Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 343

Saturday 8th December 1984

I got up at 9.30 and Mrs Crawford rang to say we had won a raffle! At 11.00 I watched Saturday Superstore, then I had dinner. At 1.00 Doug came and we went to Stockton. We started to que for Ghostbusters but we couldn’t get in so at 3.30 we came back.

Mam, Doug and I then took the dogs on the field, then Doug went home. At 5.20 I watched the last Tripods, and at 5.45 I watched Late Late Breakfast show.

At 6.40 I watched The intelligence men, then at 11.00 I watched Pushing up daisies. I went to bed at 11.30.

Who ya gonna call?

Not the Classic cinema to reserve a ticket, that’s for certain. Cinemas didn’t work like that in the 1980s. The usual procedure if you wanted to see the latest American blockbuster* at your local fleapit went someting like this…

(*British cinema hadn’t been invented in the 1980s)

1. Scour the Evening Gazette late final with a magnifying glass, and – somewhere between the ‘Lost Pets’ classified adverts and the ‘Spot The Ball’ result from three weeks ago – you’d find a tiny black box with ‘CLASSIC CINEMA, Dovecot Street, Stockton’ at the top. Here, three (or – if they were showing something REALLY popular – two) screens would be dedicated to the latest flashy flicks from the States, with anything up to THREE SCREENINGS A DAY. So, on this freezing Saturday morning, I’ll have rescued Friday’s Gazette from my Dad’s pre-Saturday Superstore fire-lighting regime and torn out the corner of the page that said…

Ghosbusters 12pm 3.30pm 7pm

…before feverishly calling Doug to see if he fancied chancing his arm.

2. Turn up outside the darkened cinema two hours before the screening time and join a lengthy, shivering queue on the pavement in the pissing rain. Spent the next 1 hour and 55 minutes shuffling, stamping your feet, swearing under your breath and trying to avoid the gaze of the Thornaby headcases three places in front of you who are slicing up the Ghostbusters film poster with a Stanley knife.

3. Shuffle forward like the army of the undead as, five minutes before showtime, an elderly, sour-faced usherette in a brown pinny reluctantly opens the cinema door and deems fit to let allow of the great unwashed to actually SET FOOT INSIDE THE BUILDING. Allow yourself to become slightly excited in the knowledge that you’ll soon have a mere four minutes and thirty seconds to buy a Westlers Hot Dog and a King Cone before the first Pearl and Dean adverts emerge through a haze of wafting, pale blue Lambert and Butler cigarette smoke.

4. Forget any thoughts of a Westlers Hot Dog and a King Cone when, six feet from the open doorway, said brown pinny-wearing harridan stops the queue with an outstretched hand and says ‘That’s it love, full up from here’. Spend thirty seconds pointlessly arguing your case (‘BUT WE’VE BEEN STANDING IN THE PISSING RAIN FOR NEARLY TWO HOURS!!!!’) as she stares you down with the cold, dead eyes of a shark, before giving up the ghost (ho ho) and catching the bus home again. 

5. Repeat a week later, but this time turn up two and a half hours before screening time. In slightly heavier rain.

Which pretty much describes, without a hint of exaggeration, the afternoon that Doug and I had on the corner of Dovecot Street in Stockton-on-Tees exactly 25 years ago today. We caught the 294 bus from the wonky stop outside my house, ran straight from Stockton High Street to the Classic Cinema, and groaned with a mutual ‘Oh, for f***’s sake…’ when we rounded the corner to see at least 150 assorted punters in ski jackets, mullets and stonewashed jeans stretching around the corner of the building, picking at their moustaches with flick-knives. And that was just the girls.

Still, we gave it our all. For two hours. In the pissing rain. And, when the inevitable ‘Sorry, love…’ came our way six feet from the door, we shared a 30p bag of soggy chips (and scraps) from Barnacles, and caught the 294 bus back home again.

‘Next Saturday?’ I asked.
‘Next Saturday,’ nodded Doug. We were twelve. We had all of eternity to watch Ghosbusters at the Classic.

Couple of other bits from this day…

1. I have absolutely no idea whatsoever what that business with Mrs Crawford and the raffle ticket is about. I can only assume my Dad, during a gentle Sunday night pint at the spit-and-sawdust Cross Keys in Yarm High Street, had bought a strip of raffle tickets from said Mrs Crawford (‘We’re raising money for little Gilly, she needs a kidney dialysis machine’) and she’d scrawled down his phone number before he stuffed the tickets in his pocket. I’ve no idea what the prize was, but I assume it wasn’t life-changing. If my parents won a million pounds on this fateful Saturday 25 years ago, they’ve done a bloody good job of keeping it quiet.

2. The Intelligence Men is one of Morecambe and Wises’ 1960s films. Always a bit underrated I think, an opinion I had reinforced during on Christmas Eve 1992, when Gavin Wilkinson and I watched it under the influence of a 12-pack of Tennant’s Super, and literally howled with laughter on his parents’ front room carpet at 1.30am. I think I’ve still got a few minor burn marks on my shoulders.



