Monday, April 13, 2009

Saturday morning pictures

Tales From The Woods supremo Keth Woods has suggested resurrecting the Saturday morning pictures ritual that some of us enjoyed in our childhood. I grew up at the tail end of the great cinema age just as TV was taking over and vividly remember going to the flicks on Saturday mornings at the Gaumont, West Wickham, which closed in 1957 to make way for a Sainsburys. The mixture of cartoons and adventure and cowboy shorts such as Flash Gordon, Zorro and Hopalong Cassidy, interspersed with community singing of such favourites as The Happy Wanderer and Under the Spreading Chestnut Tree, made this a great morning's entertainment.
At that time there were many cinemas within a few miles of home, including Odeons in Hayes, Elmers End, Croydon and Bromley, plus the Regal in Beckenham (later renamed the ABC - pictured), the Gaumont and Pullman in Bromley, the Gaumont, Eros and the Davis Theatre in Croydon and the Essoldo, Penge. My first memory of the flicks is being scared to death by the roar of a waterfall in Lorna Doone at the Eros. Later on I sneaked in under age to X rated so-called horror films at the Regal (anyone remember the dreadful Behemoth The Sea Monster?), or rather tame 'sex films' such as the poor remake of The Blue Angel with May Britt (pictured) rather than the wonderful Marlene Dietrich. Then there were the News Theatres in the West End where my parents would occasionally take me for a treat. After a cuppa at the Lyons Corner House we would go to the cinema for an hour to watch a mix of newsreels and cartoons.
Keith's suggestion is to arrange afternoon screenings of Saturday morning classics, rock and roll films of the 50s or the early TV shows such as Muffin the Mule, Woodentops, Flower Pot Men, Quatermass, Jims Inn, Grove Family, Phillip Harben, Sunday Night at the London Palladium (I would love to see Buddy Holly's appearance again) and Gurney Slade if any clips exist. A nice idea, even if most of these will now seem incredibly naive and amateurish.


At 6:03 am , Blogger Private Beach said...

Do any copies of the original TV Quatermass series still exist. or only the Hammer movie remakes? And does anyone remember "A for Andromeda" on television, featuring a very young Julie Christie? (I understand it's been remade in recent years.)

At 12:37 pm , Blogger tony.papard said...

I have happy memories of the Saturday Morning Pictures. Mainly the Ritz cinema, Bowes Road (later a Jehovah's Witness Kingdom Hall.)

We sung along to 'The Happy Wanderer' and other pre-rock'n'roll hits of the day like 'Over The Mountains', 'Poppa Piccalina', 'How Much Is That Doggy In The Window', etc. as Uncle Joe or whoever played his Wurlitzer organ with its colored lights.

Best of all was the ABC Minors' Song which we sung just before the films started. I don't remember ever standing for 'God Save The Queen' at the end of the show - if they played it, we all rushed out before or during the ditty.

The films were nearly all from the 1930s and 1940s, with the exception of the new fad of
3-D films which were occasionally shown, and red/green glasses handed out to us.

We looked forward to going every week, and seeing how the hero in the serial escaped certain death. Having fallen over a cliff in a stagecoach, been eaten alive in Emperor Ming's death dungeon crocodile pit, or in one case crushed under a lift as it descended to the bottom of the shaft, sometimes ingenious methods of escape were devised, but usually we were tricked by inserted scenes omitted the previous week showing how the hero escaped.

The News theaters were another phenomenom, and a good way to spend a spare hour or so when up the West End. Probably not places for lone women though. Nobby Clark, a colleague in one of the offices I worked in, went to the news theater in The Strand facing Trafalgar Square regularly to see the Batman serial, evidently re-living his Saturday Morning Picture days.

A woman in the row behind was complaining loudly because a man had sat next to her and kept putting his hand on her knee. Nobby turned round in his seat, and instead of gallantly coming to the poor woman's rescue by telling the man to piss off and leave her alone, addressed the woman thus:

'Madam, would you please be quiet, I'm trying to watch Batman and Robin.'

