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The Fifties Cinema Experience

Do you remember when the cinemas were so full you would have to queue, sometimes for over an hour to get in? Who would do that nowadays, especially if it was raining - as it often was.

Then, when you did get near the entrance, there would be a uniformed commissionaire ready to count down the number of people who could be allowed in and then the dread arm would come out to stop you and another long wait ensued before the next tranche of customers were allowed in.

Then perhaps you would be told - "Standing room only" - and you would happily stand at the back of the auditorium behind all the seats and look over the high wooden structure which formed their rear, sometimes semi obscured by a short velvet curtain on a long brass rail.
And then you would often go in halfway or two thirds through a film and so would know what the ending was going to be long before it actually happened.
And dont forget the usherette with her torch guiding you into the middle of a row where the empty seats were and everybody having to stand up while you passed them and their sometimes wet coats piled on the sides of the seats. And you might well have been seated next to a heavy smoker with a pipe or a chain smoker with cigarette after cigarette adding to the clouds of smoke already filling the auditorium and hovering like a great white mist in the spotlight beam of the projector.

Often in those days there would be a horrible whirring noise as the film ground to a halt and there was a projection room breakdown and some wit in the audience would invariably shout out "Put a shilling in the meter." Sometimes twenty minutes or so would pass before it was rectified and then there would be a loud and ironic cheer.

But it all climaxed satisfactorily when for some reason or another in the short piece of film, heralded by a drumroll, which signified that the national anthem was about to be played, there appeared the then familiar visage of Winston Churchill and his cigar and there would be some applause and a few boos from the rebels. Then the shot of the young Queen Elizabeth regally astride a horse performing an inspection during the Trooping of the Colour mingled with shots of all four royal castles.

Most people in those days would stand respectfully to attention as the national anthem was being played and only a few early republicans drifted out before it ended.

It seems unbelievable now in these days of cosy, technology filled evenings that anyone would ever contemplate such a weird experience but in those days when the war had not long ended and many towns were still full of bombed buildings our expectations were not so high and we were all the happier for it.

A last minute visit to the chip shop for six penn'orth before we just about made it to the last bus home and another entertaining night in our lives had added to the long, rich tapestry and some of those moments and particular films still stay with us.

Who would have thought it?

William Brown

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