Author Archives: educationalist04

A Man called Horace and other Saturday morning Odeon Tales!

I have many happy memories  of the Odeon Cinema on the corner of High Street and Brighton Road.

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Induction into the fantasy of film started early with us. The Odeon Cinema cleverly had a Saturday morning Mickey Mouse Club and for the princely sum of 6d (2.5 pence) you could gain entry into a world of Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton, Harry Langdon and the firework capers of Flash Gordon and his unfeasibly good-looking girlfriend, pitted against the Oriental looking Emperor Ming whose every thought was dastardly!

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There would be cowboy serials featuring Hopalong Cassidy or the Lone Ranger and Tonto.  and more modern films made in the fifties and early sixties that featured childhood stars who would go on to feature as staples in seventies and eighties TV. People like Dennis Waterman and Richard O’Sullivan.

These British Film Institute youth films always involved middle class children from comfortable homes and well off parents discovering spies, whilst flying their radio controlled planes, or spotting bank robbers whilst casually sailing along the estuary in their dinghy. Not the sort of thing that happened on the Reso.

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The short and longer feature films were punctuated by an intermission when the lady with the tray of ice cream would appear and fight her way to the front. The tubs of ice cream were out of reach for me if I was to buy a Beano on the way home to complete my weekend expenditure of my pocket-money, so I settled for the latest fad, the Zoom Lolly which looked a little like Fireball XL-5 and had traffic light colours.

In the intermission, young punters were encouraged to take to the stage and show their talents. Besides the fact I did not have any talents, I wouldn’t be seen dead trying to entertain the assembled masses. Duncan and Andy had no problem with warbling their hearts out though. As they finished there was a second’s amazed silence, followed by rapturous applause. I wish I had the courage!

I had been a Mickey Mouse Club regular for a couple of years when I caught the eye of the management for what seemed the right reasons. Apparently the manager wanted to interview me. My first thought was that I was suspected for some heinous criminal offence, like opening the exit doors nearest the toilets to let our mates in.

It turned out my name had been forwarded to him as a reliable sort of lad for an important mission. Perhaps I had become middle class and a radio controlled plane was on the way, or otherwise there were spies operating in the area? It was none of these escapades, but a position of great responsibility was being thrust on my shoulders, or rather round my rather feeble upper arm.

I was being made a member of the Committee, which I thought might involve both riches and status. It conferred none of these, but merely a command to arrive no later than 9.45 on a Saturday morning, and to don a Perspex badge to be worn on the left arm saying COMMITTEE. When I enquired what the remuneration package for the role was, the manager was taken aghast, saying it was a great honour, a position of responsibility and would be the making of me. He also said that I would get in free on Saturday morning.

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It only occurred to me three weeks after accepting the role, that I now spent Saturday morning walking around the cinema, most usually with my back to the screen, telling people to sit down and stop ruining it for the rest of the audience. Saving sixpence in return for abuse and sore feet seemed little compensation once the swagger of wearing a Perspex badge, like some latter-day one horse town sheriff,  wore off.

Week four was the crunch point. I quickly realised that the secret to this job was to do a cursory tour of the stalls so that the manager saw you and then loiter around the stairwells head up to the balcony where the older children congregated.  Given a little luck, I could drift into the high seats on the left hand side of the auditorium so that my badge would not be visible and settle in for the main feature.  Even better if some of the girls from my school were there we could call it an informal date (you know who you were).

I was, like with Watch With Mother, sitting comfortably and about to begin,  when the Manager caught me. I was taken out to the corridor next to the Projection room, and with the flickering and clicking of the Projector as the backing track, was given a right dressing down. The manager seemed under the impression that he was still fighting the War and used a number of military adjectives to describe my dereliction of duty.  Apparently he knew my dad, and would not relish having to tell him what a towering disappointment his son was to the Odeon Organisation!

He watched me return to the Upper Circle and immediately address a couple of lads with their feet on the seats in front, a common occurrence. Flustered from the altercation and with the crescendo of the film blinding and deafening me, I didn’t realise who I had addressed my ‘Get your feet down, lads!’ to. At that point the film froze and out of the darkness came a terse reply… ‘Or else?’

I’d made the mistake of addressing the Cardno brothers.

If I learnt two things whilst living on the Reso, the first one was the TV jingle about mints which went ‘Never Hurry a Murray!’ the second which came from experience, was “Never hassle a Cardno!’

