The Old Princess Cinema

by

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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22 Responses to “The Old Princess Cinema”

  1. peterwwood Says:

    Great tale Eddie: I have often thought that everyone who lived in our East Leeds areas: East End Park, Richmond Hill and Cross Green will have been to the Princess Cinema at least once so everyone in those areas will have heard ‘Big Ernie’s voice’ his must have been the most heard voice in the whole district at the time.

    The other thing I must have been a bit older than you, Eddie when I saw Snow White and the seven dwarves for the first time because I wasn’t scared of the old queen but I did fancy Snow White – still do I think..

  2. Edward Blackwell Says:

    Thanks Pete. Yes Big Ernie he was a scary man, but he needed to be, when you get a large group of people all in one confined space you need some discipline to keep order otherwise chaos will reign.
    Good to hear you still have urges Pete, and on reflection she was very pretty…..

  3. Doug Farnill Says:

    Thank you so much Eddie for those memories of the Princess. I spent many happy hours there. Round about 1941-42, when I was about 11 years old, my mother used to let me go to the first house on my own. I don’t remember exactly what the times were, but the first house was approximately 6pm to 7.45, and the second house was from about 8pm to 10pm. One night, they interrupted the main film, to flash up a slide. Something like: “We advise patrons that the air-raid warning has sounded” and then the film resumed. I was deeply engrossed in whoever the Clutching Hand was throttling, or on whose trail Charlie Chan was sleuthing, and so I stayed on to see the end (as did most other patrons, and I was a bit puzzled by what it meant to be a patron). I remember walking the few streets home afterwards, and wondering whether I would hear the rattle of any shrapnel. My Mother gave me a dressing down for not coming home straight away. But my reasoning was that one is just as likely to cop a bomb in Glensdale Terrace as one is likely to be blasted in the Princess during a jolly good picture. Roy Rogers and his sliver gun. Gene Autry – the singing cowboy, didn’t like him so much, a bit sissy. Bud Abbot and Lou Costello, Our Gang. The Mummy”s Curse, uggh – how many sleepless nights did that one cost me?

  4. Edward Blackwell Says:

    Thanks for your kind comments Doug, I think most of us East Leeds Lads spent much of our young lives at the princess Cinema, albeit in different time periods. It was clean honest entertainment at a price we could just afford. Do you remember The Three Stooges, Curly Larry and Moe, always good for a laugh, slapstick comedy but always well performed. Sherlock Holmes Adventures do you remember those black and white films, I found some of those quite
    scary, and the Cowboys most of them were good, but I agree Gene Autry didn’t fit the mould, Thanks again Doug for sharing some of those great memories. Occasionally I reflect and wish I could do it all again, unfortunately getting to the end of the street can be quite an achievement these days..

  5. aussiepom Says:

    Lots more provoking memories Eddie. You certainly know how to make them seem like only yesterday. An insomniac like me can watch heaps of ancient late night movies on T.V. and remember it was good acting that made these films popular with a beginning, a middle and an end. And didn’t we think it was a real treat to buy an ice cream tub with a little wooden spoon from the lady with a tray at intermission and the Shaftsbury having a man playing tunes on the electric organ sometimes. The one drawback of suburban cinemas was going in half way through the film and trying to find a seat in the dark. Very funny now when I think of how many heads I patted shuffling along a row of seats and how many toes I trod on. The usherettes were too busy watching the film to show you to a seat. Sadly no more drive-in movies here either. They were terrific, you hooked a speaker onto the car window and never had to leave the car. Dressed small kids in their P.J.s they fell asleep on the back seat and carried them to bed when you got home.

  6. peterwwood Says:

    You’re right Audrey, Films used to have a beginning a middle and an end, now films sometimes start in the middle and after you have been watching for a bit it will flash onto the screen, ‘ten years earlier’. And folk tend to mumble, spercially in American films and their young kids seem to have developed a language of their own. But then I suppose part of it is I’m getting ‘thicker’ with old age. Getting back to our old films, which were continuous you could go in at any time of the film see it to the end and then watch from the start until there came a time in the film where you said,’ This is where we came in.. I don’t know how we could put up with that?

