Archive for the ‘The Princess Cinema’ Category

The Leeds Shopping Centre in the ’20s and ’30s,Rugby and the Cinemas.By Stan Pickles.

October 1, 2012

For this month’s tale Stan Pickles takes us back even further than usual to the 1020s/30s. Stan who has contributed massively to our East Leeds memories is, alas, no longer with us but the good news was he lived to be a hundred and his great memories of Leeds will live on even longer in these pages. Maybe Stan’s tales may appeal more directly to the pre-computer literate generation. Perhaps if you know someone who would appreciate a trawl through the 1920s/30s you could print it off for them?

The Leeds Shopping Centre in the ‘20s and ‘30s,
Rugby and the Cinemas.
By Stan Pickles
What a difference there is in the Leeds scene today from the lovely atmosphere of yesteryear. Then the shops were all household names and readily come to mind: Walker’s and Geldard’s next door to each other at the top of Kirkgate fitted out all the families for years: Geldard’s for ladies and children’s wear and Walker’s for dads and their lads. They were busy all year round and full to capacity for the annual Whitsuntide ritual. Walker’s with their trade name ‘REKLAW’ also supplied overalls and aprons for all trades. I got my printer’s apron there. Around the corner in Call Lane was King’s footwear shop where you could get a good pair of shoes or boots for eight shillings (40p).
Ho! Those tailor’s shops: Thirty Shilling Tailors, Fifty Shilling Tailors, John Colliers, Burtons of course. Half a dozen are still hanging on with a new image. As I passed through the centre on my way to work many were the times I called at Braham’s Pork Shop on Duncan Street for a sixpenny pork sandwich for lunch, or across the way for a quarter of Wraggs famous polony. That shop was noted for its pork pies sausages and polony. Many were the times I called in there after the rugby game at Headingley for half a pound of best polony for Mam and Dad’s tea with cakes and Yorkshire Relish.
Rawcliffe’s, the school outfitters, also on Duncan Street did a roaring trade in special school jackets, ties, caps all with the many distinctive school badges. There were also: Woolworth’s, Marks and Spencer’s (still there) and so many other big stores such as Lewis’s Schofield’s and the rest.
In the days before the wars there was no one-way traffic systems and Briggate and City Square in particular were choc-a-bloc with traffic doing its best to force a way through and the drivers in these rough conditions trying to control their tempers. Of course there was not the quantity of traffic there is today and the one-way systems have been a great help
The Leeds Market held pride of place for shopping. The whole atmosphere around the stalls and the open market filled with its stallholder characters. It was an entertainment in itself to see: Jimmy Rhodes juggling with baskets of crockery and dinner sets. Ringing them like bells and gradually knocking them down to give away prices in front of big interested audiences was enough to fill a stranger with admiration. There was another chap filling a carrier with soap and washing powder, quoting prices all the time and then saying , ‘Come on give me a couple of bob (10p) for the lot.’ and putting an extra bar of soap in the bag as you passed the money over.
These clever salesmen could hold an audience for ages with their sales patter. Then there was the couple who sold sweets and chocolate bars who would fill a large bag with mixed confectionary, then the lady would take them around the audience and sell them at half the price. The patter went something like this, ‘Why pay fancy prices in the shops for their electric lighting and their gaily coloured bags and the smile of the girl behind the counter?’ There was a fellow selling hair clippers who had a bare patch at the back of his head where he had demonstrated his goods’
The final hour on Saturday night was a good time for bargains. Big bunches of bananas going for sixpence (2 and a half p). Fruit – almost given away.
How many of the past newly-married couples still living remember Wigfall’s and Jay’s furniture stores with the famous slogan: Yours today – four years to pay?’ Yes, things have certainly altered a lot from those far off days of yore.
Joe Dixon, the market bobby would keep things in order while in the entrance, Woodbine Lizzie asked, ‘Give us a cig, cock.’ Joe Dixon, incidentally, played for Leeds Rugby League in the 1923 Cup Final at Wakefield when Leeds beat Hull 28-3.
The highlight of my Leeds games was when I went to Wakefield in 1923 to see that Leeds and Hull in the Rugby League Cup Final. I was only eleven years old but by now knew what it was all about. How I had looked forward to it, catching the Wakefield tramcar at the Corn Exchange and travelling the long ride to the Bull Ring. The old Chantry Bridge was choc-a-block with people on their way to Belle View. I was delighted to see Leeds win the cup and Jim Bacon holding it aloft. After the match we got back to Leeds and waited on Boar Lane to see the victorious Leeds team come home in an open coach to huge cheering crowds all the way to the Griffin Hotel, where thee was a reception and the players came out onto the balcony. I was a very happy youngster.
It gives a sense of history that almost 90 years after that 1923 final we still find ourselves walking over Chantry Bridge to that grand old Belle View Stadium (now the Rapid Solicitor’s Stadium and soon to be something quite different altogether)
At Headingley we always stood behind the posts at the St Michael’s Lane end. And apart from my later years when I got a stand ticket that was my favourite spot. How times have changes, though. Now ninety percent go by car and the streets around the ground are packed every Sunday when there is a match. Going back to a time between the wars it was a common sight to see rows of private bus companies like, Wallace Arnold and Heaps, that had bussed loads from all over the north parked tail to tail. It was a regular occurrence to see 30,000 in the ground on big match days
