Interviewee: Christine Jenner
Date of interview: 23 August 2010
Christine was born in London in 1953 and moved to Brighton in 1958Christine first heard of the Duke of York’s as a child but it wasn’t until she was 10 or 12 that she took more notice of it.Cinema going had been important to Christine and her family as a child.At the time, the Duke of York’s was a cheap cinema known as a ‘flea pit’, particularly compared to the glitzier cinemas that were being built in the town centre.Christine first remembers walking to the cinema from her home near the racecourse with her sister and their older friend who used to frequent the Duke of York’s. They would be brought there during the summer holidays.Christine remembers coming to the area to shop in London Road.
Christine: Well we felt very grown up because we, we weren’t with our mum, we were with the girl who was just a few years older, and so to us, it was just the excitement of being out without mum really, I think, in the holidays. And we came to see a double bill of Elvis Presley and Tarzan.
Vaska: That’s a good double bill!
Christine: It was a good double bill!
Vaska: How old would you have been?
Christine: I was trying to think the other day, probably ten or eleven, something like that I think.
Vaska: And had they been films you’d been looking forward to or did you just turn up and that is what was on?
Christine: No, this friend, she was a great Elvis fan, and of course subsequently I became a great Elvis fan aswell, and it was really the Elvis film that got us here. And the fact that you could just sit and watch it through and through. So what we did, we came and watched the Elvis film, then we watched the Tarzan film, and then we watched the Elvis film again for about 1d 6p.
Christine vaguely remembers that the exterior of the cinema was quite grey and shabby. She doesn’t remember there being a café bar upstairs.Christine remembers sitting in the double seats at the back of the cinema!For Christine and her sister, going to the Duke of York’s was particularly exciting because they were going to the cinema without their mum. She remembers it being cheap, shabby, and casual.Christine remembers there being a fug of smoke in the cinema and how she was once told that if someone had a bad cold, a trip to the cinema would cure them!Buses at the time were also very smoky.She remembers mainly housewives and girls watching the film with her.Christine describes the journey from the outside to the inside of the cinema.
Christine: It was dark, I mean, you’d come in the entrance way and go into sort of through the, through the doors into the actual auditorium and it would be dark and there’d be somebody with a torch who would come and look at your tickets and tell you where you could sit. We had a ruse, that our friend bought a more expensive ticket and put ours underneath hers and we hoped that the usherette wouldn’t notice that we, that we’d got cheaper tickets than her. It only worked once! And we went in the stalls, I think it was more expensive upstairs but, yes it was dark and smoky and, and the visibility was really quite bad. I mean you could fall over on your way to the seat, and also it was probably dirty inside cos in those days people didn’t pick up their litter, it was quite common to have ice-cream, they’d come round in the interval with ice-cream, and you’d just leave your cartons or the tubs and things on the floor and sweet wrappers, so it was all, that, was everywhere.
Christine remembers the three different ticket prices for the seats – with the seats at the front of the stalls being the cheapest and the balcony seats the most expensive.Christine remembers the ushers would look at your tickets and show you to your seat down the aisle with a torch.At the time, many films being shown in cinemas were musicals and cowboy films. Some cinemas in Brighton specialised in cartoons – such as the News Theatre on North Street (now Burger King).Cinema going was important to children in Brighton – there would be Saturday Morning Pictures. Christine wasn’t allowed go however as her parents felt the events to be ‘too rough’!When she was about 16 or 17, Christine came to the Duke of York’s with her boyfriend to watch ‘Women in Love’. They sat in the double seats.
Until the seventies Christine would go to the Duke of York’s only occasionally. However, after her marriage in 1977, she and her husband decided not to buy a television, so for a few years they would go to the Duke of York’s on a Sunday night.Christine thinks she saw Glenda Jackson films at the Duke of York’s.She would find out what films were being screened by looking at the listings in The Gazette paper. She notes how they could then get the times off teletext and now the internet.Going to the cinema on a Sunday evening was a real treat. They would have dinner first and then go to the Duke of York’s after.