My badge went back at the end of the shift and in the following weeks I resorted to bunking in from the queue at the Fire Exit, by way of compensation for a near death experience.

As to a Man Called Horace, when we were teenagers, my cousin Tim and I went to see a Richard Harris film about a guy captured by Native Americans who came to appreciate their ways. To prove himself, he went through terrible rituals involving eagle claws and needles and being suspended by ropes by tender parts of the anatomy. Tim had mistakenly thought the film was called A Man Called Horace. We still laugh about it almost fifty years later. A Man called Horse is still a remarkable film.

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Copyright: Alamy, United First Artist Pictures and Odeon Cinemas. Used under Creative Commons Usage.
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The delight of a Sixties steam train at Rhyl Station

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If you liked the previous post, you’ll love this one.

It is a summer’s day in the early 1960s, there is an engine simmering in the engine shed yard and the silence is broken by the metallic sound of the Tannoy voice.

‘The next train to arrive at Platform 1 will be the 11.17 train for Manchester Victoria, calling at Prestatyn, Mostyn, Flint, Chester (change for Liverpool Crewe and London Euston, Helsby, Frodsham, Warrington Bank Quay, Earlestown, Newton le Willows, Patricroft, Eccles and Manchester Victoria. First class accommodation is at the front of the train. Platform 1 for Manchester Victoria.’

Such romantic names, Newton le Willows I thought of as a chocolate box pastoral idyll of a village with tea shoppes selling scones with cream and breakfast teas and Camp coffee. I was quickly dispelled of this image when I used this train regularly to travel onwards to university. By then it was a rattling corporate blue, anonymous diesel multiple unit. Newton le Willows was no rural idyll and would warrant prosecution under the Trades Description Act!

We’d stay on Platform 2 and stare through the heat haze beyond the H bridge to see the shimmering mirage of an engine becoming clearer . The signal gantry at the H bridge would be activated to show an engine on either the slow up line, or the fast up line taking the line for the platform. The signal arm at the signal box shown here would be pulled off to confirm the route.

By now we would be racing over the passenger bridge to race down Platform 1 to where the engine would stop just beyond the bridge and before the next signal gantry. If the signal had not yet been pulled it would indicate that the train was on or ahead of time and that might make the driver more affable to a request to join him on the footplate. If the signal was already off then he’d be impatient to be away and his fireman would be working hard to fill the firebox and adjust the injectors.

Sometimes the train would stop short so that it sat under the Vale Road Bridge. On these occasions we stood under the bridge with it, drinking in the magnificent aroma of live steam and hot oil and sulphurous coal. It made you giddy with excitement.

At the guard’s whistle, the driver would open the engine up and, if the rails were greasy from rail and the oil of previous trains the engine would slip and the wheels would spin, producing a cacophony of roaring slipping wheels and escaping volcanoes of steam which would envelop us. The driver would ease off to enable the engine to get a surer footing on the rails and move off to a succession of short sharp beats which gradually increased as the engine gained some traction.

The engine would move off at a quickly accelerating pace, the maroon carriages would then pass us by. The lucky people on the train were distractedly reading or lost in conversation or sandwich eating, not appreciating the wonder of their position on the train, a position we would have killed to occupy.

‘Look!’ we’d say, ‘at the mechanical wonder, of the scenery and sites, the other engines and the stations, the speed and the purpose, the adventures unfolding!’

But they’d simply give us urchins a glance and disappear behind their newspapers or relax into the sumptuous seating for a nap.

Train travel would look so much better with us on board!

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Memories of steam engines in Rhyl

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It is foolish to wish oneself older, but there was a time when I would quite happily have wished myself a decade older to have enjoyed for longer the marvel of steam engines on Rhyl station. As it was I caught the tail end of steam – it was all gone before my twelve birthday in 1968.

What I did witness, often with friends, was magnificent and endlessly exciting.

One of my favourite venues was Rhyl Railway Station, where for 2d  (2 old pence) in the red and cream platform ticket machine, you could while away the whole day. It was even cheaper if ‘uncle’ Harry Hughes was inspecting tickets – he would simply wave you through with a wink.

These pictures cannot do justice to this magnificent and long gone age. You had to smell the sulphurous oil and the hissing of the beast to really appreciate it. For those of us who were there, the sight of a steam engine is a transport of delights to simpler and more exciting times.