Going to the Pictures
Starting in the early twenties after I had graduated through my ‘penny rush’ days at the Easy Road Picture House I ventured further afield with cinema visits all over the city My earliest memories were of stars like, Douglas Fairbanks (the acrobatic one), Mary Pickford (the world’s sweetheart), Charlie Chaplin (the little tramp) who introduced Jackie Coogan as ‘the kid’, Lon Chaney (the man with 1,000 faces), Tom Mix and William S. Hart (the first cowboy stars). Richard Bartholomew and Alice Terry were probably the biggest attractions in the twenties. Rudolph Valentino (he was the sheik) riding off over the desert with his dancing slave girl, Oh that Vilma Banky! The big silent films of the time were: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, The Gold Rush, The Black Pirate, The Sea Hawk, Blood and Sand, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Way down East and that great epic, The Ten Commandments. To add to the drama and effect there was a pianist who did a good job giving atmosphere to the occasion. Now and again a singer would be engaged to give extra entertainment. For the film, The Volga Boatman at the Coliseum half a dozen singers were engaged to pull a rope across the front of the screen chanting the boatman’s song, ‘Ho’er, Heave Ho’ pretending to be pulling a barge as in the film provided a very effective overture before the film started. By this time I was a fanatic and interested in anything about films. I bought the weekly magazine: The Picture Show, two pence every week, which was full of interesting topics and pictures of the big films, the big stars and all the latest gossip. By the time the ‘talkies’ arrived in 1928 singing and dancing films were all the rage; The Broadway Melody, Hollywood Revue, On With the Sow. Desert Song, Rio Rita, Gold Diggers and the first talking and singing film: The Singing Fool with Al Jolson drew big crowds at Briggate’s Rialto Picture House.
The thirties carried on with new stars arriving on the scene, child star, Shirley Temple was the biggest sensation of them all. As for the men: nobody could match Clark Gable who went to the top with films like: It Happened One Night, Mutiny on the Bounty, San Francisco and finishing the thirties with the Masterpiece: Gone With the Wind. Gangster films were very popular: The Big House, Up the River, Fugitive from the Chain Gang and Public Enemy Number One, made stars of: James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson, Paul Muni, Humphrey Bogart, and many more.
I saw lots of films, going at least twice a week. Night school didn’t help but on one of the nights our lesson on practical work was broken to go across Cookridge Street to the Art School (I hated it) for the 8 p.m.–9 p.m. session. I could not stand drawing letter characters as it was of no use to my trade and a waste of time (My old
school teacher, Mr Archie Gordon, once called me, sarcastically of course, ‘Our lightening artist’). Anyway I thought it was a better idea to stay at the back of the group and nip into the Coliseum for the last show. It came off until I had been absent
three times, then I was found out and had to pay a visit to the Head, Mr Bottomley, who was very sympathetic to my cause but asked me to play the game, so that was that.
The biggest night in the history of Leeds cinema was the opening of the luxurious theatre: The Paramount, Briggate, in February 1932. The Smiling Lieutenant featuring Maurice Chevalier was the big film followed by a wonderful stage show. A friend and I went straight from work but couldn’t get near the place for the huge crowds never mind getting in. However we were successful on the Thursday evening. I will always remember it was like entering a royal palace and the wonderful show on stage, I had never seen anything like it.
The opening of the Shaftsbury a few years earlier in 1928 offered really good stage shows. I think it was the only cinema to have double seats for young couples. It was my favourite cinema and held many happy memories. I took my future wife on our first date to the Shaftsbury and I remember the film: The Barrett’s of Wimpole Street (1935). Going back even earlier still to 1923 – The Princess Cinema opened in Pontefract Lane. After being quite happy visiting the ‘bug hutches’ like: The Easy Road, The Victoria, The Premier and then The Regent you can imagine how we felt going into a lovely new picture house. The seats were all very comfortable and the cinema itself was kept spotless. The price of admission was: 3d, 6d, and 9d. Wednesday night was ‘jazz night’. When the lights went up the audience were invited to join in a sing-song following a bouncing ball on a song sheet on the screen while a small orchestra played the popular tunes of the day: I Like Ice Cream, Toy Drum Major, California Moon and Constantinople were songs I recall. Oh and those serials in fifteen episodes with…to be continued next week finishing at the most exciting part and holding you in suspense until the next week. I remember them well: Bride 13, Hidden Dangers, The Masked Rider, Fantomas, Houdini and the most famous and evil of them all Dr. Fu Manchu, who terrified everyone with his torture chamber and the evil deeds, carried out on his adversaries. Pearl White was always in danger, fighting him in films like, The Ebony Block and The Perils of Pauline.
In the thirties I was on the ‘Big Five’ mailing list, a little booklet of monthly programmes at: The Majestic, The Scala, The Coliseum, The Assembly Rooms and The Parkfield in Jack Lane, Hunslet. On Saturday nights you had to book early to be sure of getting in. Yes, cinema going was the main entertainment before the war. Unfortunately, people lost interest after World War Two. Those lovely cinemas were closed and many turned into ‘bingo halls’. I rarely go to the pictures now- a- days but those grand golden days of the cinema hold a special memory for me.

