For­get-me-nots: A Boot­lace of Ticket Stubs

This England - - Contents - Jan Clark

Only the cir­cle left! Move along un­less you want a ticket!” And the com­mis­sion­aire waved us ei­ther in, if we were lucky, or away if we couldn’t af­ford the, to us, huge price of a seat in the best part of the cin­ema. We would creep away, dis­ap­pointed, and vow to catch an ear­lier bus and be there in good time next Satur­day.

In our small­ish town (Wake­field) there were sev­eral cin­e­mas to choose from, all re­flect­ing an age of glory, pros­per­ity and en­joy­ment: the Regal, the Es­soldo, the Grand Elec­tric. Even the out­skirts of town might boast a small pic­ture-house; ours was the Palace Su­per Cin­ema, known to every­one as the Spit, and that gives you an idea of the qual­ity of the place. It closed down not long after the war and for years af­ter­wards my par­ents still fan­cied they were itch­ing from the fleas that, ac­cord­ing to lo­cal leg­end, con­sid­ered it home.

“Fancy com­ing to ABC Mi­nors?” my friend asked me one Fri­day after school. I’d never heard of this — some­thing to do with the col­lieries that sur­rounded us in the West Rid­ing? A quick check with Mum, a brief les­son on homonyms and I was set to go to Satur­day Morn­ing Pic­tures: six­pence down­stairs, ninepence up­stairs. We went down­stairs and saved our three­pence for a bag of chips to eat on the way home.

The packed cin­ema whooped and gal­loped with Roy Rogers, gig­gled at Old Mother Ri­ley (who, in­trigu­ingly, was ac­tu­ally a man) and sat on the edge of our seats at the clos­ing, cliff-hang­ing episodes of

se­ri­als like

A Boot­lace of Ticket Stubs

Flash Gor­don and Rin Tin Tin; we were then en­cour­aged to go back for next week’s in­stal­ment. Dur­ing the in­ter­val a spot­light would roam around the au­di­ence and who­ever it picked out when it stopped won a free seat next time.

Intoxicated with shout­ing en­cour­age­ment at cowboy/in­dian chases, guns fir­ing at ev­ery pos­si­ble tar­get, and in­cred­i­ble feats of der­ring-do, we’d re-en­ter the real world two hours later, blink­ing into the sun­light after a singsong and a rous­ing cho­rus that ended “We’re all pals to­gether…we’re the Mi­nors of the A-B-C!”

Queues were com­mon when a big film came to town and it al­ways seemed to be rain­ing as you waited in a snaking line round the cor­ner from the cin­ema and tried to avoid peo­ple rush­ing past on the pave­ment. Once in the foyer, what im­pressed was the vel­vety fit­ted car­pet (most of our houses had lino and rugs) and pol­ished brass ban­is­ters on the stairs go­ing to the cir­cle. Huge, moody, black and white pho­tographs of past and present stars lined the walls: Doris Day, Rita Hay­worth, Clark Gable, David Niven and, sure enough, Roy Rogers and his heroic horse, Trig­ger. There was a smell of per­fume and dust.

You paid the ticket-man in his glass-fronted booth and moved in­side to the au­di­to­rium, first re­lin­quish­ing half of your ticket to the ush­erette who threaded it onto an old boot­lace. This seemed a fairly uni­ver­sal prac­tice — but why? An­other ush­erette with a for­mi­da­ble torch showed you to a seat — not booked in ad­vance but for a pop­u­lar film, any­where that you could fit in.

Seats were scratchy mo­quette, floors un­car­peted un­like the sump­tu­ous foyer. Ci­garette smoke was ev­ery­where be­cause cin­e­mas were all-smok­ing in those days. It would writhe its way to

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