At twelve years old I was convinced I was at risk of bankruptcy. If not actually that desperate, depressingly, I felt that way. One thing I was sure of was that my finances were most certainly in a very distressed state and taking a rapidly downhill path. This situation had arisen due to two circumstances concerning Saturday morning pictures. Each week we would make our way to watch serials and the B movies that littered the picture houses in those days. Pay one shilling to Doris sitting behind the perspex screen in that little dark stained, plywood box with TICKETS stencilled above and hope that the projectionist would have the decency to screen something a little more finished than the usual offerings. This Saturday, as usual, the six of us made our way in our normal rambling fashion to the ABC cinema.
This was located up a steep road ramp on the corner of the junction of The Broadway and the main road which in those days was almost devoid of traffic. On the other side was the railway bridge, a tall semi-circular, brick built arch wide enough to allow two lanes of traffic with a pedestrian walkway each side. These pavements, always busy, being the main route to the shops each side of the main road and along The Broadway. The ramp lead around the side of the Cinema to a large rear car park. The Broadway, a wide street of late 1930’s constructed shops with flats above. All brick built and dominating the immediate vicinity. The Cinema part of that construction to cater for the growing demand for moving pictures.
We were best mates, all the same age and had been together throughout infant and junior schools. Now at big school although not the same ones. Some of us had flunked the eleven plus so did not make the Grammar School set.
There was Benny. Not his real name of course, that was Sidney Ball. He hated Sidney as any self-respecting chap would do. Benny was adopted by us to alleviate his discomfort. Top Cat had started on TV about one year before so in May 1962 Sidney’s life was transformed when we were introduced to Benny the Ball. Coincidentally he was also a bit on the round, podgy side although he was growing fast and obviously aiming for well over six feet by which time the podginess was destined to stretch out of him.
Tom Tom was there. I should explain Tom Tom was in fact Michael Mott. He liked the name Micky (Micky Mott how famous sounding is that) but true to our good nature we decided he should be Tom (obviously Mott backwards). Such protest you have never witnessed, so being generous, to make up and considering the two T’s in Mott, we added another Tom. Though never satisfied, eventually Tom Tom forgot about Micky and in later days was eternally grateful. When it came to girl age explaining away Tom Tom was surprisingly appealing to those mysterious creatures and their liking for a good story. This made up for the slightly distressed look that seemed to follow him about.
Richie was Rich. Richard Lewis that is. Already a size, towering over all of us. The downside was that he was a bit wispy, bordering on the gangly but nonetheless a good all-rounder. You certainly did not want to mess with his flat out bowling which for his age was positively dangerous. Rich’s dad had a Mk 2 Jag, the upmarket 3.4 litre version, straight six, company car, one of the first to have one, so quite well to do compared to us.
The quiet one was Micky. There had to be a Micky and having removed one we felt the need to reinstate such a fabulous name. David Green, quiet as a mouse but a devil when roused. Excellent in midfield but a useless bat. Good in a scrap. Beware the quiet man.
Andrew Smithers was just Smith. Smithers had long ago been decided as rather exaggerated, so Smith it was. Everyone liked Smith. He was just a normal chap, popular, reliable, a proper goalkeeper. At ten he could kick the ball past the halfway line. Strong legs. Could walk for miles.
And me, Dick or Dickie after my surname obviously. I was never really fond of Dick or Dickie but as you will have gathered the choice of name was out of my hands. About two years later I was officially re-named Bruce. The Adam West and Burt Ward, Batman and Robin series started on TV. A great watch admired by all, so I was re-born Bruce. The explanation is a bit convoluted. Apparently I alluded to Robin. On the small side but feisty. Richie’s dad was always saying to me, “when are you going to start growing Martin” not knowing my proper name of course. So, Batman and Robin, Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson, Bruce and Dick, Dick becomes Bruce. A natural conclusion obviously. I have to say that I have never been sure Bruce is preferable to Dick or Dickie although things did change again just briefly. In the football team was John from right up north, you know where it snows a lot, people are pasty and drink heavy beer. He latched onto us but was never popular so was referred to as Unpopular John. One time, during a match I had a shot at goal which I totally scuffed. Unpopular John shouted in his northern lingo “you made a right hash of that petal”. Well as you would expect this was quickly seized upon and Bruce was displaced. For three months I endured “petal” but then in my usual way, through a fit of rage driven red mist aimed at an unsuspecting third party unfortunate enough to have used said name, the need to protect innocent bystanders was recognised and Bruce was restored. So no matter how I felt about the suitability of Bruce I was after that content.
Just as an aside a bit later unpopular John became popular through circumstances that will become apparent later.
So here we are stopping at the chocolate machine. A tall metal cabinet with “Frys Chocolate” stenciled on the front. A turning handle on the side to dispense the goodies and coin slot in front. A tray at the bottom where the bars were deposited. This was located on the side wall outside the Newsagents, on the Broadway, on our normal Saturday route. Fry’s bars of milk chocolate dispensed with a shilling. However, due to a fault in design, Benny had discovered that with careful manipulation using a small screwdriver or something similar a bar could be flicked out without cost. We were not greedy and only took one each, (Oh, except for Benny who always had two) a process that after much practice had become very efficient so quickly achieved without discovery. The extraordinary thing was that the machine, regardless of its probable low takings, kept getting replenished. Until that is this Saturday in June when, to our utmost distress, it had disappeared and been replaced with a gobstopper gadget. Multi-coloured balls bouncing around in a clear plastic dome sitting on top of a red, plastic coated, metal pedestal, trying to appear tantalizing but just looking sad. And expensive.