Thanks for those great memories. Stan.
The central Leeds cinema I remember were: The Odeon (previously The Paramount), The ABC (previously The Ritz)the Tower, The Assembly Rooms, The Gourmont – Cookridge Street (previously the Coliseum), The Scala and Majestic who always showed the same film for some reason and The News Theatre and Tattler near City Square. And our local cinemas: The Picture House (Easy Road), The Princess, Star, Shaftsbury, Regent, Hillcrest and in Hunslet: The Premier, Strand and Regal – all within walking distance and many more just a tram ride away. I’m sure you, our readers will remember many more.

Right, out last picture was of course The Market District Boys Club. Eric got it right how many more? And what about this months picture? All East Leedsers should recognise this one.

December 1, 2011

Dave Carncross has kindly allowed us to peep with respect into his epitaph of a true East Leeds Legend – Richard Chappelow.  In our old East Leeds society the virtues we admired most of all were to be brave and to be tough. Rick had both in abundance.  That he was a little injury prone only added to his charisma and made us love him the more

My Hero

By Dave Carncross

By the time we were ten years old or so, we were all veteran cinema-goers – the main venues being the Easy Road Picture House, the Star and the Princess. We liked anything which involved soldiers, cowboys, cartoons and comic book characters. We all had our own favourite film heroes but I had a real one much nearer home – next door but one to be precise. His name was Richard Chappelow.

The Chappelows were a lovely family. Jenny was like an extra sister. She was the same age as me but always seemed older. She was fiercely intelligent and always seemed to regard me with an amused tolerance and affection – as though I was a big, daft dog or something. David was the eldest and a really nice lad. Richard was, well, just Richard. Their Dad, Alf, left them when Richard would have been about thirteen years old and I never heard any of them mention his name again. May, their mother, had an uncanny resemblance to the film star June Allison and was just as nice. She went on in later life to write a few romantic novels and got them published. Jenny married another good local lad, Jim Croll, had a family and found the time to get a BA degree in her thirties through the Open University. David married and ended up inAustraliaalthough I think he had a spell inSouth Africafirst.

Richard was without doubt the toughest, most resilient lad I ever met in my entire life. This is not to say he was a hard case, far from it, he was a gentle, good natured, easy-going sort and universally popular. We junior males in East Leeds at that time always set great store by not being perceived as being `soft` and tried to take the knocks as they came without any outward show of being hurt. This was not always easy even for kids who only had to endure their own fair or average share of misfortune. The difference with Richard was that, if there was an accident waiting to happen, it would invariably be waiting for him. Whatever occurred, he would always behave the same, never cried or whinged and had seemingly bottomless reserves of mental fortitude. When anything happened to him and bear in mind that I had plenty of practice, I would closely watch his face for any sign of normal frailty but never saw any.  Perhaps a tightening of the jaw muscles or a momentary closing of the eyes would be all that escaped his iron control. I was always amazed and mightily impressed by how he dealt with the `slings and arrows` which were constantly besieging him and I always knew for an absolute certainty that I would be found badly wanting in similar circumstances.

The first time I ever visited the dreaded `Dispensary` on North Street it was just to keep Richard company while the medics reassembled whatever part of his anatomy had been damaged that particular day. We were greeted by a groan from the Sister of `Oh no, not you again Richard !! ` He was a regular client there and was probably on first name terms with most of the practitioners there as he was at the LGI and St. James` casualty departments as well.  If we’d had such things then, it might have proved cost-effective to assign a personal paramedic to follow him around at all times. Perhaps a prescription for a full-body suit made of Kevlar for protection against impacts of all kinds, fully wired to afford insulation against electric shocks and corrosive chemicals would have come in handy. There must be many doctors who served their apprenticeship repairing bits of Richard. It wouldn’t surprise me if he had been invited to their graduation ceremonies, been made Godfather to their children and attended the odd retirement party or two.

We decided to paddle in the small lake atRoundhayParkone hot summer’s day just next to the sign forbidding us to do exactly that. Nothing happened to any of us except Rick. He stood on a broken milk bottle which cut deep into his foot damaging a tendon in the process. He had an operation and finished up with a plaster cast right up to his knee to hold his foot in a downward direction. To have to wear a `plaster` was like being the given a Queen’s Medal for Gallantry and all the lads were deeply envious. He kindly allowed us to draw on it and sign our names. Rick had always been very fleet of foot and, although the operation left him slightly flat-footed for a while, it didn’t seem to affect his running speed at all. He was still quicker than me even flat-footed. Mind you, he was quicker than virtually everyone else inEast Leedsat that time. I even tried running in a similar manner just to see if my sprinting improved but it didn’t.

Once, during a stone fight on t`ollers, we were sheltering behind our brick barricade sorting out fresh ammunition. I ventured a quick look over the parapet and saw a roofing slate scissoring through the air towards me and ducked instinctively as you would do. The slate sliced a neat furrow along my scalp but Richard had bobbed up behind me and it hit him dead centre in the forehead with a dull thud. I had a very satisfactory, showy but superficial cut which bled impressively but didn’t hurt really. Richard, however, went off to renew acquaintances with his old contacts at the Dispensary and added further to his ever-expanding stitch collection.

