Interviewee: Jackie Grigg
Interviewer: Christina Reading
Date of Interview: 25th May 2010
Jackie Grigg worked at the Duke of York’s as an usherette when she was a teenager in the 1970s. Being family friends with the Drew Bears, she spent a great amount of time at the cinema during the late 1960s as well. She shares her memories about Jean and Peter Drew Bear, her passion for cinema and her work as an usherette.
On her childhood at the Duke of York’s
Jackie recalls spending a lot of time at the cinema as a child. Her family lived close to the cinema and her parents were friends with Peter and Jean Drew Bear.
“Whenever things were, well it was a good place to escape to, so I was often over there making a nuisance of myself, as was my older sister. And it was always such fun going there. Jean and Peter were such fun people.
I was always thought Peter and Jean were a rather glamorous couple. I remember Jean always used to have really glamorous hairstyles, and curls, and a beauty spot and lipstick.
I was probably making a nuisance of myself from probably about the age of ten, so that would have been the late ‘60s. So yes, I used to be always going over there and saying ‘can I come in and watch a film’…they didn’t mind, though sometimes the films weren’t appropriate for me to see so they didn’t let me.”
On her passion for cinema
Jackie talks about her love for cinema and how her family’s relationship with the Drew Bears and the opportunities that this opened up to her fed her already alighted interest.
“I used to go there on my own quite a lot because I absolutely loved cinema, completely obsessed with it…I’ve always been interested in films of the ‘30s and ‘40s and ‘50s, Hollywood stars of the time, and the style and fashions and directors. I was completely obsessed with Francois Truffaut and I think that must have been form the Duke of York’s because I remember seeing Fahrenheit 451 and thinking that was the most outstanding film so I guess the two fed each other.”
On working as an usherette
During the 1970s, when Jackie was 16 years old, she started to work at the cinema.
“I suppose when I got to sort of teenage years and I was looking around for part time work, again I made such a nuisance of myself that I then did usherette-ing and I liked doing that. I got paid as well and really all you did was tear tickets at the start of the film and just sat there…I suppose that must have been in the maybe the mid 70s I should think…I don’t think it could’ve been more than a couple years at most. Doing the tickets tearing and then going around with the tray…with things like Kia-ora and Butterkist, and ice cream tubs and all of those sorts of things. That was a bit embarrassing actually; I used to feel embarrassed having to walk down the aisle.
As you walked down the aisle you got to your position at the front of the cinema and stood there like a ‘nana for 10 minutes and then as you walked back, you had to sort of walk backward looking up and down the aisles to make sure people weren’t sitting there waiting for you to go to them’…’Once the interval was over, as the lights were going down or you timed it, then you’d just do back up the aisle trying to attract more custom as you went.
I suppose I wanted to make myself useful, if they were letting me watch the films for nothing I might as well be tearing the tickets as well. I used to do the upstairs which was much more refined than the downstairs. I can’t remember now whether you were allowed to smoke all over the place or whether it was upstairs only or whether that changed when it changed hands later on. For some reason I always remember the stalls being not as refined as the circle, maybe it was more expensive to go up there. And then they had that little area; that raised area that you could go in.”
Jackie reminisces about the different aspects of the cinema and how she used to help Jean Drew Bear with the sweet shop at the Duke of York’s.
“That was Jean’s department. Peter was sort of the around the cinema part. He had a great office, if you could sort of had a set designer to make a 1950s office that would be Peter’s office.”
She also remembers that Peter sometimes worked as a projectionist when they were short staffed, and talks more about how she remembers the cinema was during the 1970s.
“His famous safe that’s now in the foyer that used to be where the ticket box was, a little circular thing that you pulled open.”
On how the Duke of York’s has changed
Jackie remembers the cinema in the 1970s and how she finds it now.
“It was a bit run down, that was part of its charm, I liked it like that. I suppose it got really run down when it changed hands a little later on and they used to have parties and raves there and all sorts used to go on. It’s always felt like it’s been a home from home for me so I quite liked that.
Every time I go in there, I look around and I look at the proscenium arch that Peter had installed and think that’s absolutely fantastic, and all those wonderful lights, and I know that when they first went there it was even more beautifully decorated. That’s been covered up over the years and if it were carved up it would really lose a lot of its charm.”
Jackie discusses how screening for specific groups seems to open the cinema up to new people but perhaps closes certain films off to her.
“The number of films that interest me has diminished…they went through a period of getting the same films in that are available on the mainstream and having them on for quite a long time…I’d like to see a bit more variety.”