Even in a small community like ours, there was a cinema within walking distance. Cheadle Hulme’s own cinema must once have been quite the pride of the village. It had an elaborate art deco style frontage, just like the bigger cinemas in Manchester. Its portico stretched right across the pavement and was topped by large, permanently unlit neon letters spelling out its name, ELYSIAN. Under each side of the porch, a wide noticeboard hung from a short chain, displaying the title and rating of the current film. On the reverse side, ready for future display, was the forthcoming attraction. Just in case a viewer had absolutely no idea what the film on offer was about, a short summary, together with a few still photographs were displayed in a glass-fronted noticeboard to the right of the entrance.
The first film I saw there with my mother was ‘Snow White’. Apparently, I was terrified of the wicked witch and shouted out to Snow White not to take the apple.
Disney’s ‘Lady and the Tramp’ was lovely, a much gentler story. We did see quite a few films that weren’t cartoons, most of them were easy to watch comedies like ‘Doctor in the House’.
I absolutely loved the ‘St. Trinian’s’ films, probably because the girls in them were allowed to be so wildly badly behaved. (I read later that Ronald Searle had created the original cartoons to cheer up a girl who was worried about starting at her new boarding school.)
There were exciting films too like ’20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’ which included a battle between Kirk Douglas and a giant squid. There was a film about Sinbad full of monsters and magic but I can’t recall the title. I really loved ‘Old Yeller’ until it ended so sadly when the doggy hero of the title caught rabies and had to be shot.
I never went to our cinema with Nana when she came to stay. Nana had very clear ideas about the kind of films she liked. You could please her no better than by taking her to see one of the big biblical epics like ‘The Robe’. She thought that Yul Brynner with his bald head and his pigtail in ‘The Ten Commandments’ was just wonderful as the wicked Pharoah.
Once I reached my ninth birthday I was allowed to go to the Elysian with my friends in the holidays and at weekends. We called at each other’s houses and then walked up to the cinema together. Our parents knew that we were never in any danger either of coming to harm or of seeing anything unsuitable. We would never have been sold tickets for anything other than a ‘U’ rated film, like 'Genevieve'. Our soft blue/purple cardboard tickets were torn from a roll by the lady in the kiosk and were marked with the price of our seats – usually one shilling and threepence. The seats were priced according to how far back we were from the screen with the most expensive seats either in the upstairs balcony or right at the back. We were usually in the middle seats downstairs. Sometimes we bought sweets but there were usually only Fruitellas or Payne’s Poppets on offer at the kiosk so we generally brought our own.
The cinema was only open in the evening and there were two ‘houses’ or showings of the films on offer. We went to the first (early) house which usually started at about six so that way we would be home by eight. People sometimes walked in part way through the first house which was thought perfectly acceptable. What they would do then was watch through the second house until they had caught up with the bit they missed. Leaving at that point took a series of ‘excuse mes’ to the people in the same row. It was customary to say something like ‘ Sorry but this is where I came in.’
The showing began with a series of hilarious adverts by a company called Pearl and Dean. They began with a tremendous flourish; their names appeared between elegant Greek columns to a fanfare that sounded like the beginning of some swords and sandals epic in cinemascope. Then came the adverts for all sorts of things including items that the cinema sold, like ice creams, sweets and cigarettes. They might also include random cringe-inducing ones for local businesses, but they were all filled with incredibly smiley, happy, smartly dressed people speaking so stiltedly that even we children could see how bad they were.
After the adverts came a shorter film which was usually pretty terrible. It could be a short documentary; these were invariably backed by jaunty music and narrated by an over cheery actor with an impeccable accent. Sometimes it was a crime film with the villains pursued in enormous black police cars after their misdeeds were uncovered by clever detective work. Mercifully, whatever the content, they were short.
Then came the interval. In the Elysian, it was sometimes the ticket lady who left her kiosk and appeared with the refreshments. In some of the bigger cinemas, a uniformed usherette would walk to the front carrying a tray filled with ice creams and lollies and drinks for sale and she would stand, captured in a spotlight. Her tray had a little light so that if you didn’t have time to buy what you wanted when the lights dimmed for the main film, you could still see the contents. Once the main film began, even if you were slow to get to your seat it wasn’t a problem. The board of censors’ certificate was followed by a long introduction of the cast supported by suitable music.
When my friends and I went alone we watched the same sort of films we’d watched with our parents, usually just light comedies featuring stars like Doris Day. We never chose to see what was referred to as a ‘western’ with ‘cowboys and Indians'. Afterwards, we walked home together, untroubled by worries of personal safety. Telling each other ridiculous ghost stories was the time we were really frightened.
Whatever the film on offer, very few seats in The Elysian were filled and even by the 1950s, the cinema itself was badly in need of some tender loving care. In my teenage years, I came with friends to see ‘A Hard Day’s Night’. We chatted through the horrible Pearl and Dean adverts whilst we waited to watch our heroes and mused idly on what shade the sludgy coloured interior must originally have been painted. We settled on some sort of cream. To test this theory, I wet my hanky and wiped a small area of the wall. The hanky turned dark brown and a clean pink patch appeared where I had rubbed. I suppose it was all the cigarette smoke.
When I went to stay with my cousin Kate, one of our treats would be a trip to her local cinema. It was as small as The Elysian but going there was a completely different experience. The cinema was always referred to as Mr Tommy's. Whether he actually owned it or not I have no idea, but he certainly behaved as if he did. At the start of every evening, he would greet patrons in the foyer, vet and refuse entry to those who did not meet his required dress code. Mr Tommy had a particular loathing of Teddy Boys.
In Mr Tommy’s there were several ladies called usherettes who wore a very smart uniform – a sort of light overall. Their job was to check your ticket as you entered the darkened theatre and to show you to the appropriate seat, according to the price you had paid. They used the beam from their torch to point out suitable vacant seats and to dissuade courting couples from inappropriate behaviour.
If any Teddy boys managed to sneak into Mr Tommy’s cinema when he wasn't in the foyer, the ticket lady would report the intruder to Mr Tommy and he would borrow the usherette’s torch, stride into the darkened cinema and hunt them down.
‘I don't like the look of you laddie’ he would boom as he shone the torch on the red-faced offender’s clothes. ’Take your money and go’.
Nobody ever argued with Mr Tommy. He was very tall, and in those days many older men had experienced some tough hand to hand combat during the war.