Recalling the days of cinema magic

TELEVISION, DVD players and film clips sent to your mobile phone have all threatened the future of the cinema, but there is still nothing like seeing the latest blockbuster on the big screen with full blast sound effects.

David Kindred

TELEVISION, DVD players and film clips sent to your mobile phone have all threatened the future of the cinema, but there is still nothing like seeing the latest blockbuster on the big screen with full blast sound effects.

“The flicks” have been a popular evening out for many decades. The 1920s and 30s saw a huge increase in audiences in a time before television. The magic of being able to escape for a couple of hours into a fantasy world saw queues of people waiting for hours to get a seat.

Newsreel would be rushed to all the major venues. The images were often days or even weeks old, but it was still the first time most people had seen moving pictures of major events. Ipswich had five main cinema buildings, some of which were purpose built, plus several halls and theatres which regularly showed films.


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These included. The Regent, St Helens Street, The Odeon, Lloyds Avenue, The Ritz, Buttermarket, The Picture House, Tavern Street and The Central Cinema, Princes Street. There was also Pools Picture Palace at the theatre in Tower Street, The Empire at the Social Settlement, Fore Street. Film shows were also held at the Hippodrome in St Nicholas Street and the Lyceum Theatre, Carr Street.

Former Ipswich man Brian Dean, who now lives at Lower Faircox, Henfield, West Sussex, recalls his visits to the packed and smoke filled cinemas in the late 1940s and early 50s.

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Brian said: “This was a time when few people owned a television set and going to the cinema was a national pastime with many people making two or even three visits a week. As a child I went twice a week with my mother and sister. We were there every Monday and Saturday evenings. Sometimes I went on my own in the afternoons during school holidays. If an 'A' film was showing you would have to approach an adult outside the cinema with your money and ask them to take you in. I never felt in any danger doing that.

“When I started work and could afford to pay for myself twice weekly visits continued with friends plus we would also often go on a Sunday afternoon as there was little else to do in Ipswich on a Sunday. At that time shops all shut, there was no sporting activity. We even got chased off the park if we tried to play football!

“The cinemas were allowed to open between 4.30pm and 9.30pm on Sundays. They could not charge for entertainment under the Sunday laws then so the money taken at the box office was distributed amongst local charities. Because of this none of the top films were shown on Sundays, they were usually low-grade 'B' movies on for one day only, old comedy films with Abbott and Costello or the Bowery Boys, or perhaps a 'western' with the likes of Randolph Scott.

“The cinemas were all single screen then, seating up to around 1,500 people. Smoking was permitted in all parts. Most of the adult audience did smoke and clouds of the cigarette smoke would just drift up to the ceiling with the beam from the projection room to the screen cutting through the haze like a lighthouse beam through fog. We sat in that smoke-laden atmosphere for a good three hours or more as the programmes ran a lot longer then than they do today. When the subject of passive smoking crops up my mind goes back to the hundreds of hours I spent in the smoke filled cinemas in Ipswich, both as a child and in my youth and if it is as harmful as some say, I marvel that at 69 and never a smoker myself that I am still around.

“Besides the main film there would be a supporting 'B' film and trailers for next week's programme we saw Gaumont British or Pathe News a Pearl and Dean short advertising feature. “Look at Life” was another short feature film of general interest and often a cartoon. At the Ritz in the Buttermarket an organist would entertain while the usherettes went round with their trays of ice-cream and soft drinks during the interval.”

“There were five cinemas in Ipswich after the Second World War, but this was reduced to four when the Central in Princes Street was destroyed by fire in February 1950. At the time of the fire the Central was showing “Call Northside 777”. Posters outside continued to advertise the film for some years after as the frontage stood for several years after the blaze. For a laugh, sometimes on our Sunday afternoon, my friends and I would form a small queue outside the Central and earnest passers-by would stop to inform us the cinema wasn't there. There was nothing behind the façade, a fact of course we knew full well.”

“Big queues were a regular feature at the four remaining town cinemas, the Odeon, Ritz, Picture House and Regent, particularly on a Friday or Saturday evening, with huge queues running the length of the streets. Uniformed commissionaires, usually ex senior NCOs from the armed forces with a chest full of medal ribbons, were employed to supervise the queues, occasionally it would be shouted out that the odd single or pair of seats was available in the 'one-and-nines' or 'two-and-threes' etc, which would trigger a minor stampede to the pay box, but the bulk of the queue didn't move until one film was over and another about to start, a wait sometimes of an hour or so.”

“The films were subjected to much stricter censorship then than today with none of the gratuitous sex, violence and bad language often seen now. Nudity and swearing were most defiantly out and about the worse you would hear would be James Cagney snarling in one of his gangster roles.

“In Ipswich as elsewhere most young couples did their courting at the cinema as apart from the dance halls there was nowhere much else a couple could go. Pubs then didn't really cater for young people and were somewhat more spartan then than now, not really the place to take a young lady if you were out to impress her and out of bounds to under 18s anyway.”

“Having a night in at home with your girlfriend wasn't an option because parents would keep an 'eagle eye' on 'proceedings'. Most girls were on a strict 10 o'clock or 10.30 pm curfew, and once a young man's time was up he would be left in no doubt of the fact and swiftly ejected on to the pavement, so the cinema was a real sanctuary to snatch a few hours together. The back rows both upstairs and down were more or less unofficially reserved for courting couples with the Regent, I think it was, thoughtfully removing alternate arm rests just to make things a little more cosy”.

- Do you have memories of the cinemas of the past? Write to Kindred Spirits, Evening Star Lower Brook Street, Ipswich or e-mail info@kindred-spirit.co.uk

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