One dark winter’s night, we were engaged with loads of the lads in a vigorous game of Relieve –Oh when he took a bad fall on the cobbles. He got up holding his arm and immediately asked me to go home with him.  For him to ask for any sort of help was a first so I asked him why and he said “ I’ve dislocated my elbow“. I asked how he knew and he said “ I’ve done it before“. We walked back to his house but his Mam and Dad were at the pictures and his brother David didn’t believe him. We went to our house and my Mam took one look at his ashen face and told my Dad to ring for an ambulance. The ringing had to be done from the local call-box so we all went down together and waited for what turned out to be a car driven by an ambulance driver. Dad had to go to work (on nights) so I went to the LGI with Richard by myself. Bear in mind that I was about twelve, he was a year or so older and it was about 10pm by this time. The doctor in Casualty had a quick feel through his jacket and said `X Rays – wait here`. Rick said `Carny, quick get me shirt off! ` I asked why and he said `cos me vest’s black bright`. I managed to get his shirt and vest off and nearly fainted when I saw his arm at the elbow. It looked as though the bones had been moulded into a figure of eight and it was grossly swollen. I think by then that I must have looked as bad as he did. The doctor reappeared and ushered him off into the next room leaving me profoundly glad to follow his instructions to sit there and wait while they put the arm back into place. I heard the odd muffled, stifled whimper and they came back about 20 minutes later and Rick’s arm was in a sling. He already looked better and we were just deciding what to do next when Rick’s Mam arrived so we all went home together – me with the offending vest still stuffed up my jumper.

During the school holidays us kids were more or less free agents because our parents were all at work. In some ways I think we very quickly became aware that we were responsible for ourselves and the independence from virtually constant supervision that prevails in these days made us better at risk assessment in general. From the age of about eleven, we used to go all over on our bikes – Otley. Ilkley, Wetherby, Collingham and the like and never gave it a second thought. I often wonder if my Mam and Dad ever really realised just how far afield we wandered.

Collingham was a favourite venue for swimming. We used to go to one of our secret places which was reached by much fence climbing and running crouched down like Indian trackers alongside hedges, all the while dragging our bikes along. It just occurred to me now to wonder how we knew how to get there? Perhaps it was received knowledge passed down from generation to generation of East Leedsers. We used to sneak our swimming trunks out from home and, if we were lucky, a towel as well. If no towel, it was get dried the best way you could – usually on your shirt or wait until the sun did the job for you. Fate decreed one day that it was time for Rick’s next accident. He told me he would show me his newly acquired racing dive technique and prepared to launch himself off the bank. Now, swimming and diving were the only athletic pursuits at which I was definitely better than him so I stopped him, pointing out that the water was far too shallow at that point. He wouldn’t have it, argued that a racing dive only took you just under the surface and launched himself out energetically almost parallel with the surface. He seemed to stop dead as soon as he hit the water and I heard an unearthly, gargling underwater shriek at the same time. He stood up slowly, turning towards me with the water lapping gently just under his knees. He looked as if he had just been wrestling a wolverine or had had a lively encounter with a honey badger which was particularly out of sorts that day. All down the front, from forehead to feet, he was one giant graze – spitting out a mouthful of bloody gravel through busted lips with small stones dropping at intervals into the water from his numerous lacerations. In a very matter-of-fact voice he said `You were right about that, Carny` and retired to lick his wounds. We always thought it was best to leave him alone at these times as long as we were sure he hadn’t actually broken anything again. Later on he came to the conclusion that the water should have been deep enough but that he’d made a minor miscalculation on his angle of entry.  I felt that `minor miscalculation` didn’t quite cover it – a bit like setting off due west fromLiverpooland somehow managing to miss Ireland but we didn’t fall out about it.

In brief, there were the times …………………

When he was wrestling with his elder brother David and brought his head up sharply so that David’s top teeth cut a perfect semi-circle into his forehead.  He explored that wound with expert fingers and pronounced conclusively that it didn’t need stitches.

When, in our early 20`s, we were both playing for one of the Leeds and District rugby league open age teams. He was a marvellous player and completely fearless as always. He was at full back and came weaving through at pace after collecting the ball from a kick through. Suddenly, without being tackled, he hopped to a stop and put the ball down carefully. He sat down on the pitch, rolled down his elastic knee bandage and there was a clean cut right across his kneecap. We had no idea how it had happened but, of course, stitches were involved again. The following Thursday night at training he turned up complete with his bag containing his playing kit. I said there was no way he could train with the stitches still in but he said he was having them out on the Friday and wanted me to take his bag home with me so that he could play on the Saturday without his wife knowing. As it happened, there was no game because the ground was too hard due to frost.