  Dr. Giles Parcel wrote @

Youngsters today just don’t believe that we used to queue to get into the cinema. They may have seen queues on the opening night of an especially blocky blockbuster, but those queues are formed inside nowadays, as multiplex foyers are generally bigger than the auditoria themselves. Tell a nipper that people would stand for well over an hour out in the rain and the cold on any given weeknight during the run of a new film (and not merely on the opening night) and they will laugh at you, almost as though you’d tried to convince them that people used to queue up to use a public coin telephone with a dial.

  bobfischer wrote @

I suppose there was really no other option… until the multiplexes arrived in the late 80s, most provincial cinemas were pretty small affairs with two or three screens and only a couple of screenings a night, so if a couple of hundred people decided they wanted to queue for a popular film, there was nowhere for them to do it but outside on the street.

I’m pretty sure it took four attempts for me to see Star Wars in January 1978. First, me and my Dad were foiled by an extraordinary snowfall, when – for the only time in living memory – the main road in and out of Yarm was completely closed, stranding us in the house for at least three days. The second time we drove to (I think) Stockton’s Odeon cinema, only to be put off – an hour before screening – by the 300 flared, whiskery Teessiders queuing along the High Street. ‘No bloody chance…’ said my Dad, and took me home.

The third time, we went to Redcar’s tiny municipal cinema, the reasoning being that ‘Nobody goes to see films in bloody Redcar’. Except on this occasion, when we queued for an hour on the freezing cold seafront before being turned away at the door in the first stages of hypothermia.

We finally got to see it about a month after our first attempt, when we went back to the Odeon on Stockton High Street. It was worth the wait, though… a genuine life-changing experience. The following week, I made my Mum take me back to watch it again. And the week after, my Uncle Trevor. And the week after…

(I also think the modern day cossetting of cinema audiences has made them considerably rowdier. The last time I went to a mainstream Multiplex, the audience were so hepped up on sugar, fizzy pop and goofballs after an hour in the foyer that it was like trying to watch a film in the middle of a crowded football terrace. In the 1980s, our senses were so numbed by exposure and hunger that everyone sat in stunned silence for the entire duration of the flick. And choc-ices were swiftly despatched during the interval to anyone showing the slightest hint of defrosting…)

  Chris Orton wrote @

I know that I am going to sound like an old fart here, but I can remember when they used to show a cartoon before the main feature. During the gap between the two they would sell tubs of that bright yellow ice cream and tartrazine-fuelled lollies from a little tray at the front of the pictures. You could get a hot dog, some pop, some popcorn or a huge bag of Revels in the foyer and THAT WAS IT.

The pictures were flea pits back then weren’t they? The main one that I went to was in Bishop Auckland but was knocked down in about 1985. The good news though, is that 24 years later, Bishop Auckland is getting a brand new (six screen mind you, nothing too extravagant) multiplex soon! The other one that we visited was the one in Durham’s North Road that later became an Australian-themed bar that later closed down, and is about to be reborn as a live music venue.

  bobfischer wrote @

Yes, I remember the cartoons! The Classic used to show the occasional vintage ‘short’ as well.. I remember watching Three Stooges films in there before a few early 1980s blockbusters. Just the thing to get you in the mood for The Empire Strikes Back!

And yes, they were VERY basic. And I preferred that enormously. I didn’t go to the cinema for a few years in the late 80s/early 90s, and missed the cultural shift to the dreaded Multiplex. I was shocked the first time I went, to discover that EVERYBODY now spends the entire film eating. As noisily as possible. I don’t really go any more, it drives me up the bloody wall.

  Fiona Tims wrote @

When I went to see the latest Terminator film I had someone in front of me texting for over 10 minutes. I finally had enough and jabbed him in the shoulder and asked him to stop. I was quite amazed I did as I never say Boo to a goose.

My friends Bro used to be a projectionist and he told me recently to always go to the first shoing of the day. I went to see the 12.30 showing of 2012 and there were 4 of us in the cinema (inc me and my dad). Then we went to see Law Abiding Citizen at the first showing and there were about 12 of us. I’ll only go to the first showings now as I hate the cinema any other time!

  bobfischer wrote @

I go for midnight screenings. The last film I saw at the cinema was ‘Telstar’, at 11.45pm on a Tuesday night. I was the only person in there! It was brilliant. I felt like a millionaire. I kept getting up and walking around and changing seats.

Sent a few texts as well, and ate a carton of popcorn very noisily. 😉

  thelyniezian wrote @

I’ve heard about queueing for the cinema in, say, the ’30s to the ’50s (ish) from older relatives, but I’d have thought it might have died down by the ’80s following the advent of telly.

I was wrong.

  thelyniezian wrote @

As for the cinema in question, I do vaguely remember it, but it was called the Cannon by that point. I recall seeing a re-run of “Lady and the Tramp” (c. 1989?) and just to say managed to see Jurassic Park there before it got closed down.

  bobfischer wrote @

It was only the multiplexes that wiped out the phenomenon of outdoor cinema queuing, from the late 80s onwards. Although I hadn’t been for a few years before that – I think Back To The Future, in 1985, was the last film that required me to spend an hour standing on the pavement in the pissing rain.

And yeah, the Classic became the Cannon sometime around the mid-1980s and then was demolished to make way for the Arc building in around… 1994, I think?

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