When a visit to the ‘flicks’ was a regular ritual

Irreplaceable: Great Yarmouth's Regal Cinema in 1955.

Irreplaceable: Great Yarmouth's Regal Cinema in 1955. - Credit: Archant

Going to the pictures has long ceased to be the public’s favourite entertainment. Blockbusters continue to attract audiences to surviving cinemas, but the home comforts of television viewing on ever-wider screens are too appealing for many.

Gone but not forgotten by older residents: the Regal site in 1989, being prepared for the building o

Gone but not forgotten by older residents: the Regal site in 1989, being prepared for the building of the Market Gates shopping mall. - Credit: Archant

It is years since Mrs Peggotty and I last went to the pictures, although we might well be out of step with the rest of the borough’s population...

In my youth, when I was a film fan, Great Yarmouth and Gorleston boasted six or seven cinemas, often with a twice-weekly programme change, plus a third on Sundays. We had the Regal (ABC/Cannon), Regent, Royal Aquarium, Empire and possibly the Windmill in Yarmouth; in Gorleston High Street stood the Coliseum and Palace.

A visit to the flicks was a ritual, an escapist diversion from the wireless. The smartly uniformed commissionaires, usherettes and ice-cream girls contributed to our film-going experience. And although we did not realise it in those far-distant decades, the cigarette smoke incessantly swirling and wreathing slowly in the projector’s beam was a health menace.

In 2017, only one cinema remains here, the Hollywood in the former Royal Aquarium, aspiring towards that old total by having no fewer than five screens operating simultaneously. So it will come as no surprise that I would be intrigued by a recent national newspaper report about Anderson Jones, a 38-year-old bus driver so enraptured by the style of the national ABC chain, which went out of business in 2000, that he has re-created it with a 34-seat cinema he has built in the back garden of his semi-detached house in Staffordshire..

The interior being stripped to allow the building's demolition in the 1980s. The balcony mentioned b

The interior being stripped to allow the building's demolition in the 1980s. The balcony mentioned by Peggotty is clearly visible. - Credit: Archant

It has taken £70,000 and four years to achieve that dream, involving scouring the country for authentic ABC relics, like seats, “Exit” signs, ticket-issue machines, lettering for the current films advertised on the front of the exterior canopy, usherette uniforms, clock, logo... He did manage to acquire some genuine ABC carpet but there was not enough, so he found a company willing to weave an exact replica, costing £3,000.

Anderson, who did most of the building and fitting out work himself, says his (usherette) wife Jayne and their two children are all enthusiastic picturegoers. His audiences will comprise only family, friends and members of the Cinema Theatre Association; admission is free.

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During the war, when my father was usually away on active service, my mother used to meet me out of Stradbroke Road Junior School in Gorleston every Monday and Thursday afternoon and take me straight to the Coliseum, where there were three programme changes weekly.

We always arrived in mid-film (it was a continuous programme, not separate houses), emerging mid-picture when we had reached the bit where we came in. Sometimes it meant we knew the culprit before we knew what he had done!

A Coliseum bonus in that era was a serial, my favourite being Don Winslow of the Navy.

While “Coli” visits were enjoyable, catching the bus to Yarmouth to visit the Regal or Regent when my father was home on leave was more of an experience. Often we had to queue outside for seats. Again, because many patrons left in dribs and drabs in mid-picture after they had seen the programme round, it gave entry to a few of those queuing - but there was no choice of seats.

The other downside to that was my mother’s dread of the lofty and steeply raked Regal circle; she had a fear she would tumble forwards and topple over the balcony on to the audience in the stalls below. So we impatiently awaited vacancies downstairs, regardless of weather or duration.

If our trip to the pictures was to the Regal, an interval bonus was sometimes the emergence from the basement of the organ, its lit panels changing colour as the organist played favourite songs, occasionally turning to glance over his shoulder at the audience in the near-darkness behind him.