In Conversation: John Pelling, 1930’s

Interviewee: John Pelling

Interviewer: Alexia Lazou

Thursday 3 June 2010

‘The first recollection I have of the Duke of York’s cinema is when my grandfather took me down to see a film there in 1939. It must have been just before the war, when I was about eight, he took me down there to see a film called ‘Goodbye Mr Chips’ and I think the reason he took me to see that is that he was himself a retired headmaster, used to teach at a school in the Lewes Road. He was very keen to see the film and in a way I thought it was a very sad film at the time. I was a young chap, it wasn’t really a film that a kid liked, especially as I was much more used to going – and I think it was sometimes to the Duke of York’s but more often to the Gaiety cinema, another cinema in Brighton – to see these cowboy films every Saturday morning, and couldn’t wait to go and see those. And again I can’t remember exactly what we paid but it was something like either three pence or six pence to get in, and there were crowds of children and of course everyone’s excited all the time about these cowboy films.

But going back to the Duke of York’s, I remember my uncle (my mother’s brother) when he came out of the First World War, which he luckily survived. Wounded and so on but nevertheless he took up house painting. His name was Robert Tripp and he told me one day that he painted the front of the Duke of York’s, I think mainly the top part of it, right over the front, in all different colours. He was very proud of this, he said. One time I think it had been painted a rather creamy or grey colour and he introduced some lovely colour into the decoration that was already up on the top of the Duke of York’s. The stucco, all the various decorations there he painted in a good many colours and he said he felt he’d made a real masterpiece of it. Whether that’s true or not I don’t know and whether by scraping paint off there they would find layers of colour, again I don’t know, but he was very proud of this, it was one of his major achievements he felt.

Otherwise I can’t remember very much more about the Duke of York’s except as children it was always a tremendous excitement and great pleasure to have the chance of going any time to a cinema

Always in those days you didn’t just see the one film as we tend to do now, and they didn’t have a great lead up with loads of advertisements. You just went in and you were soon confronted with the first, smaller film before the major one came on. So you saw a small film, sometimes they were quite good, these small films. There was sometimes a cowboy film thrown in, or short American film. And then it stopped and then usually girls came round with – if anyone had any money, most of us didn’t have very much money – but they had ice creams, and I don’t know if they had drinks, but I certainly can remember ice creams. And the girls that went round were quite well dressed up with a proper tray of stuff. You went out of your place and went down and collected it and went back to your place.

But in those days, on the whole, children were very polite and they weren’t rough and unruly. It was quite amazing. I mean, I don’t think you could do this today. When I went to the Saturday morning film it was absolutely full of children, but when the film started they were pretty well controlled, there was no screaming or shouting. Except of course at the exciting parts, then everyone got carried away with the baddie being shot, or the goodie being threatened or something like that. And then everyone would feel as though they were part of the film and it was most exciting. But we never had, as far as I can remember, any hooliganism. One’s parents let you just go off all by yourself – seven or eight years of age – with three pence in your pocket or six pence, you paid your bit to go in and they knew you were safe and came home from there. Maybe you can do that now but I don’t think it would be quite as easy as it was in those days.

Also, I seem to remember you paid to get in and then if some of the seats stayed empty at the back, the more expensive ones, you sometimes jumped into the seats that were better seats. And of course it was no choice for more adult films or later on, all the boys and girls used to try and get in the back seats so there could be a little bit of ‘goings-on’ up there which one didn’t look round to watch, to see what was going on.

When you went in the commissionaire was usually a chap dressed up in a good uniform, very smart which gave a feeling of authority. So you were going into something that you were sort of welcomed into but felt you had to respect the authority of it. I mean, you had this Major General almost, standing outside in his uniform and seeing you in, and therefore you weren’t going to do anything unruly because you’d be thrown out. Maybe why we were so well behaved is that if you did muck around, somebody would come along and just get you by the ear and pull you out. These days they can’t give you a jolly smack round the ear and throw you out. I didn’t actually have that done to me but I think there has been the occasion of a naughty boy, or perhaps even girl, thrown out of the cinema. I

This entry was posted in Memories. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.