We decided to make some toffee. It was his idea and we were in his house alone during the school holidays. I didn’t know how this was done but he said he’d seen his Mam make it and produced a jar of treacle and a bottle of vinegar. I liked treacle and was all for eating it straight out of the tin with a spoon but he went ahead and mixed it with vinegar into a stiff paste somehow. This was spread into an old enamel baking dish. Their old black cast iron range oven had a gas element at the back and he tried to light it with a taper made from newspaper. The time lapse between turning the gas on and reaching in with the lit taper was too long however and there was an almighty bang and rattling of the cast iron oven plates as it exploded. It blew Rick backwards clean over the sofa. He scrambled up and shocked though I was I remembered to turn the gas off. His eyebrows, eyelashes and the front of his quiff had disappeared and his face was studded with grime and tiny pieces of rusty cast iron but he was still clutching the taper. He had a good swill in the sink and, after tidying up as best we could, he felt that we might have gotten away with it. Looking at his new bland, featureless face with its faintly curious expression and unique hairstyle to say nothing of the remains of the treacle mixture here and there on the wallpaper, I wouldn’t have put money on it but kept my thoughts to myself.

I was stung on the index finger of my right hand by a wasp in 1997. I remember it quite clearly because it was the first time in my life it had happened and was very painful. Being 57 years old at the time, I managed not to cry (well, not much anyway). During the summers of our childhood, it was a daily, sometimes hourly occurrence for Richard to be attacked by wasps, bees or any other insect which liked biting or stinging people. The cure then was to apply a dolly-blue bag or a dock leaf. I personally thought a mainline injection of morphine might have been more effective but the stings didn’t seem to bother Richard much or indeed at all so maybe he had developed some level of immunity over the years.

Richard’s brother, David, had a beautiful J.T. Rodgers` racing bike. Metallic blue with chromed forks. Richard was under a permanent but ineffective instruction never to ride it. Came the time when we crashed together at speed attempting some intricate manoeuvre and the lightweight alloy front wheel of Dave’s bike was buckled into an `S` shape. As usual, Richard was impervious to the cuts and miscellaneous contusions which he and I had suffered but we both realised the enormity of the problem we now had with the wheel. I had a spoke key at home but had no idea how to use it. By trial, many errors and intense concentration we virtually dismantled the wheel and rebuilt it. Few things in my life have given me as much satisfaction as seeing it spin straight again when we put it back on the bike. Dave never found out (unless he ever reads this).

There was a time when he had his chest heavily strapped to the point where it was difficult for him to breathe. I can’t remember now how he had broken his ribs and I’m tempted to invent some bizarre set of circumstances which brought this about such as being run over by the cricket pitch roller or a chance meeting with a water buffalo which had escaped from a private zoo somewhere. It was probably something more mundane such as being head-butted by the Co-op milkman’s horse.

I have dismissed the assortment of broken fingers, cuts, bruises, torn ligaments, broken noses which adorned Richard’s daily existence as being too trivial and numerous to mention. Falling in rivers, out of trees, trapping toes; fingers etc were just an everyday thing for him and not worth recording here. These things happened to all of us but not as frequently as they did to Richard.

Richard left school at fifteen. I had another two years to do because I was about eighteen months younger than him and also at grammar school leaving at sixteen. He joined Andrews Flooring and Tiling as an apprentice. I did think that entering a trade which inevitably involved working with sharp, pointy metal tools, glassy materials and powerful abrasive machinery might just be tempting fate a bit too far but, as far as I know, he stayed at that company which is still on the go for the rest of his working life. Perhaps he used up all his accident quotas in his earlier days. We lost touch completely by our mid-twenties. In those days, National Service, moving to another area ofLeedsand employment or social patterns could mean you would just never bump into each other again.

Rick died a good while ago from a lung complaint, I believe. Jim Croll, his brother-in-law, told me that the doctors never seemed entirely certain what the illness actually was. With Rick’s luck it would have been a unique alien ailment brought to Earth from the Andromeda galaxy by a speeding speck of meteoric dust which managed to travel for 2.5 million light years just to hit him and him only. Mind you, I don’t think he would have been much help to the Doctors in that he wouldn’t have allowed himself to tell them just how rough he felt. There was a marvellous series of comedy TV programmes many years ago called “Ripping Yarns“ and Michael Palin was the star. In one episode his character caught bubonic plague and was covered in running sores and scabs. He passed it off as “Nothing to worry about – just a touch of the bubos“. Through my laughter I thought of Rick immediately. That was him to a T. My hero.

 

 

 

                      And anyone who knew Rick would concur with that!

My (very) small part in the Downfall of Adolf Hitler

May 1, 2011

                                My (very) small part in the Downfall of Adolf Hitler

Eric Sanderson this time entertains us with his war time memories.

Coming on to this mortal coil in the very same month that WW2 broke out – September 1939, in fact, war commenced just a couple of weeks prior to my arrival and being fair to myself, although I can be blamed for many things, I can’t be held accountable for the outbreak of hostilities between ourselves and Germany.

  Naturally, I don’t have full recall of those fateful years but some incidents and circumstances  are still quite vivid whilst the general background has been filled over the years by chatter amongst family & friends , mainly, my dear departed mother.

Many will have experience of very similar events and these few reminiscences (out of many) may just trigger, hopefully pleasant, memories of those long ago and soon to be forgotten days.

