A comment by Tony Haigh about the Rex cinema took me back to my young childhood. I was a regular at the Rex on Saturday mornings for the latest cowboy picture, or Flash Gordon, with special effects that we knew were poor even in the 1940s. My favourites, though, were Abbot and Costello with their childish slapstick comedy; made me laugh till it hurt.

Rex Cinema

Rex Cinema

We did fairly well for cinemas in Openshaw, with three cinemas in the space of a mile. The Rex was the bottom of the pile, the Bughut we called it, and it had the poorest films. For us kids it was a great Saturday morning, trying to get in for free at the exit doors, and cheering the goodies in the cowboy films. The standing joke was that if you sat too close to the screen you got dust in your eyes.
Further up the Old Road was the Alhambra, which was the poshest cinema in the area. I didn’t know anything about cinema chains then, but the Alhambra must have belonged to a major chain, because it got the best mainstream films.

Tony says he remembers a doorman, the man with the metal arm, who used to tap wrongdoers on the head with his tin arm. I don’t remember him. Wish I did.

Just round the corner from the Alhambra, on Old Lane, was the Whitehall-later the Regal, I think. The Whitehall was something of a specialist cinema, less popular films, probably foreign films, although I can’t say that I remember if that’s true. I know I didn’t often go there as a child, but did more so as I got older.

Alhambra Cinema 1960

Alhambra Cinema 1960

Going to the pictures was extremely popular in the 1950s. TV was only beginning, and the wireless wasn’t enough to keep us at home every evening. The pictures were glamorous, a view on a different world, a big world outside Openshaw. And you could go often, it wasn’t expensive, and the programmes changed twice a week. It was good value for money; the normal programme would typically have been a B rated film, often a black and white American detective story, a newsreel, because not many people had TV, so the newsreel even if several days old, was the only way we could see the news rather than hearing it, a cartoon, Tom & Jerry was the best, and then the main feature.  And the odd thing was this was what was called a continuous performance, it started about the middle of the day, and just ran on, repeating the programme, until it all ended at about 11pm. So you could go in at any time, anywhere in the film, and get up and leave when you got round to the point where you came in. Hence “This is where we came in”. Seems odd to me now, but was normal then, watching a film from the middle, it made working out the plot difficult to fathom: “So that’s why she murdered him”.

Cinema going was at its peak in the late 1940s, early 1950s, peaking at about 1.6 billion admissions a year. For a population of around 50 million, that’s 30 visits a year to the pictures for every  man,woman and child in the country. Attendance fell through the 50s, as TV took over, but it was still 800 million admissions in 1960.

Two stories about the popularity of the pictures; sometime in the early 1950s I went to see a John Wayne film, The Flying Leathernecks, at the Alhambra. We had to queue all the way up the side of the picturehouse, it was so popular. I saw it recently on some old film channel, and after I’d watched about ten minutes, I had to turn off, it was so bad. I saw The Glenn Miller story in the Odeon in Manchester, and the cinema was so full I sat on the steps between the seats. Health ans Safety, what’s that?

TV sets at this time were very expensive (and by today’s standards, not very good).  In about 1960, a 17 inch TV was £70, when the average wage was £14 per week. So that’s five weeks’ wages for a TV. At today’s average wage, that would mean a basic TV would cost the equivalent of over £2,500. Seventeen inch, remember.

Which is why we didn’t have a TV at home when I left, in 1960. The only realistic way to get a TV was hire purchase, which my parents were against.

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  1. I remember the Alhambra wellbut my fondest memory is” Chick” Hibberts dance hall round the corner because that Is where I met My wife .Sadly she is no longer with me but we had 61 yrs together.We used to go dancing two or three times a week Sat and Sun to Chick Hibberts Mon or to the Co-op a t Droylsden,sometimes Fri to Belle Vue.Happy days.At 96yrs old I have many fond memories of my courting days,I got engaged at 17 served in the army for three years 2 in India and Singapore and married my darling Anne in April 48 after demob.I had better close now but thank you for the memory of the Alhambra.Gil Higham

    • Gil,
      What marvellous memories, you are part of Openshaw history.
      My brother John, born 1928, used to go to Chick Hibberts regularly in the late 1940s, early 1950s, so you would heve been there at the same time. He was also a regular at Belle Vue.
      Many thanks for your post, and best wishes.

  2. i remember the queens pictures before the rex outside in the next street was abakery shop on sat morn after the mattinee we all got bread rolls eat them there and then cos we were starving

  3. Some memories here from friend Barbara, who lived near Swansea, hence the Welsh names. Same films, same cinema environment, same memories. Derek

    Cinema coloured our weeks and kept us out of grown ups hair I suppose. We had two in Taibach, one which had a much worse local name than your place it was named the Picturedrome, but locally known as The Cach, translates as the sh.. Word. They would spray the front rows with what might well have been DDT.
    I particularly loved musicals, cowboys, and comedy. The first musicals stars I remember were Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, then The Desert Song, later Carmen Miranda, the Brazilian Bombshell and anything with Sonja Heeney, and of course Esther Williams. Did you ever see ‘The Three Stoogies’, The Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, and of course Abbott and Costello who had me crying with laughter. The memory of them locked in a cell with a huge guy whose lunacy was triggered by a phrase…..’Slowly I turned…..’ Whereupon he would turn to the little fat guy, grab his head and begin to twist it off. Of course the thin guy would keep repeating it every time the little guy thought he was safe. As you said, you could watch it twice round ….and we did. I quickly picked up tunes and lyrics from the musicals and that’s how, and sometimes managing to extract the price of multi visits from someone in the family. If you went to The Regent it cost 9d, big money.I can visualise the ruched pale green curtain going up in that cinema and the magic beginning.
    The only cartoons I remember were of Mickey Mouse and Goofy and then PopEye and his muscles. Minny mouse with her skinny legs and bulbous shoes.
    I don’t think science fiction characters were about in Port Talbot in my early days. I was born in 1933. Maybe it wasn’t my kind of film. Though I do remember one of the boys in out street with an American comic. We just had Dandy and Beano.
    Thanks for a great evening dredging up bygone days and enjoying your similar background and
    Curtain lowers, National Anthem, Rush out. Goodnight.

  4. Just a small memory, but I saw my first film in long trousers at the Whitehall – Jimmy Stewart in “The FBI Story.” I remember being terrified because it was an “A” film and I was under age, but I got in anyway. How old did you have to be for an “A” film – 16?

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