“I mean gobstoppers how inconsiderate.” I said to Benny.
“Only good for the catapult” Benny replied “and this machine’s impregnable”.
Rich’s contribution: Give it a serious whack and kicking just to prove the point. “Bit like the timing ball” he suggested. We were in the boxing team at school and after-hours gym practice involved all the punch bags and skipping ropes. Skipping for Rich though was a bit like watching a marionette trying to jump through a hoop. Too many limbs and wrong directions involved.
“Well I’m not going to watch a crap film without chocolate” said Benny wandering into the shop with us in his wake willing to pay the going rate. Mr Duncan the grey haired, wizened old man with his long brown cardigan who patrolled behind the counter, “don’t you even try to nick anything. I’m watching you lot,” he said. The same words spoken to all the kids who went in.
It was Benny’s fault in the first place that we got mixed up with the chocolate machine. He was not naturally podgy, more of a chocolate induced podge, due mostly I suspect to surreptitious, Fry’s inspired, late evening outings.
Then there was the fire escape door at the cinema. It was our usual practice for two to pay to go in. The theory being that one on their own was suspicious but two together looked right. Up to the counter when Doris would say “only two of you today. My only two and so many come out.” She was great was Doris, about fifty and wise, so very wise and I think suffered from a blind eye.
So two would go in and find seats. The rows of dark red, cloth covered lift up seats, narrow and packed in. Uncomfortable and sticky from the endless amounts of spilt Kiora, that amazingly artificially coloured orange drink, toffee popcorn worked into the fabric and Spangles crushed into the carpet. The auditorium was always packed and would get very dark when the show was about to start. When the lights dimmed the two would drift off to the loo which was through a swing door in the auditorium and down a short passage. Next to the loo, a dismal room full of broken stall doors and smelling of cleaner, those solid lumps of something stinky drifting in the semi-clogged urinals, was the fire escape so it was not difficult to quietly push up the bar, open the door and let in the rest. One would return to the auditorium accompanied by two friends. Then the others would slowly, at intervals make their way in.
The noise inside was incredible. Apart from the film dialogue and music, everyone talked. Endlessly. Like a constant buzzing of bees. If you have ever witnessed a swarm on the move you would understand, the droning could be intense. But it did not matter because most showings were rubbish. Anything purporting to be good and there was a sudden hush, an expectantancy and then a disappointed sigh and resumption of the row. At the interval the icecream girls came out. At first standing down the front and then wandering up and down the aisles. Rich was in love with Sarah Stevens, three years older and looking slightly more beautiful than a full blown angel. At least that is what he said but we all had our doubts. The older boys sitting up the back and in the first row of the circle flicking cigarette butts. The red tracer glow could be watched until they landed.
This Saturday we attempted our normal procedure only to find that the fire escape door had been blocked up and moved. The freshly painted wall looking as though it had been there for decades. Something to do with the need for a quicker emergency exit we later found out and nothing to do with discovery of our antics.
Tom said, “what’s all this malarkey then Dick?” In our rota it was our turn to go in pay and do the other business.
“Obviously some strange goings on” I replied, “won’t be able to open up this particular door. Maybe time to rethink.”
Back outside having first given the lovely Doris on the till some spiel about lost jumpers to find, up the ramp and around the side. The driveway bang next to the main railway line. Trains whizzing by ten feet up. One every twenty minutes mostly timed to arrive at the crucial film moment when the only intelligible dialogue was taking place. Giving a beeping whistle as well. A really dumb cinema location.
The others were there staring at new brickwork, cleverly pointed and constructed to match the existing bricks.
Smith said, “This is smart work where’s the bloody door?”
“There,” I pointed. The door newly fixed to the back corner where it could discharge its contents directly into the car park. Dismayingly in full view.
“That’s no good. What good is that to us? This is too much. I’m off” Micky having one of his rare roused moments was already striding away.
“Hang on Micky” I shouted “Tom and I have tickets. You not coming in”
Micky stopped, turned “What and pay. You mad. Can’t afford it.'' He had a point of course. Inadequate pocket money.
And there you have it. A double whammy. Tom and I dumped our tickets, all for one and all that crap. We wandered off to the park to take over the football pitch.
The park in the summer was the centre of the universe. A huge space with a cricket square that was roped off and several football pitches. There was a single storey pavilion and at weekends football matches dominated in the winter. Worth a watch if only for the bloodbath. The best matches to watch involved either the Police team or the Firemen. Both quite clearly competitive brutes. Everyone went there. There were informal games of football, cricket, massive rounders matches, twenty a side, hit and run that anyone could just turn up and join in. Hit, drop the bat and run was the routine. Next batter getting brained by a flying bat randomly chucked in a batter’s panicked getaway. Most were around our age or younger, older kids having better things to do, usually when they discovered girls were other than a general annoyance.
But when we arrived, the Tidy mob was there.