 My father was “called up” within a very few weeks of my coming onto the scene and spent the next five years or so away from home, mainly overseas. Consequently, the first time I remember him was when he came home on demobilisation leave in mid 1945 by which time I was nearly 6 years old. Who was this stranger coming into our lives after all these years with a settled and comfortable existence, telling me what to do and how to behave?. It was a difficult period of adjustment and speaking to others, years later, many had much the same experience.

 My mother always had sympathy for many of today’s single mums because she said that she was, along with many others , in effect, a single mother for over 5 years, struggling to survive on meagre means and raise a young child whilst at the same time, living in constant fear  for loved ones away from home and, of attack or even invasion at home.

In addition to my father, three other close family members were involved, two in the Royal Navy and another  a Lancaster rear gunner . So, plenty to worry over there.

 Several of our near neighbours also had father, sons & even daughters involved as sailors paratrooper, submariner and so on. Others includes firemen , train drivers (how I wished I could have been one) and everyone  involved in a variety of other occupations, including the local alcoholic who thought battery acid was a soft drink . Thinking back, I can’t recall a single man who was unemployed .That’s not too surprising during the war years but even long afterwards I can’t recollect anyone being unemployed or “on the dole” – somewhat different to today!.

 Although food was obviously much scarcer than today, I never remember having to go without. Rations didn’t go far but people were perhaps more resourceful, baking and eking out every possible scrap into something tasty, soups, stews, meat & potato pies and the like. My mother used to pick blackberries and make blackberry & apple pie with a delicious short pastry and it remains a favourite of mine to this day. The exception being school meals which, even to hungry young boys, were sometimes inedible. I’m sure I remember seeing the cockroaches knocking the top from a bottle of Gaviscon on a couple of occasions

My father , as did most soldiers, used to receive a (Black Cat) cigarette allocation and being a non smoker, would send them home  to be traded for butter, eggs, sugar and so on .Smokers at home were often happy to trade because cigarettes were difficult to come by, other than the much detested “Pasha” which consisted of dark, Turkish tobacco rather than the milder Virginia tobacco favoured by most.

I clearly remember seeing my first banana, some years after the war though and although sweets were rationed until well after the war, my Grandfather had a neighbour who worked at a local sweet factory and was able to obtain a few extra dainties for us from time to time. Goodness knows what he had to sacrifice for those treats.

Remember the ration books ?. You’d take these along to the shop where they would clip out a tiny coupon, god knows what they did with those minute scraps of paper and although many items were rationed, there was a range of goods known as “Utility” which could be purchased without ration coupons but they were generally of poor quality and shoddy nature. A friend recently recalled that her father, until he died,  still had a piece of “Utility” furniture surviving from the early post war years and which carried a large brand or stamp mark to distinguish it from the real article – perhaps not so shoddy after all?.

 Also, some food products such as sausages & offal were (I think) off ration and fairly plentiful. That may explain why sausages became a lifelong staple for many.

 It’s true to say that communities were more considerate & helpful towards each other than today, for example, neighbours would come into the house, prepare & light a fire so that the home was warm for those returning home from work. Sometimes, even preparing food and taking on laundry to help the hard pressed “single” mums who needed to work long hours in order to make ends meet.

My father used to send home seven shillings (35p in todays money) per week which, even in those days, was totally inadequate, albeit given that house rent in our streets was reduced for families with members in the services. Whether this was a regulatory matter or the benevolence of the local landlord, I’m not sure but in any event, many housewives had to work, often doing factory jobs previously done by men  such as turning, drilling, crane, truck driving and other heavy manual labour.

My own mother took a job at Burtons whilst I was despatched  to a day nursery for a very early start & late collection and so we were very much beneficiaries of the kind, neighbourly acts mentioned earlier.

During the war years, Burtons, who employed many “war wives” had a reputation as a  good employer, as well as providing good welfare facilities they even allowing paid, short term absence when their men returned home on leave.

Those living in the area will remember the crowds of workers ,flooding out of the likes of Burton’s, Sumrie, Hepton’s  and others at finishing time – just like going to a football match so dense was the crowd for a brief period. The buses & trams were all full, and crowded, such that two or three would often pass before you could scramble on, usually to standing room only.

Father’s employer was also generous, often sending gifts of money and food parcels with precious commodities like tea, sugar & eggs – coffee being unknown to us in those days.

Andersen shelters were provided in the gardens of every 5th or 6th  house, in our case next door and I clearly remember climbing into my siren suit, a warm, cosy maroon one piece suit  with enclosed leggings and  a large hood, prior to going down into the air raid shelter along with the much dreaded gas mask. Some of these shelters were prone to flooding but ours always seemed to be warm ,dry and , as I recall, very neighbourly.

 Although we were never bombed directly, some incendiaries were dropped nearby and the men, with only one exception, went out from the shelter armed only with dustbin lids in order to douse the flames.

Oddly enough, the “exception” in later years used to boast about being “over there” when in fact the extent of his military experience was a short spell in the Home Guard, based at Knostrop where POW’s were held and an Ack Ack gun emplacement was active .The POW’s, which I believe were mainly Italian, seemed to have comparative freedom to the area, particularly East End Park where they could often be seen wandering around in groups and speaking in what to us was a very strange language. However, they never seemed to cause any problems and some of them integrated into the local community after the war. 

