Archive for July, 2017

The Old Princess Cinema

July 1, 2017

The Old Princess Cinema.

By Eddie Blackwell

I remember the first film I ever saw on my own was at the Princess Cinema, Dad was in the RAF and the War was raging. I queued down that passageway that was adjacent to the Shepherd Pub and you sat on those wooden forms at the front of the Cinema it was only a few pence to go in, the film was “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”, it was the original Disney film and it scared me silly, I ran out half way through and back home to 29 Devon Street and the safety of my Mother’s arms. But it marked a turning point in my life, I’d done something on my own, even though I couldn’t sit through the whole of the film. Another one I remember from those early days was The Jolson Story, Larry Parks played Al Johnson, I recall going home and getting down on one knee and singing, “Mammy my little Mammy the Sun shines East the Sun shines West but I know where the Sun shines best”, and Mum started crying so I stopped singing but I thought it was a great film
Then my big Sister came back home, she’d been living with our Great Aunt Anny in Seacroft, families did that in those days, the idea was not to have all of your eggs in one basket so to speak, and if the bombs dropped at least someone might survive, they were difficult times we lived in, but we took it on the chin and coped as best we could. My Sister’s five years older, and we started going to the cinema on a regular basis. Well the radio wasn’t working so it was the only form of canned entertainment we could find. In those days the Evening papers used to have a “What’s on in Leeds”, column and all of the Leeds Cinemas were listed and the films they were showing. They were open six days a week, everywhere was closed on Sundays, a feature film would run for three days and then a different film would be show for the next three days, and a film would do the circuit until all of the cinemas had screened it, and eventually it would come around to your local.
My Sister played the Piano but it was all classical stuff so I found it quite boring, but she was under instructions from Mum to teach me everything she learnt, and I tried but being a lefty meant everything was the wrong way around for me, so I wasn’t very good. The cinema seemed a o suitable alternative, and the Princess was only a few hundred yards from where we lived.


