Cinemas, boats and maritime messages

FEEDBACK from readers is always a pleasure to receive, and two regular correspondents contacted me about recent columns. First to get in touch was Robin Hambling, of Lawn Avenue, one of the many Yarmouthians who regret the loss of the borough’s vehicle licensing registration of EX, allocated a century ago but lumped together with Norfolk and Norwich series in the 1970s.

Some local folk try to keep an EX on their index plates for old times’ sake.

“I was interested in your comments about EX registration numbers because I have AEX551 on my car,” Robin informs me. “It was originally on my Velocette motorcycle on which my wife and I did our courting.

“The bike was one of the first Valiants made, ordered at the 1956 motorcycle show and delivered to Chapmans, of Norwich, in May 1957. I asked for a EX number so they gave me the registration documents on the Friday afternoon to take to Yarmouth Town Hall which still opened on Saturdays then.

“My friend Brian Fiddes worked in that department, so I got a choice. The number was then phoned through to Chapmans who then had a sign-writer paint it on the bike.

“Incidentally, my grandson is called Alex and he has asked to have it when I don’t need it any longer! Things are not the same any more, the personal touch is being taken away from us. Big is now considered best.”

Another of my articles Mr Hambling found of interest was about the former Yarmouth pleasure tripper Golden Galleon, an ex-Royal Navy motor launch that had to be scrapped at St Olaves a few years ago when it had fallen into sad disrepair and the owner could not be traced.

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John Knight, who operated the Golden Galleon during her Broadland pleasure cruising days, lived near the top of Main Cross Road where Mr Hambling was an apprentice, and, from time to time, used the garage where he was employed.

“One engine was removed from the boat and stood in the garage. It was a beautiful piece of engineering, a 12-cylinder Napier Lion engine with three banks of cylinders on a common crankcase – wonderful quality!” he recalls, and adds: “Do you remember that on one of the Saturday dance trips they got stuck on Breydon Water on the mud and had to spend most of the night there?”

Next to respond was Harvey Gates, now a Shropshire resident who spent much of his childhood at the Mariners Tavern run by his parents in Howard Street, Yarmouth. He took particular note of mentions in Through the Porthole of the long-gone Plaza/Central Cinema.

“These current proposed reforms to the NHS have revived some of my early memories,” says Mr Gates.

“Some of my earliest involved the Market Place nearby and the Plaza Cinema’s Saturday morning matinees – entrance fee twopence (less than a penny today), I think, but some Saturdays were ‘hospital days’ when the admission was halved but in addition we took a large spud or egg which went to feed the patients in the local hospital.”

“After moving to Southtown in 1941 my memory of matinees was queueing at the Gorleston Coliseum Cinema.”

I believe the borough’s pioneer of the egg attendance fee for passing on to the hospital was Mr Attree at the Coliseum, also long gone; in his case, it was usually around Easter. And I think the “Collie” eggs were donated to Gorleston Hospital whereas the Plaza ones were probably presented to Yarmouth General Hospital on Deneside or to those in the Northgate complex.

Continues Harvey Gates: “I keep getting a connection of jam jars with the ‘Bughouse’, as we called the Plaza. Shopkeepers would buy back clean jam jars, a penny for a 2lb jar, a half-penny for a 1lb one. Was this how we amassed the fortune to get in – or did the Bughouse accept jam jars in a form of barter?

“I can remember taking my jars to a rag and bone merchant’s on South Quay where hundreds of rabbit skins, turned inside out, hung from the rafters. I always felt very wary when I went there.”

I recounted here how in the 1930s my courting parents were ejected from the Plaza when my father could not stop himself from shouting a warning to the on-screen hero and heroine that the murderous dwarf was hiding in the dark on top of the big wardrobe where they was standing, unaware of the danger. Harvey Gates reports: “The tale that once went the rounds was that a boy smuggled in his Daisy air rifle into the Plaza and, when the villain was creeping up on the hero, the lad whipped out his rifle and took a pot-shot at the villain!”

Seems like Plaza audiences were careful to protect not only their cinema heroes and heroines but also to keep their fellow picture-goers from heart-stopping shocks...

Finally, radio broadcasts of yesteryear have been mentioned in recent features, notably because of the BBC performances of local-born soprano Helen Hill. It might surprise younger generations that many folk hereabouts linked to the herring fishery bought special wireless sets for their homes that had the usual long, medium and short wavebands but also had a trawler waveband that picked up driftermen talking to one another at sea.

At home in Gorleston we had one, a conventional design Marconi in a walnut case, and each autumn during the East Anglian herring season my mother and I would switch over from whatever programme we were listening to and tune into the trawler band nightly.

Father Peggotty, a drifterman, would speak at a set time each night when he could snatch a few minutes from his duties, and reassure us of his well-being – a comfort to us if a gale was raging. He picked times like 8.35pm because the airwaves were jammed at “round times” like 9pm when everyone was seeking to call home.

It was a regular practice among the drifter skippers and mates, but often thwarted innocently by their Scots brethren who chattered between themselves at Raymond Glendenning racing-commentary speed for ages on end, leaving the local fishermen unable to find a clear gap for their nightly message home which usually included a “God bless” and a kiss to wives and children.