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Backwords: Picture Palaces

Mike Shaw recalls his film-going debut in a Yorkshire mill village.

A youthful Gracie Fields was trilling away on the silver screen.

And in the front stalls I sat enthralled throughout my unforgettable first-ever visit to the cinema.

Our Gracie was positively bubbling as she sang Wish Me Luck As You Wave Me Goodbye - while I shared a bag of humbugs with my dad.

I was no more than five or six when my father took me for my film going debut to the first house on a Saturday night at The Electric, Marsden.

It was the first of many a hundred visits to the little village cinema that gave Marsdeners their celluloid entertainment for 37 years.

Tommy Leyland’s family ran it from start to finish. Right from the day he arrived in Marsden as a travelling showman and started giving film show in a tent to the sad occasion in 1975 when The Electric faced its final curtain.

Tommy’s daughter, Laura, was in charge by the time I became a regular schoolboy patron just after Hitler’s war. And when I say she was in charge I mean exactly that.

She ruled with a rod of iron, as many a youthful trouble-maker found out while being frog-marched out into the street.

A real tartar was our Laura. Mind you, she needed to be when I think back to some of the tricks the lads got up to.

Like rolling empty pop bottles down the sloping floor. Or tossing fag-ends around like hand-grenades. Or creeping along the floor commando fashion to the more comfortable seats in the centre stalls.

There was no balcony at The Electric. Just one step up to a back row with double seats reserved by Laura for couples she thought were genuine courters.

If those seats had been able to talk their tale would have been better than any film script. But it would definitely have been for adults only.

Nowadays it’s the good old toolbox in the corner that hypnotises us into silence. In those far-off boom days of the cinema we had to venture out for our dose of hypnosis and make-believe.

Teenagers like me often had two fixes or more a week of the film drug.

All the out-of-town cinemas changed their films in mid-week. And you got good value for your 1s 9d. Not just the big picture, but a shorter one, a newsreel and sometimes a cartoon thrown in for good measure.

Picture palaces were everywhere that was anywhere, with fancy names to match. Like the Winston (originally the New Theatre) at Slaithwaite, the Ritz (formerly the Alhambra) at Golcar, and the Palace in Milnsbridge.

Of Huddersfield’s suburban cinemas my favourite was the Plaza at Thornton Lodge, just as cosy and friendly then as it is now as a church hall.

Among those in the town centre I remember the Ritz (later the ABC) for its mighty organ which rose from the depths like a glowing Loch Ness monster.

The Princess, because I used to get vertigo every time I went in its steeply-tiered balcony.

The Empire, because it was there I once picked up a flea.

The Picturedrome, because it showed so many westerns that it was nicknamed the Ranch House.

And the Majestic because its young hooligans would have made even soccer hooligans seem like angels.


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