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Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Three for the Flea Pit (Part 1)

Been to the Pictures lately?  No, not one of those multi-screen, blockbuster churners that double for cinemas these days, nor do I mean watching a high-definition DVD on your child’s game player.  I mean the Pictures, that incredible experience of watching a film displayed on the big screen, in the presence of hundreds of like-minded people and being utterly engrossed in the action in front of you (by which I don’t mean that couple, apparently engaged in all-in wrestling, who clearly have no interest in the plot at all).

I don’t know if you remember your first experience of the cinema as it used to be?  Go on, cast your mind back, what was the first film you ever saw at the Pictures?  Clearly the answer is going to differ quite a lot from generation to generation, from those whose first experience included someone bashing seven bells out of a piano whilst a train hurtled silently toward the heroine, to those who were first entranced by the innovative special effects in such films as Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  My first experience is somewhere between the two (and I don’t mean that someone accompanied Flash Gordon on the Piano Accordion).

Obviously I had seen loads of films in my childhood, on the television on a Sunday afternoon which, in the 1950s, usually involved constant re-runs of World War II, with John Mills, Kenneth Moore or David Niven single-handedly sorting out the bad guys (if it was a British film) or John Wayne, Burt Lancaster or Humphrey Bogart doing the same for the Americans.  But this was in black and white, in very poor definition (remember 405 lines?), on a very small screen.  As interesting as these were on a rainy Sunday afternoon, they were only marginally better than the rest of my childhood TV entertainment (which, to be fair, only ranged from Watch with Mother to Tonight with Cliff Michelmore).

My first experience of the cinema proper was more or less by accident.  My Nanna Whiteland decreed that I should accompany my youngest uncle, Ken, and his girlfriend (now his wife) to the cinema.  Whether this was in the capacity of unwitting chaperone or to give Ken and Pauline a taste of what it was like to have a youngster dogging their heels or whether she just wanted to get rid of me for the evening, I really don’t know.  Anyway, we went to the Pictures to see April Love starring Pat Boone and Shirley Jones.  I remember sitting in the right-hand side of the Stalls and being hugely impressed with the sheer size of the place.  I was less impressed with the action of the moquette seating on the backs of my knees (a constant problem when you wore short trousers and your feet didn’t touch the floor when seated).  I think the B film (remember when you still had those?) was in black and white and therefore wasn’t particularly surprising, but then came the main feature in glorious Technicolor.  I was completely stunned by the sheer spectacle of all this colour and sound and became an immediate fan of the Pictures and all their work.  I also developed a devotion to Shirley Jones that was still going strong even when she was bashing a tambourine in the Partridge Family in the 1970s.  April Love was released in 1957 so I guess I would only be about 4 or 5 years old when it finally turned up in downtown Burton upon Trent but I can still remember the impact it had on me over 50 years later.


You can continue the story at Three for the Flea Pit (Part 2) and...


You can find this story, along with a host of others, in the new bumper collection of stories Crutches For Ducks at Amazon.co.uk or at Amazon.com