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I don't know about you (well, obviously I don't, I'm not even sure who you are) but Amazon and their associates have the happy ...

Friday, 4 March 2011

Three for the Flea Pit (Part 2)

Continuing the story that began in Three for the Flea Pit (Part 1)

The second visit to the Pictures that sticks in my memory was in late 1961.  It was the day of my Nanny Appleby’s funeral and, at 6 years old, I was deemed to be too young to attend.  Much to the annoyance of my two female cousins, who were a few years older than me (and, therefore, considerably more sophisticated), they were detailed to take me to the cinema whilst the grown-ups attended the funeral etc.  I don’t think I really understood the significance of the day, or that I wouldn’t be seeing my beloved Nanny again, but I was aware of the intense pall of sadness that had descended on everyone around me.  On the other hand, we were going to see One Hundred and One Dalmatians, the new Walt Disney film that had just been released, so every cloud had a silver lining (when you’re 6 years old you have a limited capacity for grief but an insatiable appetite for cartoons) and, as my birthday was just two weeks away, this was sold to me as an early birthday treat.

I don’t know if you remember the 1961 version of One Hundred and One Dalmatians but, to my mind, it marked the beginning of the end of Walt Disney’s cinematic dominance of the cartoon feature film from the heyday of the 1940s and 1950s.  The film featured a much more angular style of drawing and the human characters lacked any real warmth.  Another problem was that it was an American film, set in Britain, which is always a recipe for disaster (consider Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins – need I say more?).  Therefore, the main characters spoke with very strange versions of English accents whereas (and this never occurred to me until I started writing this) the puppies all spoke with American accents.  Nevertheless, it still had the ability to pull at the heartstrings and I remember a tear or two running down my cheek when one of the puppies said “I’m hungry mother” as they were escaping from the evil Cruella De Ville.  That probably doesn’t sound like a good reason for tears but I think that Nanny was at the back of my mind.

I’m not easily moved to tears (I don’t know who I think I’m kidding) but there are certain films that do it every time.  As a consequence, I have imposed a lifetime ban on myself from ever attempting to watch Bambi, Dumbo, Carousel and, for some reason, A Kid for Two Farthings.  There are a few others that can sneak up on me but those four are absolutely out of the question.

So, by the time I was 7, and by the simple expedient of being forced onto people who didn’t want to take me, I had acquired a real taste for the Pictures.  As soon as I was old enough, I frequently took myself off to one of the two cinemas in Burton.  My favourite was the one in Curzon Street, because I liked the fact that it was off the beaten track and tended not to get the big releases that the cinema in Guild Street always had (I’ve always had a tendency to support the underdog).  Both cinemas had that wonderful classic art deco styling and triumphant architecture that harked back to the glory days of cinema.  I know that one was the Gaumont and the other was the Odeon and that, at some point, they switched names but I can’t remember which was which (if you remember, we would love to hear from you).  I went back to take a picture of the Curzon Street building for this article, only to find that it was now replaced by an apartment block (clearly of huge importance to Burton).  I can’t remember there being a huge outcry when this was demolished, in contrast to the eyesore in Guild Street (see picture) which has been saved for posterity.  Still, like most people of my age in Burton, I recall queuing back, along the side of the cinema, into George Street, in the rain and the snow, never knowing if there was really any chance of getting in even if I did reach the front of the queue.

My third memorable visit was not in Burton but in Belper.  I was staying with my Aunt in Holbrook for a couple of weeks in the summer holidays.  Auntie Mabel was the mother of the two cousins who had been lumbered with taking me to One Hundred and One Dalmatians.  This was 1964 and my cousins were absolute fans of that new beat combo, The Beatles.  To be awkward, I decided that I couldn’t stand The Beatles and affected a fondness for The Rolling Stones instead.  In the midst of all this fanaticism (the LP With The Beatles was being worn to smoothness on my cousins’ Dansette), my cousins had tickets for the new film, A Hard Day’s Night.  Once again, to their absolute horror, I was added to the party (again, I suspect, as a birthday treat for my 10th birthday).  I remember queuing for ages to get into the cinema and then trotting to the front of the Stalls.  The whole place seemed to be packed with hundreds of young girls…and me.  I sat glumly with my cousins as the B film dragged on to silence from the auditorium.  Then the British Board of Film Censors certificate appeared for the main film, and the screaming started, and went on, and on, and on.  You have never heard a noise like it.  In fact, I wondered if I would ever hear anything ever again!  I’m quite sure that my cousins would have loved to have joined in with the general mania but they had this boring cousin from Burton to look after so they sat and watched in silence.  I can honestly say that, despite being only feet away from the main speakers, I never heard a word of that film.  In fact, it is only in recent years when it has been on TV that I gleaned an idea of what the plot was all about.

Despite my love of the Pictures, I haven’t been to a film at the cinema since 1988 when my future wife and I went to see Big at the, now dilapidated, cinema in Guild Street.  My wife doesn’t have the patience to endure films of any length, as she would be the first to admit, so toward the end of the film she was beginning to get distinctly fidgety.  We reached the key romantic point of the film, when Tom Hanks is saying goodbye to the girl who could have been his girlfriend (if he hadn’t been a child in a grown-up’s body – you need to see the film really), it is quite a poignant moment and I doubt that there was a dry eye in the house.  Hilary leant over to me and I guessed that the poignancy of the moment had got to her, until she whispered in my ear “Do you think this place is infested?  I haven’t stopped itching for ages.”  You don’t get that sort of romance in the cinema anymore, do you?

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