Let’s go to the pictures!

Birthdays meant free admission to the ABC Minors’ show.

Birthdays meant free admission to the ABC Minors’ show.

My love for the cinema began around 1945 with the ABC Minors’ Matinee. I rarely missed these Saturday morning visits, and I still have three birthday cards sent to me from J. Arthur Rank and ABC Cinemas.

It was quite an occasion when you celebrated a birthday because you were called on stage and hundreds of children were encouraged to sing Happy Birthday to You. We were also allowed free admission, and I suspect many children lied about their birthdays in order to get this perk.

While everyone was in full voice, we all sang the Minors’ Matinee Song to the tune of Blaze Away. After the community singing died down there followed a selection of films including short comedies with Laurel & hardy or The Bowery Boys. There were cartoons, a serial that ended with a cliff-hanger each week (leaving everyone eagerly awaiting the next episode) and a full-length feature film.

Tarzan, Old Mother Riley and an abundance of cowboy and Indian films were frequently shown,
and the exuberance of the children was loud and deafening, but everyone had a wonderful time.

As I grew older, but still at school, I started visiting the cinema at other times, often on my own. In those days, if a film had an ‘A’ certificate you had to be accompanied by an adult, and it was a common occurrence for a child to hang around outside until a suitable adult appeared, and unbelievably we’d ask a stranger: “Will you take me in, please?” Upon reflection, it’s a horrifying thought, but life was so different in the 1950s.

I was a very shy and withdrawn child, and grew worse as a teenager, so going to the pictures was a form of escapism for me, and I was whisked away with all the fantasy and romance.

My bedroom walls were covered with photographs of the stars of the era, and I wrote to all the studios and have dozens of signed photographs of English and American film celebrities all carefully stored away in albums.

In 1953, when I was 16, it was inevitable that I would take a job as an usherette, and I would
never tire of seeing the same film over and over again.

I always looked forward to the first showing of the film of the week, and I’d get carried away in the magic of those wonderful 1950s musicals. I could imagine I was singing with Howard Keel, dancing with Gene Kelly and dreaming of becoming Doris Day. I became lost in a world of romance and intrigue.

Sundays were devoted to the screening of old black and white films from the 1930s and 40s, and we were faced with incredibly long queues all day long, which invariably resulted in standing room only.

Sadly the picture house where I worked for two magical years became a bingo hall, but the wonderful memories can never be erased.

Irene Purslow