  7. Edward Blackwell Says:

    Thanks aussiepom for your astute observations, I also think that the old films are the best. There was a Golden era before the advent of computer animation, when the stunt men and special effects were in their hay-day and your favourite Actors and Actresses took you out of this World into a World of make believe, and for a couple of hours all your everyday problems disappeared. As for the beginning the middle and the end, it sums things up nicely, and applies to everything, I can assure you that I’m only at the beginning of the middle the end is nowhere in sight. I’ve been working on a design for a Boomerang type flying object which I thought may be of interest so if you see something buzzing around don’t swat it, I’ll send you some picture when it’s finished, and I’ve got an idea for a Hybrid Car but Mums the word. Take care and thanks for your kind comments…

  8. peterwwood Says:

    Yes Eddie, it was the ‘dream palace’, it was national policy that films always had to have a happy ending to send ’em home happy and that wrong doers were always brought to justice.

  9. Edward Blackwell Says:

    Hiya Pete, I think that was a great policy, if only we could put it into practice today, more Happiness for the Populous, and Catch and Punish the Bad Guys, too many getting away with wrongdoing these days, and there’s very little control on what can be seen on the small screen. Seems getting the viewing numbers high is the most important thing, too much violent crime being portrayed as being acceptable. We always had censorship on what was shown on the big screen, “U”, “A” and “X”, anything goes today, or so it seems.

  10. Edward Blackwell Says:

    I’ve just recalled the toilets at the Old Princess Cinema, I only remember visiting them once,
    and that was enough the stench was unbelievable, which was why Big Ernie had his eye on you when you went in to ensure you came out in one piece. In my opinion anyone who went in there twice was either very brave or absolutely desperate, those ladies who did the cleaning deserved a medal…lol..

  11. aussiepom Says:

    Your last comment is priceless Eddie. Who gave these cinema’s their names? Such grand titles all prefixed by THE to add grandeur. Like most of the pub interiors, cinemas didn’t see much of soap and water to keep them clean. The usherettes picked up sweet papers etc. left on the floor, the cleaner mopped the foyer and that was about it. If a large person sat heavily on a seat clouds of dust billowed out and you never wore light coloured clothes for an evening at the pictures. The managers added to the illusion as quite a few greeted the patrons dressed in black tie. Ha! the magic of cinema and we loved it. The establishments had atmosphere and character. What do we have now? A large room with a big screen and films on autopilot. Bring back big Ernie and his torch

  12. Eric Says:

    Your tale Eddie & the comments evoke happy memories familiar to many from that area & era.
    Big Ernie is of course a long standing member in the Pantheon of East Leeds characters & ran his fiefdom with a rod of iron, never hesitating to evict anyone who offended his strict code of behaviour, including moving seats without his permission.
    I don’t remember the problems with the toilet drains but most people only ever saw the inside of local cinemas in darkness, or at best, low light. In full daylight I imagine, like other establishments which operate in darkness or low light, they’re pretty gruesome .
    In spite of all this, the comments on here confirm the pleasure many of us derived from the “Prinny”, so much so that many of those fond memories remain strongly in our recollections & your story Eddie has revived them for quite a few.

  13. peterwwood Says:

    Don’t think I ever had to visit the Priny toilet, But of course we had decent bladders in those days Ha-ha.

