`A Night at the Flicks`.
By Mhairi Pyott.
`Braveheart`, `Rob Roy` `Harry Potter` `Lord of the Rings and
similar film epics have brought a revival of the `picture
goers`. I admit that I was one who had not seen a performance
on the `big screen` since `Close Encounters` almost thirty
To be honest at the time my young daughter was not amused by
my reaction to the then “as near real space encounter of all
time “. I fell asleep and was awakened by the quadraphonic sound system making the building, seats and myself vibrate as the screen portrayed the landing of the intergalactic vehicle.
The modern day effects are even more startling and amazing.
The Scottish epics I enjoyed , despite the blood, gore and `poetic licence`. My husband, most unusual for him, sat very quiet and white faced while Mel Gibson acted his heart out. “Are you disturbed by all the slashing off of arms and legs?” I asked. “No I am shell shocked at the arm and a leg it cost us to get into this place”. Even longer since he had been out for an evening at the cinema.
”One and nine pence, old money, for the dearest seats was what I last paid”
I suppose that could have been right.
The Kings and Regal cinemas in our town, charged the same entrance fee, somewhere about nine pence, a shilling and one and nine pence, depending on the area where you were seated. Prices for Saturday matinee were different. Oh what a glorious occasion. You set off from home about one o`clock to join the queue for the Regal performance which started about two o`clock. By the time the `box office` opened the queue could be down the street as far as Coopers lemonade factory. The `cheap seats` several rows of wooden `tip ups`, were right down at the front of the theatre, next to the screen.
Viewing was similar to lying with your head back for a dental inspection, allowing any possible sight of the action on the directly overhead screen. Almost as painful as dental treatment when you tried to pull your chin down to your chest to stand erect for the playing of `God Save the King`, which ended all performances.
The only time the auditorium vibrated was when the film broke down. Hundreds of pairs of feet stamped in unison to chants of “Get a penny in the meter”.
Emergencies and similar riots were quelled by the two matronly usherettes, who spotlighted the troublemakers with a beam from their powerful torchlights, while uttering “I`ll see your mother and tell her how you behave”. This promise would have banished any enemies of William Wallace or Rob Roy. I cannot ever remember the Theatre manager ever being at the afternoon performances. At later performances he was there resplendent in evening dress, complete with bow tie.
Snow White, the Lone Ranger with his Indian companion Tonto, and of course Buck Rogers in Space, were all shown to the accompaniments of boos and cheers.
`Blossom` in the Dust`, with stars Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon was my all time favourite. Poor little Tony, crippled and wearing callipers, tenderly cared for by Greer and Walter. The happy ending climax, marked by tears, most probably due to the pain and need of a neck support after two hours of extended viewing. For weeks after we played out the rending scenes in impromptu theatres, the wash house or some half empty coal cellar.
“Song of Bernadette” was another all time favourite. As a special concession I was allowed to accompany Granny to the Kings to watch this spectacular production. There were two showings or `houses` Monday to Saturday. The first performance commenced about five forty five. With the factories not finishing work until six, the weavers who had started at six in the morning, made no great rush to attend mid week early shows. Seated next to Granny in the dearer, downstairs velour covered `tip up` seats, I felt like a Royal Princess. An extra `for being good` I`d been given a bag of home made treacle toffee from the sweetie shoppie in Union Street. The moving tale of Bernadette and the appearance of the Holy Virgin kept Granny enthralled. Lourdes with all it`s wonders to behold. The toffee was a bit sickly and Granny rescued it for `safe keeping`, putting it in the breast pocket of her jacket. When the film was nearing the finale Granny started fidgeting. Concerned about her behaviour I enquired “Are you alright?” “Oh I`ll be fine just watch the miracles and keep quiet”.
Much later I was to learn that Granny thought she was haemorrhaging and soaked with blood , which was oozing down on to her legs. Yes it was only the treacle toffee melting in the heat.
However, some of the audience might have benefitted from healing cures. A vast number of wounded soldiers in the audience were conspicuous with their bright blue uniforms and red neck ties. Allowed out on pass from the nearby military hospital, the walking wounded, were a familiar sight in the town, but then so were many other uniformed service men.
No uniforms for the usherettes or commissionaires for the Regal or the Kings, but they were grand places for entertainment when I was young.