to this point. Asking someone out was a real hurdle and it was safer to attend in groups and hope something would just happen. We would sit in our line, positioned in a way that meant you were next to your favoured friend and during the film you had to make the agonising decision of whether to put your arm across the back of the chair behind your chosen girl. If you did rustle up that courage you waited to see if there was any indication of welcome, or rather one of irritation. The other move was to put your hand on the chair rest and hope that the person of your dreams would put her hand on top of yours, thus sealing a relationship. Such times of innocence.
The next major step was to invite someone out on a date. As money was an issue, a trip to the cinema was just about the only financially viable option. The advantage to the Clock Cinema was that at the end of the rows were double seats with no arm rest separating the couple. These seats had advantages and disadvantages for couples. The disadvantage was that they were at the end of the row and within full view of the usherettes, who would soon put a stop to any hanky-panky. The advantage was that it was wonderfully warm and close to another human and this was something not experienced since being a baby or toddler, and that was with your mother. This was also a good place to practise the art of snogging, but I will leave you to reminisce about this yourself. This period of awkwardness probably only lasted a year or two and then the object of going to the pictures returned to watching a good film.
In the late 1960s and 70s there were many great films and some that were thought-provoking as well as being humorous and entertaining. I have tried to recall the major ones for me that I saw at the Clock Cinema. I would be interested to see if others agree with my selection and whether I have missed some out. The Graduate, 1967, Midnight Cowboy and Easy Rider, 1969, Kelly’s Heroes and Woodstock, 1970, Klute and Straw Dogs, 1971, Deliverance, 1972, Sleeper, 1973, and Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, 1974 make up my list. Within here are some films I found thought-provoking. Midnight Cowboy with John Voight and Dustin Hoffman, Deliverance with Burt Reynolds and John Voight, and Straw Dogs with Susan George and Dustin Hoffman were far from easy viewing and showed an often unpleasant and frightening side of life. There were some like Easy Rider and Woodstock that marked a cultural place in time. The music was wonderful but the films demonstrated the dangers of a growing drug culture. And others like Blazing Saddles, Sleeper, The Graduate, Young Frankenstein, Kelly’s Heroes and Klute that made you laugh, if you were in the right mood, uproariously, or just entertained. I almost forgot that there was a series of films that I also found impactful and these were the original Planet of the Apes films. The original with Charlton Heston in 1968 really started me off with an interest in Science Fiction.
I could relive these times all day as they were a critical part of growing up, a time before responsibility emerged and life became serious. I don’t regret my working life, but retirement has enabled me to spend my time doing what I always wanted to do. Work allowed me to support a family, to move around the world and to contribute to society, but when you retire, make sure you do something that you want to.