O Happy Days…

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The old City Theatre in Sexton Street

One of the most abiding memories of childhood is that of Saturday afternoon cinema.

The staple diet of the cinemas in times past was,of course, the “cowboy and indian” films along with the “follow uppers” (an episode every Saturday) like flash gordon and superman.

The local cinema, the “City theatre” is, sadly, no longer; but in its heyday of the 50s and 60s, long before the television arrived, it was a very popular venue for the people on the south side of the city and the Saturday afternoon childrens cinema was an institution.

The weekdays before Saturday would be spent gathering old newspapers to sell to the local waste paper depot on Sexton Street along with collecting glass bottles that had a “bounty” on them when brought back to the local shop. It was 6 pence admission to the fantasy world of cowboys and indians and Superman and, with a bit of luck, a few pence for sweets.

By todays standards with multiplex cinema the City Theatre was not very large. It had a lobby with floors and walls covered with marble and fancy wall lights, complete with a gentleman called “connery” in his fancy uniform with gold braids looking very important. And, I’m sure, must have been a very patient man trying to keep hundreds of children in order before the doors opened.

The cheers in the cinema when the lights went down and the curtain parted was deafening. And the cheers continued as Flash Gordon disposed of baddie after baddie. But Flash never quite got Ming, leaving “Ming The Merciless” to fight anothe day.

And as for Superman. He was always left in an impossible situation as the credits rolled leaving hundreds of little brains already starting to figure out how to put the price of next Saturdays admission together to find out if it was the demise of our superhero.

Roy Rogers and his horse “Trigger” were very popular except when he picked up his guitar and started to sing a song to the horse. And there was always a big cheer as he finished the song and returned to the important work of catching the baddie. You would always know the baddie. He was the one who sneered, always wore black and needed a shave.

The occasion of a “breakdown” of the projector would be greeted with whistles and slow clapping. The ushers would rush up and down the aisles waving the flashlights in a vain attempt to keep order. Restoration of the film would be followed by a huge cheer and the baddies continued to bite the dust. If, as might happen, from time to time the 6 pence admission could not be achieved there was an alternative and a very strange one too.

The local convent ran a Saturday afternoon film and it only cost 3 pence. Films were shown by the nuns in 2 classrooms joined together. They wore full habit at that time,only their face and hands were visible, and were seen as mysterous creatures by boys as their school was only for girls.

A nun would stand outside the classroom with a shoebox as we put the 3 pence into it (and wishing we were at the “City Theatre” further down the street).

We sat on a desk and a nun would pull down the blackout blinds on the windows (nothing fancy here). A much different kind of film would be shown by the nuns like “the song of Bernadette” or a western film like “Shane”. Always a film with a message, or a religous theme.

As the nuns had only one projector and the films were on 20 minute reels, the film would stop and the nun would load the next 20 minutes and so on. There was no cheering ,clapping,whistling,booing, here as these were holy nuns. But then it was better than nothing and only 3 pence. And there was always next Saturday to look forward to and hopefully queueing for admission to the “City Theatre” instead of the convent.

Wandering home afterwards for the “Tea” at 6 o clock we would be recounting the “action bits” of the film just seen. It would provide a topic of conversation for the coming week and the cycle would begin again…how can i get my hands on 6 pence for next Saturday?????? O Happy Days

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