The Biograph Cinema, Wilton Road, Victoria vied with the Electric Cinema in Portobello Road as the oldest in Britain, having apparently opened in 1905. It showed continuous programs of old full-length features, with just a short interval for Tubby (a fat guy) and his colleague (a bald-headed miserable old man) to sell ice-creams - two of the most unglamorous 'ice-cream girls' in the world. Flo was in the box-office, and Henry Cooper's brother, the owner who bore a striking resemblance to the boxer, could sometimes be seen patrolling the seats in the hopeless task of stopping all the hanky-panky going on there.

The left-hand side was a Mecca for gay men, and the right-hand side had a mixture of older men and the odd female hooker.

The place was suddenly demolished in the early 1980s, having failed to achieve 'listed building' status because of refurbishments which had taken place over the years, which completely altered the front entrance.

Poor old Flo, Tubby, etc. turned up for work one Monday to find a big hole had appeared in the roof overnight - the demolition men had arrived secretly, not even the staff had been told the day before when the cinema was open and packed as usual on a Sunday afternoon.

But the Saturday Morning Pictures will always hold a special nostalgia for me - The Three Stooges, Our Gang, and where I first discovered Will Hay, Moore Marriot and Graham Moffat - in 'Oh Mr Porter!'

Later we moved from Bowes Park to Alexandra Park, and joined the rival Gaumont SMP club in Wood Green High Rd. Not a patch on the ABC, as they didn't have their equivalent of the ABC Minors' Song, nor the luminous green ABC Minors' Club badges which glowed-in-the-dark and no doubt gave us all a tiny dose of radioactivity.

Happy days indeed!

At 6:58 pm , Blogger Nick said...

John 'Soulboy' Jolliffe wrote:
I can still remember to this day the minors song.
We are the boys and girls well known as minors of the ABC.
And every Saturday we'll line up to watch the films we like and shout aloud with glee.
We like to laugh and have our sing song, because a happy crowd are we.
We're all pals together. We're minors of the ABC.

Well it went something like the above anyway. Pals together interesting.
What about. We want Muffin, Muffin the mule........

At 8:25 pm , Blogger Nick said...

Don't know about original copies of the early Quatermass (although I would like to see them if they exist) but I do remember A for Andromeda - an excellent sci-fi series. Here's a synopsis I found on-line:
A for Andromeda (1961) was the BBC's first major adult science fiction production since the three Quatermass serials of the 1950s. But unlike its predecessors, it used the new sciences of computing and genetics, rather than the established disciplines of chemistry and archaeology, to tell its story of an alien threat to humanity.
The series was developed by producer John Elliot from a story by Cambridge astronomer and novelist Fred Hoyle about an alien transmission that provides details about how to build a supercomputer. Once built, the machine turns out to be a form of messenger that, among other things, provides a formula for a genetic experiment that results in the cloning of a technician who it has deliberately electrocuted. The cloned embryo quickly reaches maturity, and is christened Andromeda, after the source of the original transmission. Despite her outward appearance, the woman has an alien mentality and fears about her intentions are quickly realised. "Our intelligence is going to take over and yours is going to die. You'll go the way of the dinosaurs," she informs her human colleagues.

News of the computer, which has been built in secrecy under the watchful eye of the Ministry of Defence, is leaked to a mysterious organisation - called, curiously, Intel (clearly in its pre-Bill Gates guise) - which wants the device for its own ends. Fortunately, Andromeda is humanised by her interaction with the people who built the computer, and she runs away with young scientist John Fleming (Peter Halliday) rather than play a part in the alien plan.
The series contains several elements that belie its age. Genetics and computer science were then still in their infancy - although both would be familiar to audiences today. Also, the programme features women at the centre of the action - the scientist that instigates the genetic experiment, Professor Madeline Dawnay (Mary Morris) and the alien creation, Andromeda (played by newcomer Julie Christie).
The series proved popular enough for a sequel, The Andromeda Breakthrough (BBC, 1962), which followed Andromeda's attempts to flee her human captors. Intel is once again interested in gaining access to the alien intelligence but time is running out for everyone - a genetic fault is killing the clone. The BBC's refusal to pay a £300 option to retain the services of Julie Christie resulted in Andromeda being recast, with Susan Hampshire taking over the role.


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