The films we saw there you would not believe, “Gone with the Wind”, “Sinbad the Sailor”, “Lost Horizon”, Cowboys and Indians, Errol Flynn’s swashbuckling films, James Stewart, John Wayne, Bet Davis, Edward G Robinson, Humphry Bogart, and a host of others, we also went to the other local Cinemas in our area The Star, The Regent, The Shaftsbury, and of course the Easy Road Bug Hutch. Bring them back alive, The Perils of Pauline, I recall one film we saw at the Easy Road scared us both, and we ran all of the way back home, “The Hounds of Zaroff”, a black and white film. A man is shipwrecked on an Island, the Host who lives on the Island wines him and dines him and then sets him off on a human hunt where he’s the prey, then they release the dogs to chase him down, it must have been a U certification because I was only 6/7 or perhaps the Lady turned a blind eye, money was tight in those days, and it still is more than seventy years on, I think it’s because the people who are wealthy want it that way, that old saying the rich get richer and the poor get poorer still holds true today. I don’t think ambition or ability have much to do with it, we’ve all worked hard in our lives, but perhaps we undervalued ourselves, or were held back by the people who were investing the money to make more money.
When my Sister started work when she was 15, she went to Pitman’s College for a Diploma in shorthand and typing, yes I had to learn shorthand, but the typing was out the left handedness once again. Pitman’s in those days was next to Young’s Fish and Chip shop just up from the Odeon Cinema in town, opposite Lewis’s Store. She was working for a Chartered Accountant in Park Row Obviously she didn’t want to be going to the Cinema with me anymore so I Started going on my own. We’d moved to live in Osmondthorpe, but I still went regularly to the Princess in Pontefract lane, I use to walk there and back, through East End Park over the Pit hills and home only took me about 30 minutes. This was the very early 1950’s and there were some very good Westerns and War films being made. My Dad loved Westerns and War films and he started coming with me. He could manage the Star and Shaftsbury but the Princess was a bit too far for him, although if there was a good film on we’d catch the tram at the Shaftsbury and drop off at the Swimming Baths and walk up, that way it was OK.
Star Cinema, High Noon, “Do not forsake me oh my Darlin”, Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly, the theme song was sung by Tex Ritter, “On this our Weddin Day” we enjoyed that one “Wait, wait along” must be classed as one of the greatest Westerns ever made albeit in black and white. I remember we had Fish and Chips as we walked home up past the White Horse Pub, through the ginnel alongside the LUYMI Football Pitch over Osmondthorpe Lane then down the pathway to the Railway Bridge and through onto Wykebeck Avenue and home.
There were so many great films made in those days. “Colt 45” Randolph Scott, “Shane” Alan Ladd, Jack Palance, “The Quiet Man” John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Victor McLaglen, these people were Actors and Actresses, they lived their parts, and Dad and I enjoyed every minute of it, the big screen released us from our everyday lives, all the pressures were gone and we were refreshed to start another day. Does anyone remember, The “Fighting Sullivan’s”, it was a WW2 film about five Brothers in the American Navy they were all killed fighting for the Battle of the Guadalcanal, Anne Baxter played the mother it brought a tear to my eye did that one “Off we go into the wild Blue Yonder”.
I still went down to the old Princess Cinema at least once a week, I was about 14/15 now and on several occasions as the film was drawing to its conclusion a young Lady would come and sit in the next seat to me, I don’t know who she was, but she would laugh when I laughed, and sort of mimic the things that I did, but before the film was over she would be up and off. I think she must have been one of the girls around my age from Devon Street, and she recognised me, or it may have been a random event, but she never spoke, and I could never get a good look at her in the darkness, and she knew the timing of the films, because she was away before the lights came up, a mystery for sure. It was obvious that the attendance was falling off at bout this time, the films they were showing, like “The Day the Earth Stood Still”, “The Thing”, “It came from Outer Space”, “When Worlds Collide”, “War of the Worlds”, “The Creature from The Black Lagoon”, I really found these films enjoyable, but they could be quite scary and it was always the last performance, then I would have to walk home. I must admit after I came out from seeing “The Thing”, I gave the East End Park way home a miss, and went down onto York Road where the Lights were, I could run a bit in those days, and I ran all the way up to the Dog and Gun, then through the pathway over the pedestrian foot bridge across the railway down into Wykebeck Street and indoors. Dad said your out of breath lad have you been running, yes Dad I replied I’m in training for the half mile at Children’s Day. How far have you run he asked, from the Princess Cinema, I hear their showing a scary film this week, and he started laughing.
When I was 16 I started going out with a local Girl, I knew from school, and we would meet and go to the pictures once or twice a week, the Shaftsbury Cinema was one that we favoured it was near for both of us, and there were some fantastic films going the rounds at that time. We used to go up into the balcony they had some of those double seats up there for courting couples, on one occasion we went to see “20,000 Leagues under the Sea”. We were sat in one of those double seats, and they always had a supporting feature before the main film and before the main film started the lights would go up, well we’d been doing a bit of snogging while this first film was on, and when the lights went up I could hear this voice behind me, say it is it’s our Edward I thought it was, so I looked round and there two rows behind us was My Grandma and my Mum’s sister Aunty Alice, I certainly hadn’t seen them when we went in, and we’d been a bit occupied after the lights went down.
Well I was so embarrassed, hello I said we’re looking forward to seeing the main feature, would you like an Ice cream, no we’re alright Gran said, then the lights dimmed and the film started. It was a great film and the technical effects were fantastic, I was on my best behaviour no distractions. James Mason, Kirk Douglas, Peter Laurie, Paul Lucas, fantastic cast, but all the time it was running I could feel these eyes watching me from behind. When it finished I said did you enjoy it Grandma, and she gave me a thumbs up, then the National Anthem started, and we all stood still and were quiet and respectful until it finished, can you imagine that today.
A couple of days later I went down to Ascot Street to see my Gran, I said I was a bit embarrassed Gran we’d been doing a bit of snogging in the cinema hope you weren’t too shocked. She said don’t think anything about, it we’ve all been young and foolish you know, I remember my first kiss, I was sat on a five bar-gate with a field full of cows, at least you were comfortable, and she looked a nice girl, just don’t get mixed up with any Strumpets out there. Well I had to look it up I remember Shakespeare used that word in some of his plays but I wasn’t sure what it meant. She was clever was my Gran and she’d looked after me when I was little, she would roll me on her knee when I had tummy ache and it always went away. I was her Posser man, and I turned the Mangle for her, but we’d reached a different level, I was grown up and she recognised it,
She lived with Aunty Alice now and she could be a bit terse at times, but I could always accommodate that I understood her, and she didn’t tolerate fools lightly. I went down to the Princess Cinema in Pontefract Lane a couple of years ago, I was saddened to see it was no longer an emporium of entertainment, but a Fish and Chip Shop, The Shepherd Pub was still there, also the Gate that mastered the side entrance to the cheap wooden seats that I had experienced when I queued to see “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” was still intact, but there was no Big Earnie or that feeling of excitement that you got when you were taken for a journey into another World where make belief transported you into an illusion of the future…Follow the Yellow Brick Road, We’re off to see the Wizard The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

‘That’s twice you’ve been to the toilet, I’ve got my eye on you, there’s no hanki-panki in here,’ and the beam of his flashlight illuminating you in your seat would bring you back to Earth and hat was why I never spoke to the mysterious   young lady again.

‘Two to beam up Scotty.

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