  14. Doug Farnill Says:

    Goodness Eddie, you are stirring up some memories here. terrific stuff. I can’t let the discussion on toilets go on without adding to the flow (pun intended). I don’t ever recall going to the toilets in the Princess, but our habit was to go to the men’s urinal that belonged to the pub next door. It opened onto the street and had a big swing door, which when closed behind you made it pitch black. You peed up against the wall, hoping it was in the right direction. The combination of the dark, the stink, and the fear of some predator lurking inside – especially after a scary film, made one get out as quickly as possible. It was an emergency situation only, and as a young teenager I thought back with nostalgia to young boyhood, say age 3 to 7, when it was okay to pee down a water grate at the side of the road. But older kids needed a bit more decorum. One film I recall with great fondness was called Roman Scandals. I think it was Arthur Askey who was the food taster for the Emperor, and he knew that one of several dishes had been poisoned. I recall that he recited to himself that “the one with the parsley is the one without the poison” but there was an hilarious set of mix ups where we were all on the edges of our seats wondering whether poor Arthur would lose track of which dish was which.

  15. Eric Says:

    It’s quite remarkable how, after 70 to 80 years later, such memories are so clear & vivid.
    Incidentally Doug , I admired you clear logic at such a young age when contemplating the probability of where the bombs would drop & coolly deciding not to interrupt your enjoyment of the film

  16. Edward Blackwell Says:

    Thank’s aussiepom, Eric, Pete and Doug, for your kind comments and sharing your memories with us, The “Prinny”….see you outside the Prinny tonight Kenny, half passed seven don’t be late, wish I had a pound for every time I’ve said that. Thanks for reminding me of that Eric, and yes it was all an illusion of grandeur aussiepom, and part and parcel of the “Dream Palace” that Pete mentioned, I think our nicknames for them were much more appropriate, Bug Hutch was one I recall. I do remember the outside toilet adjacent to the Shepard Pub it was scary in there, and the Air Raid shelters at the end of Devon Street were also used in an emergency almost opposite Chemist, lived just further down from them in Devon Street so I could usually make it home. I thought this story may be of interest to you all, I had close a school friend Kenny Walker, I mentioned him in one of the tales Pete so kindly posted some time ago. last time I saw him was at night school in 1953, then we lost track of each other, he’s been living down south for the last 50 years, he read the tale recognised my name, and has made contact after almost 65 years, how remarkable is that, I’m over the moon, he just had his birthday 4th July…

  17. aussiepom Says:

    An extremely loud round of applause is in order to Pete for all the years he and Brenda have diligently produced this blog and kept thousands of people from all over the world entertained.
    Eddie’s comment about being reunited with a friend he hasn’t seen in over 60 years proves how marvellous this site is for bringing people together. Also giving us scribes an opportunity to show we can write an entertaining story if given the chance to have it published. Personally I have made lots of writing friends through Pete’s generosity. Many, many thanks Pete you’re a national treasure.

  18. Edward Blackwell Says:

    Hear Hear, I agree wholeheartedly with those sentiments aussiepom, and long they may continue to post tales that entertain, and bring people together that lived in East Leeds ..

  19. Eric Says:

    Me too

  20. Gloria Blakey Says:

    Me too, I now write to aussiepom through this site, haven’t seen her since we were knee high to a grasshopper, long may it continue.

  21. Jackie Hainsworth Says:

    My memories of the Princess is having Big Ernie escort me out for dancing to Bill Haley in Rock Around the Clock he didn’t have the same enthusiasm as we young ones had for Rock and Roll it was a good night just the same, but unbeknown to me my Mam was also in the Pictures so i also got another telling off when i got home. We also did the rounds .Easy Road or better known as bug hutch beginning of week ,Princess mid week,The Star weekend with fish and chips on the way home those were the days and such fond memories with thoughts of long ago friends and such happy times!

  22. Edward Blackwell Says:

    I agree Jackie, they were good times, we were younger and the future was there before us, times were changing the modern era was emerging, I enjoyed it and I’m pleased you did, I still have fish and chips with salt and vinegar every Friday, and I do go to the pictures now and then. It’s not the same these days as queuing to go into the second half at the Princess or the Star when there was a good film on. That Big Ernie what a character he threw me out a couple of times also for changing seats during the performance. Happy memories of times gone by…..

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