Will you take me in, mister?

Source: David Rayner, contributed by the author.

Text: My earliest memory of picturegoing was on my fourth birthday in April, 1951, when I was taken by my mother and my godmother to the Essoldo, Wellington Road South, Stockport, to see Victor Mature and Hedy Lamaar in Cecil B. DeMille’s Technicolor epic “Samson and Delilah”. I can still remember being very impressed by the sight of Samson pushing apart the pillars of the temple of Dagon and quite literally bring the house down (or in this case, the temple)! I also remember I kept turning around in my seat and looking up at the dancing beam of blue light that came from way up there and that seemed to have something to do with the happenings on the large screen, never dreaming at the time that, eleven years later, I, too, would become a cinema projectionist (although not at the Essoldo, Stockport).

“Will you take me in, mister?”

I began going to the pictures on my own in 1957, when I was ten years old. Going to the pictures in those days was a very different experience to what such things are like today. For my ninepence admission money, I could get to see a feature; a supporting feature; a cartoon; a newsreel; a short and the adverts and trailers. Performances were continuous from 1 p.m. until 10:15 p.m. and you could go into the cinema at any time and, if, when you got inside, the feature was halfway through, you simply sat through the rest of the programme until the feature came on again and then you watched it around to the part where you had come in. I had moved from Stockport to Stoke-on-Trent by that time and, with around 25 cinemas in the Stoke-on-Trent area in the 1950s, there were plenty of films to choose from, especially with most cinemas changing their programme three times a week, on a Sunday, Monday and Thursday.

Of course, I was too young to be allowed in to see an X certificate film, but when an A certificate film was showing (children not allowed in unless accompanied by an adult), I, like many other youngsters at the time, used to wait outside the cinema and ask a man going in if he would take me in with him. None ever refused and, if the man took a liking to me, he would pay for my ticket, thus saving me having to spend my pocket money. After you got inside, sometimes the man would go and sit somewhere else and leave you to it, or sit alongside you and share a bag of sweets with you. These days, modern parents would be totally horrified by such a then commonplace practice. However, incidents of being groped by a man who had taken a boy in to see an A film were rarer than you might think, and, although it did happen to me a couple of times, when I was 12 and 13, I never heard of it happening to any other boy.

Comment: David Rayner was born in 1947 and in adult life became a cinema projectionist (now retired). X certificates were introduced in the UK in 1951, limiting exhibition to those aged over 16 (raised to over 18 in 1970).

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4 Responses to Will you take me in, mister?

  1. Joan says:

    This is a wonderful memory that makes me a bit envious. Seeing movies in a theater was always a special treat for me as a child. I grew up in a rural environment, we had no movie theater in town, and my parents hated going to the movies, so I can only remember seeing four, maybe five movies in a theater during my entire childhood. I have friends who grew up in cities, though, who have stories of spending the entire day at their local neighborhood theaters, apparently it served as an early form of child care. One friend particularly remembers being dropped off at the theater by her mother, who then drove off to run errands–the theater was showing “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” My friend was six. It seems age-appropriateness was not an issue.

  2. Hi Joan,

    Agreed this is a lovely memory, nicely expressed. Most of my early cinemagoing memories are bound-up with the happy anarchy of children’s Saturday morning shows at the Oxford, Whitstable. Must write about them.

    This is the first contribution from a reader of the site, and at some point I’ll be inviting anyone who wants to to contribute their memories. I need to work out how best to manage it (and promote it) before doing so, but it’s a logical next step.

  3. David Rayner says:

    It seems, by Joan’s description, that she is referring to the United States in the late 1950s, where there was no American equivalent of the British Board of Film Censors and children were allowed in to see adult and horror-themed films that would definitely have been given an “X” certificate in the UK (in fact “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” was an “X” film over here). All very strange by our standards of the day. Of course, times and ideas of what is acceptable for children to see have changed considerably in the past fifty or sixty years and even an “X” film like “Sodom and Gomorrah” (1963) is these days considered harmless enough to be shown as an afternoon matinee on television.

    • Joan says:

      David, yes; this must have been late 50s, Cat was released in 1958 and I assume it was a first run showing. I have no idea when film ratings began here, they may have been in effect but this theater’s management clearly wasn’t interested in enforcement. Perhaps they felt that exposing a six year old to bowderlized Tennessee Williams was a lesser evil than leaving a six year old out on the street with no supervision? or a ticket sale is a ticket sale. Who knows. My friend had no angst to bear over it. I failed to ask her what meaning she derived from the film, if any, but it was a vivid memory for her.

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