If I had to pick one thing from my memories of the 1950’s it would have to be going to the cinema on a Saturday morning. Watching a movie was only a small part of the whole experience if you were in the ABC Minors club! There were badges, prizes and freebies and of course there was “The ABC Minors Song” . You may find it hard to believe but 65 years later I can still remember the words!
The Start Of The ABC Cinemas
The origins of the ABC cinemas began in the late 1920’s and underwent many transformations before they were taken over by Warner Brothers in 1940. They set up the first major Saturday cinema club for childrenand “The ABC Minors” were born. My Saturday morning began with a bus ride to Stratford (London) My sister would take me and drop me off among a throng of noisy, constantly moving children. I was always on my own with the confidence that only a child in the 1950’s would have.
Some children had the privilege of being an ABC monitor which gave them free entrance. The six pence saved no doubt being used for some extra sweets. If only someone had told me I’m sure I would have been up to it!
Every week the routine was the same. Those that came in a group would be loud. The loners would sit and watch! As the lights dimmed the stage would shine in a golden glow as a very large organ would slowly appear from below the stage. The Wulitzer would fill the space with sound that you felt with your whole body. Everything else that followed was pure adrenaline. If it was your birthday you went up on stage to be serenaded by a 400 voices. Just picture it, all ages, up on stage and not a parent in sight!
My best memory is of a very large man, bearded and smiling singing “The Lollipop Tree” Years later I put a name to that happy face, Burl Ives.
Saturday Morning Matinee
As the large dark red curtains pulled back we knew the show was about to start and we all cheered. The build up to the main film began with cartoons. The Road Runner was squashed repeatedly. Sylvester fell of cliffs with equal frequency and never did catch hold of Tweety Bird. A short, serial made sure that we came back next week. At half time a tray laden woman would tempt us with ice cream and more sweets. It seemed to take forever but then the lights slowly dimmed and the curtain moved, tantalizingly slowly for the main film. My favourites were Shirley Temple (which I have just introduced to my youngest grand-daughter) Cowboys also featured high on my list. John Wayne (of course)The Lone Ranger, and his loyal companion Tonto, Hopalong Cassidy, The Cisco Kid and Doris Day. As you can see my list covers the whole gamut of entertainment! Perhaps some of these were your favourites too?
Any misbehaviour would be dealt with swiftly with the light from the usherettes torch. I can only assume that ejection would be the next step but I don’t recall this ever happening.
The Last Of The ABC Cinemas
While I was adapting to my new life in New Zealand the ABC Cinemas went into decline. Some of the reasons for decline have to include the increasing popularity and affordability of the television. Children could watch cartoons and TV shows without going out the front door. Sigh! I believe the 1950’s were a golden age for children. We could play out in the streets until failing light told us it was time to go home for tea. Our street was communal property in a way. A child that chose to beak the rules would have any number of adults ready to let your parents know! The new decades were less child friendly (or they appeared so). Children had less freedom to roam freely, Activities became scheduled and supervised by adults. My six year old self would have been unlikely to spend the afternoon in a cinema, alone.
We all have some childhood memories that take precedence over others. The ABC cinemas is mine from the 1950’s. If you would like to share one memory that has pride of place for you please share in the comments below.