Christine says that as she was older then, she was more aware of the cinema and it’s cheap and cheerful nature. She describes sitting down on the seats and them going ‘boing’! She thinks it was still quite grubby!Her friends did not go to the Duke of York’s.One particularly strong and fond film memory which she describes as ‘wonderful’ was coming to watch Les Miserables with Jean-Paul Belmondo some years ago. She and her friend bought coffee and cake.She recounts going to the Sex and the City film and the fun atmosphere. They were unable to get tickets for the premiere, so saw the slightly earlier screening.Christine believes that the cinema now attracts middle-class audiencesShe notes how as a youngster, a girl would be unlikely to go to the Duke of York’s on her own, but that now she would feel very comfortable to go and see a film by herself there.Christine loves being able to consume coffee and cake in the cinema.
Today, the exterior of the cinema is smarter but has retained its charm. She remembers the legs being put up and the ‘hoo haa’ that followed in the papers – that this was a ‘monstrosity’. She thinks the legs were initially in a different place. She is unsure of the date that these were erected.Christine describes the interior as more contemporary, not as plush. She thinks the seats are better and that it is cleaner. With the addition of the bar, she feels it makes it more of a complete experience.Nowadays she goes to the cinema with her husband. She will quite often buy her tickets in advance over the telephone so that she can ensure they will have a seat. Christine says that in the ‘olden days’ there was no question about getting in!She is really pleased that the cinema has been turned around and thinks that it has probably been saved as a result.Christine says that she doesn’t really go to the Duke of York’s to see the more art house films.
Vaska: Have you ever been to the Eurovision?
Christine: Yes, yes! I love it! It’s absolutely fantastic. The first year we came we, it was the, it was the, well the end of the Brighton Festival and we hadn’t got anything to do and I looked in and said ‘oh there’s the Eurovision Party at the Duke of York’s, we could go to that?’ and it was just, it was, we couldn’t get tickets, the, that was booked up, we couldn’t get tickets, so I said ‘well if we go down on the night if there’s some cancellations we might be lucky’, and a couple outside sold us their tickets, they had too many, so bought a couple of tickets off them, and it was just absolutely fantastic.
Vaska: So what happens, did you have to dress up or?
Christine: Well, we didn’t but people do, yeah, we’ve been a couple of times. People do dress up and that year was, I think the group’s called Scoot, and they were air hostesses.
Christine: A number of trolley dollies. And of course, lots of transvestites and cross-dressers and all sorts, all dressed as trolley dollies, with their little, pulling little bags along and the outfits, it was just. And they gave you a goody bag, and it had a whistle and a day glo star thing, and some sweets, and a condom, and, I can’t remember what else. All in, all in this bag. Yeah, and so, cos they were blowing whistles all the time and the noise was unbelievable! But it was just such fun, really really good fun.
Vaska: And do people stay in their seats or are they up standing?
Christine: No, up, cos there’s a bar. They put a bar at the front of the cinema by the screen they have a bar, and then there’s the bar up here aswell, and it’s quite, actually it’s mayhem! And the toilet queue is miles long!
Christine has been to the Eurovision Party twice and describes it as a lot of fun.She says that there are all sorts of booing and cheering, flags, and that audience members from different countries will cheer their own nation. Christine feels that the Duke of York’s is important to the city and likes that people like her can remember how it was and the transformation it has undergone.She says that it is sad if it has out-priced some people and thinks it would be nice if there was cheaper access for some people.Christine says that she would come to the Duke of York’s in preference to the multiplex cinemas and even if there was a film she wasn’t sure of.On remembering the ‘Sex and the City’ experience, she says that everything was done so nicely – with a red carpet, cupcakes with charms on them, and young men wearing just trousers and bow ties! She says it is more of an experience, more of a special night out than just watching a film.If Christine were to describe the Duke of York’s to someone, she would tell them that it would be fun and a good night out. She would say it was a nice experience where you could have cake – she also really likes to be able to have a drink in the bar. She would also tell them about the local history.