Forget-me-nots: A Bootlace of Ticket Stubs
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
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