Archive for July, 2009

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.

The Market District Boys Club

July 1, 2009

blog The Market 

The author remembers wonderful teenage years at The Market District Boy’s Club Marsh Lane, Leeds. The football, the camaraderie, The preparation for life that we were unaware of at the time. 

                              The Market District Boy’s Club

During the last few years at school, East Leeds lads in particular, would become aware of the name ‘Market District’ or more commonly ‘The Market’. ‘He plays for the Market’, they would say with no small measure of respect. This was a club recognised for regularly winning football honours – or at least being in the final of things. You would notice that the pick of the school team and a fair smattering of the Leeds City Schoolboys team would migrate to either, ‘The Market’, or their great rivals, Ashley Road Methodists and Leeds Catholics upon leaving school.

My first close encounter with ‘The Market’ came about while actually playing against them in the under 16’s Minor League during 1952. The Market in their red and black squared shirts thrashed us six nil on our pitch and ten nil on theirs. Such was the magic of their football these scores seemed no disgrace. I can remember being particularly impressed by receiving a rollicking for hoofing the ball up the field instead of trying to play it out of defence. The reason I was so impressed was that the criticism came from not one of our players but one of theirs! These are the true aristocrats of football I thought and it became a growing ambition to wear one of those black and red shirts and what a thrill it was when I finally got to pull one on the following season – even, if by this time, they had become faded to pink and grey.

In the early fifties the club used two of the three Shaftsbury pitches on York Road; evidently this had not always been the case as older members recall playing on East End Park, Snake Lane and even the ‘cindery’ but handy ‘Paddy’s Park’. Pre-season we would train on the Shaftsbury pitches and change at the side of the field but on match days we would change at the club and without benefit of our own transport catch a tram from the club up to the Shaftsbury pitches already attired in our football gear. This was alright on the journey up there when we were clean but if the day had been wet there would likely be forty muddy lads ‘cheek by jowl’ with city centre shoppers doing their best to avoid muddy contact with us in the swinging tram gangways.

Back at the club, this was all made worthwhile by a wallow in the splendour of the huge sunken bath, which was a real luxury for the time. The bath was big enough to swallow twenty/thirty mucky lads with ease into its steamy depths. There is a the legendary tale of the occasion when a lady councillor was conducting a group of female councillors on a grand tour of the club (much later I became aware that the club was used as a model for keeping us lads from potentially deprived backgrounds on the straight and narrow but we were unaware of that at the time). Anyway, this lady proudly waltzed into the bathroom in order to show her colleagues what luxuries they had provided for us but to her horror as the steam cleared they were confronted by a bath full of whistling footballers in the ‘nuddy’. She is reported to have said: ‘and here is the big bath. Oh dear! I fear it is occupied.’ With that they made a hurried retreat.

At a recent reunion of old ‘Market’ members a great old sepia photograph of lads in the bath came to light. It showed that bath full to the brim with laughing little urchins, climbing over one another to get on the picture while a member of the clergy (the club was attached to Leeds Parish Church) complete in cassock held out a packet of ‘Lux’ soapflakes. What a great advert it would have made for Lux soapflakes. 

            If you looked back at the results of the various ‘Market’ teams playing normal run of the mill teams on a Saturday afternoon – there would be four or five football teams and a rugby team on the go at any one time – it would not be unusual to see scores of twenty goals to nil. Our team once won thirty eight nil and we had our goalkeeper sent off for sitting down by the posts, he got bored as he never got to touch the ball. This, the referee deemed was ‘ungentlemanly conduct’ and he had to go. Not all teams were ‘pushovers’ though. Every season there would be one or two teams who were able to give you a hard game. In our time these were, Ashley Road and Leeds Catholics. These two always managed to attract their share of last years Leeds City Boy’s team. In other eras, the Market’s main rivals had been Carlton Stormcocks, Leeds Wanderers, St Pat’s, Osmondthorpe YMCA and Pudsey Juniors etc. If you lost a match against one of these great rivals, it would be shear misery for a full week.

Gradually a mighty camaraderie developed within our team, there were times when the whole of our team plus non-playing members would socialise together on Saturday nights as a group. First we would visit the city centre pubs; the Vine, the King Charles seem to be the favourites and then onto the Scala Ballroom where we would ‘smooch’ beneath a revolving glass ball that threw shards of light across us. Magic. Sometimes we would have a change and visit the Mecca or Mark Altman’s or perhaps the Central School of Dancing which was opposite the Corn Exchange, there to indulge in our ‘bopping’ or waltzing,  to magical fifties ballads like; Mobile: ‘I saw a Sparrow Building its nest…….’  Alternatively, we might catch a couple of buses to the ‘Bull’ at Pudsey, then on to dancing at the Pudsey Baths. We often ‘kopt’ for a black eye and regularly had to walk all the way home but it didn’t matter that was all part of a great Saturday night out. All in all I think the Scala became our staple favourite venue.

Soon it became apparent that ‘The Market’ was far more than just a series of football teams, it was a club in the truest sense of the word. There was a thriving boxing section, a rugby league section, table tennis, billiards, girls section, canteen and chapel but most of all there was a sense of belonging.

Rapidly one’s teenage week became centred around the club. Tuesdays and Thursdays were football-training nights; Wednesday was for the rugby league lads, Monday for the girls. We all came together for dancing on Fridays and Saturdays in the basement. We decorated that basement ourselves to suit the ‘rock and roll’ era and we dimmed the lights for those dreamy waltzes:  Blow me a kiss from Across the Room, A blossom Fell. Hold my Hand’. They don’t make songs like that anymore!