David Goodall took these pictures in 1957 and they show a Royal Scot and Jubilee   engines which were usually entrusted to the Euston Holyhead service and a Black Five which usually hauled the lesser services. Photos 1 and 3 are taken at the east end of Platform 1 where the trains to London, calling at Prestatyn, Flint, Chester, Stafford, Nuneaton, Rugby, Watford Junction and London Euston. Or Prestatyn, Flint, Chester, Helsby, Frodsham, Warrington Bank Quay, Earlestown, Newton le Willows, Eccles and Manchester Victoria (other routes were available!)

The second picture shows a Royal Scot in Platform 2 heading west. The picture was taken from near where the Bee Hotel stands. across the lines that led to a landing stage and from where the ‘Red Dragon’ set out to Llandudno. This train will be calling at Abergele, Colwyn Bay, Llandudno Junction (change for Llandudno and Blaenau Ffestiniog) Conwy, Llanfairfechan, Penmaenmawr, Bangor, (change for Caernarfon, Afonwen, Nantlle and Bethesda) Menai Bridge, Llanfair PG, Gaerwen (change for Amlwch) Valley and Holyhead.

The signal is not yet off for the Black Five 44696 so I’ve time to give my best pleading look to the driver and ask him if I can cab him (get up on the footplate). Back in a mo!

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A 1907 railway journey down the north Wales coast…

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I couldn’t resist this 1907 film of a journey along the North Wales coast by train. So much has changed, yet so much is refreshingly familiar.

I’ve previously published some stills from this film of Rhyl station with a London express arriving.

Watch the film

 

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Rhyl Visitor Reminiscences

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It has happened three times this week, which is by no means exceptional.

I suppose the fact that I spend a fair few hours each week wandering around with the dog and engaging in casual conversations tends to bring it on. At times, I’m wearing my Rhyl FC jacket, or what my mum used to call a ‘windcheater’ (I’ve not heard that word spoken in many a long year).

Anyway, whenever the name of Rhyl is mentioned, invariably the person I’m talking to recounts heart-felt reminiscences of happy times spent in the old home town.  The memories often go back several decades, in some cases to before I was born, and the narrator cannot stifle a smile whilst recounting them.

Inevitably the memories include the beach and the fairs, the focus of family holidays, day trips or august Sunday School visits.

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This week I came across an aged couple who were originally from Birmingham on an unseasonably warm February walk across the local orchard and golf course with Iolo. They spotted Rhyl FC on my jacket and it triggered a flow of memories of summer train rides from Handsworth. They recounted their first view of the sea, or rather the Dee Estuary near Mostyn, the hurried eating of the picnic sandwiches so that they would not have to carry them, or to waste time eating them once in Rhyl.

After Birmingham, they said one of the greatest delights was to smell the salty, fresh sea air when getting off the train. The sun was always shining and that meant that the sea was always blue and the sand golden. Nothing seemed to blight their memories. They were just as the posters at their local railway station advertised. They were never disappointed, or at least not with sixty years of rosy memories to fall back on. They also went from Birmingham by train to Weston Super Mare, but  was glad to hear that Rhyl was always their favourite because it was more brash and exotic, being in a foreign country!

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The second person to accost me this week was in an old people’s home in the Forest of Dean.  That I was Welsh came out first , followed by my precise location of origin. This lady, in her nineties also recounted fond memories of staying with an elderly relative in Rhyl just after the war, when rationing and hard times put paid to most pleasures, but that the seaside holiday remained as sparkling as ever in those grey times.

She remembered going to three different cinemas in the town in one week, The Plaza, Odeon and  the Regal, eating candy floss along the Promenade and the twinkle of fairy lights from the dainty illuminations on the East Parade. Later she said she had gone dancing in the Queens on a fantastic sprung dance floor, and I was able to tell her that the dance  floor still existed, for now!

 

The third person I met was younger than me and had visited Rhyl in the eighties. He too reckoned he had seen Rhyl in a golden age. I suppose for each of these people the golden age was not a specific time, but when they were young and everything was exciting. He spoke of the Sun Centre and the Pavilion Theatre, blissfully unaware of the older domed building.

It is quite a tribute to our old town that so many have so such great memories of the town that our parents created. You don’t get that sort of spontaneous and lasting affection for inland towns. No-one, I imagine, waxs so lyrical about the seasonal merits of Tamworth or Tewkesbury or Tonbridge. Burnley, Batley or Basingstoke were never such golden repositories of memories.

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How lucky we have been to be a part of this kaleidoscope of memories..

 

 

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