Neither my father nor other family members ever spoke of the dark side of their war years but would, from time to time ,regale us with the often hilarious capers and scrapes they managed to get themselves into , a not uncommon pastime for many families.

 My father’s final homecoming was a strange affair. Mother told me that she’d collected me from school and on the way home, I said to her ,”Dad’s coming home today”. “No” she said, “he’s not coming home for a while yet”. When we reached home, who was sitting there, waiting for us to come home but my father, having been demobbed a few days early – something that my mother remained fascinated by and frequently recalled for the remainder of her life.

Massive street parties abounded all around & I remember at least two in our street , I think VE and VJ days which in my memory were gloriously sunny days, where tables were laid in the street, groaning with tempting delicacies and everyone having a good time after 5 or so years of being unable to do so.

 My family was lucky, all returned home unscathed, unlike some and a striking thing, looking back, is that most seemed to go about their lives with stoicism , optimism and good humour. I suppose the prevailing opinion was that the certainty of misery was preferable to the misery of uncertainty.

I don’t remember it being a depressing time , given the hardship and worry attached to most people’s lives, often the only relief being provided by the occasional visit to the cinema, in our case usually the “Star” or the “Princess” – where the celebrated Big Ernie presided.

 However, as I slide down the bannister of life , one of the remaining splinters in my a**e, is the concern that the life & spirit which was experienced & endured  during the war & early post war years will, very shortly, be outside the experience of anyone alive and even worse, be forgotten.

Of all the thing in life to despise, such as pestilence, famine, Bruce Forsyth etc, my recollections of those years isn’t one of them

 So, whilst I cannot claim that Hitler trembled in his shoes at the thought of my existence, neither did he roll his Panzer divisions up to our front door and so my claim to have played a small part may not therefore be too far fetched after all.

The Flicks

July 31, 2009

The Flicks is another of Eric Sanderson’s great tales this time about the cinemas of East Leeds in the 1940s/50s. And also the characters who ran them. Particularly Abe White at the Easy Road Picture House and Big Ernie at the Princess. Was Big Ernie’s the best known voice in East Leeds? Blog Flicks 

The Flicks

By Eric Sanderson

Cinemas (picture Houses – or even more colloquially ‘the Flicks’) were numerous right throughout the city and East Leeds had its fair share. During the 40s and 50s my favourite establishments were: The Shaftsbury and The Star, both on York Road; The Regent in lower Torre Road; The Princess in Pontefract Lane and The Easy Road cinema.

            They all followed a similar schedule, having a programme Mon to Wed, a different one Thurs to Saturday and a further change for a single house on Sunday evening (after Sunday opening started in the early fifties) They were without exception, well supported, often necessitating queuing outside and gaining access only after the show had begun such that you had to stay for the ‘second half’ to see the beginning of the film – seeing it back to front so to speak. Who would stand such nonsense today? They were also heavily smoke laden to the equivalent of a ten fag inhalation; you’d only to look at the beam from the projection room to see a swirling nicotine mist of eye watering density. The modern day elf ‘n safety Nazis would have a fit of vapours if confronted with such conditions.

            THE  SHAFTSBURY, known as ‘The Shaffs’ was the northern boundary of my cinematic circuit at the junction of York Road and Harehills Lane boasted a magnificent marble frontage (which in fact remains) atop several steps and leading to an impressive gilded vestibule and ticket office. It was probably the most modern cinema in the area, also the most expensive, but usually had the most recent films. The seating was red plush upholstery, many double seated but it suffered from the unpleasant characteristic of an absolutely scorching temperature. The building must have had its own uncontrolled nuclear reactor because by the interval, many had discarded their outer clothing and would dash for one of the several queues for ice creams and drinks, sold by strategically placed attendants from trays hung around their necks. The first ten minutes of the resumption of the film was drowned my the sucking and slurping of Kia Ora and orange flavoured lollipops, every last drop being siphoned up to quell the raging thirst induced by the tropical temperatures.

            The STAR (which had been built in the late 20s on the site of an earlier cinema called The Victoria), further down York Road, opposite Victoria School was also a fairly modern art deco style building. It had a peculiar feature in that while most cinemas sloped downwards from the rear towards the front, the Star reversed direction and began to slope up towards the screen. I suppose this was to reduce neck strain on those in the wooden, unupholstered cheap seats at the front when staring up at the screen. A very modern innovation or a cunning way to save building costs? It also boasted a balcony with very plush seating for its wealthier clientele but I only visited the balcony once and only then because my favourite aunt took me there for a birthday treat.