The Sunday dances included a mandatory visit to the chapel midway through the evening. This may have seemed a little strange to newcomers but personally I found that chapel a powerhouse you could sense an aura in there. Sometimes I wondered, perhaps hoped, there was a residue clinging in there of members no longer with us who had congregated here, perhaps before going off and being lost in the War. Maybe their young hopes and aspirations remained encapsulated in here. The concept was quite humbling.

Lifelong relationships were being forged within these walls fortified by a whole host of leaders, clergy and voluntary helpers who gave up their time to keep us on the straight and narrow, just as their predecessors had done for the generations who came before. Without doubt, this was the real work of the club and far more important than the production of a few decent football teams. That was just the carrot to attract us in, then the real work began, although we did not realise it at the time we were being prepared for life and what a debt of gratitude we owe to those who made it possible. I’ll not mention any by name lest I should inadvertently omit anyone – enough to say: in my eyes they were all great.   

Around 1954 our gang went on a club trip to Blankemberghe in Belgium. There would be about thirty or forty of us, most travelling abroad for the first time. There is a tale of how one of the lads put a coin into one of those machines you could ask a question and it spat out a ticket with the answer. It was the night before we were due to travel, he asked. ‘Will I ever go abroad?’ the machine answered, ‘No!’ Luckily the machine was proved wrong the very next day. Of course continental travel was not so prevalent at that time as it is today, then it was all a great adventure for us: cars coming towards us, seemingly on the wrong side of the road, shops open all hours, nightclub – we’d never seen nightclubs in Leeds. It was all very strange.

Among our particular difficulties was deciding what alcoholic beverages to drink – really we shouldn’t have been drinking at all it was not good for the image of the club and we were all under age anyway but try telling that to us at the time. Undaunted, about fifteen of us went out one night intent on getting ‘well oiled’ regardless that we didn’t know what was safe to drink. We entered that which  we believed to be their equivalent of an off licence and each of us bought a bottle of that we thought would be alcohol – we couldn’t read the labels we just guessed. So stocked we transported the bottles from the shop to the beach where we all stood in a circle and taking a swig of our bottle, passed it on so that everyone had a swig of every bottle. Some of the tastes were quite diabolical – one in particular must have been undiluted coffee essence it made you jip every time it came round – I can still taste it. As you can imagine in no time at all we were all completely legless and falling about in the sand dunes – the whole issue. Those who weren’t so bad made an attempt to drag the ‘stiffs’ back to the hotel. One of the worst affected had the hotel key but he was coherent enough to know not to surrender it, saying: ‘I’m keeping tight hold of this; it’s my ticket back to the hotel’. We finally managed to deliver the worst to their beds. We had four of them laid out on two double beds in just their underpants, a couple were suffering from what were evidently ‘ delirium shivers’, when Duncan Gibson, the club leader arrived in the room, when he saw the state of them he went wild. He went on as how we’d let the club down and we would be sent home the next day, he was very serious. Then to our grate relief good fortune smiled upon us: in the midst of his ravings one of the ‘shiverers’ ceased his shivering for a moment and with his eyes still shut, began picking his nose. The sight was so funny Duncan could not remain serious and once he had burst out laughing the situation was saved.

Another night we blundered into a posh nightclub where the leaders were having a well-earned respite away from us, they had booked a table and had a fancy burette of wine – the lot. Their pained expressions should have told us they were not best pleased to see us but we, being thick skinned, were not easily put off. Instead of leaving with good grace to allow them to enjoy themselves, we messed about and the situation deteriorated, especially when a piano was espied and quickly manned by the pianist in our ranks who also happened, at the time, to be a smoker and who proceeded to park his cigarette on top of the piano. Unfortunately, the piano lid was open and the cig dropped into the interior igniting years of accumulated dust and causing a fire. Black smoke billowed everywhere. Thereafter the question of us leaving the nightclub was no longer open to debater we were unceremoniously escorted from the premises in quick time and banned from ever returning.

Around the age of twenty there was a tendency to drift away from the club – some of the better players joined top amateur open age clubs, some were good enough to turn professional. Some stayed on to become helpers themselves and to play for the Market District open age team which, having lost the cream of its talent was not generally up to the standard of the underage teams, others were off to get married or due for National Service. Those wonderful teenage years were over, eventually the grand old building in Brussels Street became outdated and demolished – but thankfully, never to be forgotten by those generations who drew inspiration from within its walls. This was confirmed by the way old members flocked to recent reunions.

Prior to the reunions my thoughts of the ‘Market’ tended to be parochial, centred on our times and circle of friends at the club. The reunions were complete ‘eye-openers’ the enthusiasm being generated was brilliant. The ages of folk who attended spanned almost the whole of the twentieth century.  Some old members could remember a time in the 1940s when the building had been requisitioned by the War Office and the club had to function in accommodation nearer to the Parish Church itself. Pre war photographs surfaced of happy camping expeditions and pantomime productions.  Nostalgic tales stretched right back to the founding of the club by the Rev Mackie. The oldest member to make contact was a lady already well into her eighties, though unfortunately, she was unable to attend the reunion in person as she lived in the North East. Those who were able to attend seemed to enjoy the experience. There was a tendency to migrate into groups of peers and pour over old team photographs. An eves-dropper was quoted as saying, “Each group I passed could be heard saying things like: ‘We should have won that match, we were robbed’ and the like”.

Time has obviously taken its toll on us all physically of course but what magic to see lads enter the door that you hadn’t seen since you played alongside them in the final match of a season perhaps: forty, fifty even sixty years ago. How wonderful that within minutes we were back into the same old routine of camaraderie and nicknames, probably the first time they had been brushed off and used in all that while. Our old comradeship was still apparent; seemingly, teenager friendships are able to transcend the passage of time.



July 1, 2009

blog The Market