These fabulous places were a magnet for youngsters and adults alike with their gaudy foyers and lush interiors. Back then, a visit to the cinema was a memorable event.
There were, of course, exceptions. A few cinemas rightly earned the nickname, Flea-Pits, for they were run-down and badly maintained, though they too had their clientele.
A typical cinema programme offered cartoons, Mickey Mouse or Popeye; Pathe News; Pearl and Dean advertising and a B-Picture, usually featuring gangsters or warfare, then, top of the bill, The Big Picture, often a Western, an Historical Epic or a Sci-Fi adventure.
In the interval before the Big Picture you could buy Walls ice cream, Butterkist popcorn or Kiora juice, and no visit to "the pictures" would have been complete without one or all of these delights.
Television changed our relationship with cinema but, despite dire predictions at the time, cinema survived and evolved. Arguably it’s as popular today as it’s ever been, although the viewing demographic is different.
Most British multiplex cinemas offer a menu of Hollywood blockbusters, strong on special effects but low on engaging narrative, that appeal to the "Gamers Generation". Alternative, non-mainstream film houses aren’t always easy to find except in larger cities. A visit to the cinema hardly qualifies as an event nowadays. Somehow the glamour has gone.
AT THE PICTURES 1954
No smelly flea-pit this, instead,
a Pleasure Dome to this small lad,
Balcony-Front-Row like Chad,
bomb-aiming, targeting a head
down in the crowded Stalls below,
a cigarette’s illicit glow
lighting the victim, infra-red.
Popeye and Olive on the screen,
along comes Bluto, muscled, mean,
to beat the sailor almost dead.
A can of spinach saves the day:
it does so every Matinee.
On comes the Western, good Tom Mix.
Down the the Stalls the six-guns blaze
or else space-guns with cosmic rays
when Space War’s showing at the flicks.
We stamp the floor with scuffed black brogues,
cheer on our heroes, damn the rogues.
The usherette, with torch and scowl,
shines light my way, I duck right down.
She stamps her foot with angry frown.
The lady’s always on the prowl.
for noise-makers, rowdy kids,
for things the cinema forbids.
We long to be them but we’re not:
the Marshall or the Astronaut.
When errant Martians all are caught,
when wars are over, baddies shot,
we file outside, reluctantly,
to daylight and reality.