                        The staff were magnificently attired in maroon uniforms, the usherettes sporting little pillbox hats, strictly tilted to one side whilst the ‘fireman’ with his peaked cap boasted enough gold braid to impress an Admiral of the Fleet his chest was adorned with so many medal ribbons that he must have campaigned in: The Crimea, Rorkes Drift, The relief of Mafeking and all major encounters since. However, the manager was the man. He was always to be seen in black tuxedo with silk face lapels, had a tiny clipped moustache and gleaming slicked back hair with central parting, resembling a silent movie star. Now I come to think of it I believe that all the cinema managers possessed these handsome, sultry movie style features. maybe they went into the job believing it was just the first step on the road to Hollywood stardom! The manager also had a magnificent furnished office to one side of the entrance vestibule. Oh yes a cinema manager was indeed as job to aspire to in those days. In fact many years later (about 1965) I came across an old school friend who’d become manager of the Pavilion, near Stanningley. Sure enough, the black tuxedo and hairstyle were all there and the icing on the cake was the complimentary passes to the best seats. I was still convinced this was a job to die for 

The Star also started around 1950 a Saturday morning children’s matinee. The programme was invariably, a cartoon, a serial of Flash Gordon (not the same Gordon as our revered leader whom I’m sure history will treat favourably – if only because he intends to write it), followed by the main feature which was usually a western staring, Hopalong Cassidy or Roy Rogers, These matinees were often so rowdy that the film would be interrupted, lights thrown up and the manager (still in his black tuxedo) would clamber onto the stage and threaten to suspend the programme and expel all and sundry unless the racket was terminated. It never worked and I never remember wholesale expulsions. The Star also had an integral sweet and tobacco shop (as did the Shaftsbury) encouraging you to stock up on the necessities so as to maximise your enjoyment of the evening.

               The Regent was at the lower end of Torre Road and for us always a slightly intimidating journey because we had to go to it via Saville Green. This was an area at the lower end of York Road opposite the swimming baths and had a notorious reputation as a cross between Hogarth’s Gin Lane and New York’s Hell’s Kitchen. Between Saville Green and Torre Road was an old quarry, local legend had it that unwanted or inquisitive visitors were disposed of by being tossed into its slimy green water filled depths. Until you were much older this horror story sustained the fear that most young people had of this district and was a good reason to give it a wide birth.

Digressing slightly, I once had to retrieve a football nicked from my younger brother by some Saville Green urchins. I had been informed just who and where the culprits were and so I fearfully entered the amphitheatre deciding that ‘boldness be my friend’ was the best approach. I was convinced that I would be beaten up and thrown to the swine in the nearby piggery, but completely unexpectedly they handed over the football without a murmur. Saville Green was never such a fearful place for me after that.

Back to the Regent, it never became my favourite venue as it always had a peculiar aroma inside the building. It may have been the product of the industrial strength insecticide in use coupled with boiled pigswill from the nearby pigsties and, it was always a chilly place. Not a good combination for an evening’s light entertainment.

The PRINCESS in Pontefract Lane was probably my favourite venue. It was older and smaller than the others so far mentioned but it always seemed a cosy place and as far as I know free of anything nasty. The cheap seats at the front were accessed from an ally down the side of the cinema. After paying you entrance fee you were greeted by ‘Big Ernie’ who would allocate your seat, often starting on the front row towards the side. This location resulted in a very distorted view of the screen with elongated characters and severe eye strain, but as the evening wore on you could usually move further inward and towards a more comfortable viewing position, hoping that your recently induced swivel eye condition would improve before the end of the film.

           Big Ernie who in fact lived quite close to me, was a dustbin man by day and a fairly quit person to boot- nothing like the fearsome character maintaining order in the cheap seat area by bellowing, ‘QUIET’ if the background murmur became too loud for his taste. Otherwise he would sit under the screen noisily munching his sandwiches and slurping his tea until it was necessary to evict anyone who offended his code of behaviour, which only happened about six times a night.

The Princess had a much steeper gradient back to front  the most other cinemas which meant you still had a good chance of seeing the screen even if sat behind a trilby toting man or lady with large feather trimmed headwear. The more expensive seats at the rear usually encountered children when accompanied by adults, otherwise it was the cheapies at the front which cost, if I remember correctly sixpence. Money well spent.

        The final cinema on my circuit was The EASY ROAD venue. I never knew its correct name (if it had one) but I guess at some time it had been called something like The Palace or Rialto but which had now fallen into disuse.   [In fact it was just called The Picture House, Easy Road and claimed to have the best ‘talkie’ in Leeds].

                This was, I believe the oldest cinema on my circuit and usually showed the oldest films, only after they had been shown everywhere else. It may have been privately owned because I always understood it to be run by a man [Abe] and his two sisters. The entry price was also the lowest which in itself was a considerable attraction when scraping up the entrance fee was a challenging proposition. Behind the cinema was some derelict land and nearby pigsties so it doesn’t need a quantum leap in imagination to guess the probability of local wildlife just there. Rumour had it that feral cats were allowed to roam the cinema so at to control the uninvited guests from across the way and I never felt too comfortable here because an involuntary itch often accompanied each visit, on a couple of occasions something furry brushed against my legs. I always hoped it was one of the feline species and not the long tailed, buck toothed, Rattus Norvegicus. For this reason many sat with their feet on the seat in front.

            During and just after the war, the local cinema was, for many, a heaven sent escape for a couple of hours from the hardship and worries of those years. The entertainment was by today’s standards often corny but this is exactly what people wanted. To spend a couple of hours in the fantasy of a Hollywood musical with a bag of liquorish allsorts and maybe five Woodbines was a welcome and necessary break from reality.


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