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Saturday Morning Cinema in the 1930s

The Alcazar, Edmonton

I did not visit the cinema very often during my childhood.  The seats cost four to six pence during the week, so I would be taken by my mother or my father.  My mother would take me in the afternoon so that we could get home for her to get dinner on.

I always knew why my father took me to the cinema.  He would always fall asleep soon after arrival and would sleep through until it was time to go home.  My father relied on me to wake him up at the appropriate time and then tell him what the film was all about. I think that, maybe, at this time I started the process of learning to be a film editor for which memory is everything.

cinema blues

Image by somaya via Flickr

My principal visits to the cinema were on a Saturday morning.  It was a ritual which started in 1937.  Around eight o’clock in the morning, I would approach my mother for some pocket money.  She might give me two pennies, sometimes three, my dad would give me the same.  On a bad week, I would have as little as three pence in total.  Then I would go up to my Granddad’s room and ask him if he had any money for me to go to the pictures.  He would ask me to pass him his small terracotta jar, with a lid, from here he took out some farthings and he would count out four.  I had to have four pence to get into the Moorish styled cinema, the Alcazar which started at nine in the morning and ran until midday.  Here we would see a couple of “B” movies about kids and animals and then a large number of serials like “Tailspin Tommy”, “The Perils Of Pauline” and “Flash Gordon” and films such as “Tarzan” with Johnny Weissmuller, and the “b westerns” of “Buck Jones” and “Tim McCoy”.

Of course, they were all designed to get us back there next week.  Mostly these cliff-hangers were cheating us.  Tailspin Tommy would be left plunging to earth in a dive that he could not possibly pull out of.  Next week, he would be seen about a hundred foot higher and he pulls out of the dive without a problem.  Thus I occupied my Saturday mornings.

Flash_Gordon_(serial)The audience were exclusively children, no adults were allowed.  Most of the children were restless and rowdy.  Frequently the noise of the audience would be greater than the characters on the screen.  At this point, the resident warder would march down the centre aisle shouting “Quack”, “Quack”.  With my fourpenny ticket, I could sit in the circle, far away from the rabble below.  They were so bad, fights were not unknown among the roughest of them. If I could not have got fourpence to sit in the circle, I would not go.  It took me a long time to work out that the warder was shouting “Quiet”, it really did sound like “Quack”.

If I had a good day and had rustled up another two pence, I could join the “tuppenny rush” at the Hippodrome across the road. The management of the Hippodrome, early experts in marketing, arranged to open their performance thirty minutes after the show ended at the Alcazar.  All those children trying to go from the Alcazar to the Hippodrome would evacuate the former at high speed, run down to the crossing, over the road and queue up outside the latter hall of entertainment.

Poster for The Perils of Pauline (1914)

Poster for The Perils of Pauline (1914) – Image via Wikipedia

Traffic was held up while this mob moved from one cinema to the next.  The main reason for the rush was that the Hippodrome only held half as many as the Alcazar and you couldn’t risk the chance that more wanted to go to the Hippodrome than it could hold.

In the Hip’, the films were older; the rowdiest of the Alcazar audience were sure to attend (their parents probably suffered considerable hardship raising the extra two pence, just to get rid of them for a few more hours); there were broken seats; seats with the most outrageous mixtures of spilled food, forcing us to inspect each seat before sitting down.  The projector frequently broke down, the audience would go wild. They would shout “Ooh, Ooh, Ooh” until the picture came back.  For me there was no refuge in a circle, there wasn’t one and there was no “Quack” man.  In the Hippodrome, there was only the occasional cry of pain as a rowdy became the recipient of a thick ear.  The warder in the Hip’ was silent, but quite active.  I don’t know why I went there.

Sadly, the Alcazar was bombed in a very early wartime raid on North London on August 23rd 1940, while the Hip’ was pulled down, much to the relief of the local populace.

© Terence Gallacher and terencegallacher.com, 2010.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Terence Gallacher and terencegallacher.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Additional links: Join me in the 1900s – an article about Saturday morning cinema in Edmonton (London), as well as many interesting articles on life in the early to mid 20th century in the area.

blog.boxinghistory.org.uk/ – the story of the Alcazar as a boxing venue, once descibed as ‘The prettiest open-air boxing arena in the world’.

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. I thought that I knew, if not had been in, all the cinemas withing range of Tottenham High Road and all though my experience of cinemas started in the late 40’s I had never heard of the Alcazar and equally puzzled about the location of the Hippodrome, did they change the name later? I suspect that the reason my brother and I was taken to the pictures by mum was less about the film and a lot to do with us all getting out of a fairly busy house. On the other hand I bet I can still recall every word and note of every hollywoood musical of the period. Mum loved musicals.

    I suspect you could write a book on the subject, it was such an important part of life, presumably from the 30’s through to the 60’s. And as is described elswhere in your recollections, the newsreel was a key source of imformation. Someone commented a little while ago that the newsreel couldn’t have been very effective as it only showed a few minutes of a few important items. A bit more than we get through the television today then!

    November 23, 2010
  2. First of all, The Hippodrome was situated on the south side of Angel Road Edmonton with the entrance facing east about seventy-five yards from the junction with Fore Street. The Hippodrome closed as a cinema in 1947, later it became a furniture store and finally got lost in a road widening scheme (when they made Angel Road and Silver Street opposite each other)

    Whatever the limitation of the newsreels, they were the only source of visual information from the early twentieth century until the mid 50s. They managed to get half a dozen stories into their allotted time of ten minutes, which is more than television news can do at the moment.

    Ah! the musicals that we used to so enjoy that now make us squirm, witness recently “On the Town”. However, the great musicals are well remembered and they were all in colour.

    Shortly, I will offer an article about going to the cinema in Tottenham and Edmonton in the 40s and 50s.

    Thank you for your comments.

    November 24, 2010

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