The Routine

Back in the olden days, we would queue for up to an hour sometimes to see a popular movie, then choose a seat. There were three session times at the weekend: morning (matinee), afternoon and night. Matinee and afternoon sessions were mainly attended by children and teenagers, and had a larger number of cartoons.

Night sessions were more serious and designed for adults to enjoy. They had fewer cartoons and more news. Child attendance was often restricted to those accompanied by an adult.

Children tended to sit near the front, to get the most impact from the movies, while teenagers would opt for the rear area. This was sometimes to allow a boy and girl to sit and enjoy time together, or for the semi-larrikin element to roll round lollies or stones down the wooden aisles.

Mickey Mouse was the hero of many kids back then. This is a frame from the movie "Steamboat Willie", the first film of Mickey Mouse to be released.Before the movie proper started the National Anthem would be played while a picture of the Queen on horseback was displayed, and everyone was expected to stand up for this. Then there were always cartoons and a newsreel, usually Movietone News in our town.

After these events (which were often the highlight of the show) the main movie would be shown. If it was on more than one reel of film there may be an interruption while the new reel was loaded, but some theatres had two projectors so this interruption was brief.

After maybe two hours there was an interval, when we were free to go to the foyer to buy lollies and drinks before returning for the second half or the second movie.

For the more affluent, hard, round lollies were popular as they could be rolled down the aisle with a "click" at each join in the floor. Chewing gum was banned in some theatres, but still brought by many. It was often disposed of by sticking it to the bottom of the seat. Very naughty!

The Seats

These were usually rows of steel or iron framed chairs that were just wide enough for a body to fit, sometimes with no armrests to separate the patrons. They were usually, but not always, padded. There was no provision (at least in ours) for cup-holders. Most seats would lift up when you stood to allow others to pass. As floors were not so steeply-sloped as they are these days, seats were often "staggered" for our viewing pleasure.

The Movies

Mickey Mouse was a kid's favourite cartoon character Mickey Mouse
Charlton Heston was the favourite of many ladies at the time Charlton Heston
Jane Russell was very popular, especially with the men Jane Russell
Tom and Jerry cartoons were also very popular. Tom and Jerry
Deborah Kerr was considered a very talented actress, and popular with 
both male and female viewers Deborah Kerr
Cary Grant was the heart-throb of many females Cary Grant
Donald Duck was also popular with the kids Donald Duck
Audrey Hepburn had a special fresh and healthy look that appealed to many Audrey Hepburn
Picture of Charlton Heston and Stephen Boyd from the movie Ben Hur Heston and Boyd
Lady and the Tramp was a big hit for all ages Lady and the Tramp
Mae West displayed her talents to the full Mae West
Picture of Marlon Brando as Superman Marlon Brando
Picture of Dumbo, a cartoon elephant Dumbo
Picture of John Wayne, tough-man of many movies John Wayne

In early days many films were black-and white and some had no sound, but gradually sound and coloured movies took over.

The film's projection was not as good as it is these days - there was usually a bit of flickering, and occasionally the film strip would break and there would be a delay of one or two minutes while it was spliced.

Swearing, nudity and sex-scenes were never allowed in films, and the actors' dress was very controlled - there were no thighs or cleavage back then (well, the odd glimpse in the adult sessions maybe, with Jane Russell for instance).

Some favourites in the cartoons were Tom and Jerry, Mickey Mouse (almost any Disney product was special) and heroes like Tarzan and Captain Marvel. Comedies like Three Stooges were also popular.

Picture of Quo Vadis advertisement

The storylines of the movies were usually quite good, but the sound and special effects were very primitive and actors would have to over-act to make it clear what they were doing. Watching any old John Wayne movie will demonstrate this.

Later developments allowed more natural acting, and some memorable movies, like Ben Hur, Quo Vadis and Casablanca were released that gave the actors world-fame. The ad at right was for a blockbuster event in Irlam (near Manchester) in 1953.

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