Lovely show inside the ‘Coli’
PUBLISHED: 11:43 06 September 2013 | UPDATED: 11:43 06 September 2013
FEW folk do not harbour a furtive secret from their early years. I am no exception, so this is true-confessions time, albeit more than six decades later. Seldom has it popped into my mind in those intervening years, but it did again recently when chatting to a new friend of this column about post-war films.
We were fondly recalling favourite British stars from that era. I included Patricia Roc in my list, while ex-Yarmouthian John Brooks – a long-time Kent resident – was naming other British leading ladies like Margaret Lockwood, Sally Gray, Phyllis Calvert, Jean Kent and Googie Withers.
At that point I said that although I was only 12 at the time, I still vividly recall seeing The Brothers, a drama about warring fishing families in a Scottish fishing community, when Patricia Roc was filmed from a distant clifftop…enjoying a skinny dip in a sandy cove. It was all very innocent, however.
To be fair, it was not my only memory from that picture: the other was of Maxwell Reed being mortally punished. He was tightly bound and cast adrift, supported by a lifebelt to keep his head above water. A juicy herring was tied to his head as tempting bait for voracious diving seagulls – probably forerunners of those foraging chips and other tasty titbits in Great Yarmouth market place this summer.
My recollection of those two scenes from The Brothers have endured from that 1947 screening, and I have never seen the film even listed in television schedules.
Once I had unburdened my guilty secret, John and I switched to a favourite topic of this column, the borough’s cinemas of yesteryear. “I can’t remember the last time I went to the cinema yet used to go twice a week,” he told me.
In the Forties I also went twice weekly, to Gorleston Coliseum where there was a complete programme change every Monday and Thursday with three-day runs; I never went to the third change on Sundays.
The “Coli” was John’s number one choice, too. “It always had such a family atmosphere,” he remembers wistfully. Outside, Gorleston character Willy Arnold used to shout, “Lovely show inside!” And, once inside the foyer, patrons were always greeted by owner Mr Attree.
“It was a bitter week for me when, because of Entertainment Tax, the prices went up from 1s 9d to 1s 10d (roughly nine-pence today),” says John. At that time the Coliseum building also housed the Hall-Mackenzie School of Dancing where he learned to dance before it moved to the Towers farther up the High Street.
As for the Palace, a short step from the Coliseum: “One always seemed to have to queue there. I remember queuing for ages with a girl friend up Cross Road to get the last seats for The Blue Lagoon, starring Jean Simmons, a film that was considered very risqué at the time!” (John had never seen Patricia Roc in The Brothers!)
He continued: “The great thing about cinema-going in those days was the shared experience of the audience. I remember after a long wait to see The Third Man the great murmur of pleasure as the strains of the zither introduced the film.”
The Regal? “Going there always seemed an event. What a large cinema it was – hard to believe in these days of small multi-plex cinemas what vast audiences the films drew.
“As for the Regent, I saw my first 3-D film there, The House of Wax, where one paid sixpence (2½ p) for a pair of poor quality, uncomfortable glasses. No wonder 3-D films had a short life!”
The Empire’s disadvantage was its Marine Parade location: “It had to a very good film for one to make the journey there in winter.”
His memory of the Royal Aquarium, the first borough cinema to introduce patrons to the wonder of CinemaScope, was “going to a matinee when they brought round tea at the interval.”
John is one of the dwindling number of people who have been inside the old Plaza on the Market Place, a long-gone former cinema which was also called the Central and the Gem. But it was not to see a film but, accompanied by a work colleague, to look in on the 1954 round-the-clock marathon attempt by Musical Marie (Ashton) who was attempting to break the world non-stop piano-playing record.
She managed 157 hours, playing many tunes from her repertoire of 3000 and bettering her own previous best duration of 134 hours, but finally collapsed through exhaustion and had to be given medical treatment.
Did she break the world record? It transpired that there were other claimants so it was difficult to substantiate her challenge as a world-beater.
Four years later the building became a Woolworth department store. A couple of years before Musical Marie’s marathon, Palmers department store had used the old cinema to store customers’ furniture damaged in the awesome 1953 floods.
But when John Brooks reflects on his regular film-going in his younger days, he comes to this conclusion: “Throughout the years I have been to many cinemas, but none will have the memories of the good old Gorleston ‘Coli’.”
Cinemagoers of older generations will doubtless have their own thoughts on the picture-going scene in decades past. Happily, the Royal Aquarium survives as the Hollywood multiplex. John’s favourite Coliseum was demolished in 1970 and shops were built on the site, a similar fate befalling the splendid Regal (by then the Cannon) in 1989. The Palace and Regent buildings are still there, closed and sad-looking bingo halls.
Recently this column featured the Empire and its prewar manager, Edward Bowles; as I wrote then, it is disused and forlorn after several post-cinema reincarnations.