Friday 2 May 2014

Hidden Liverpool

The Futurist today. By Privatehudson (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
I was fortunate enough to visit Hidden Liverpool’s People’s History Exhibition before it closed on 29th April. It brought back many happy memories of my cinema-going youth and I was reminded of how cinema-going has changed over the years. In the late 1950s, my future husband and I would go to watch at least two films a week, even though he was only on an apprentice’s wage. With the Futurist, the Scala, and the Forum to choose from in Lime Street alone, the Odeon just around the corner, and the Tatler Newsreel cinema, young people – the word ‘teenager’ hadn’t been coined then – were never short of somewhere to go. There were more cinemas on the outskirts of the city, two in Old Swan, the Carlton in Green Lane, the Abbey in Wavertree, almost as many cinemas as pubs, which we were too young to frequent, the minimum drinking age being 21!

I can remember quite clearly a couple of incidents from those days; we sat behind Dickie Valentine in the Futurist one night – he must have been appearing at the Empire at the time. My husband will argue that it was the Forum, but after 50-odd years that’s a minor detail.

I can definitely remember that it was the Futurist where we queued to see The King and I in the early stages of our courtship. In those days the queues for popular films would be the length of Lime Street and we were often entertained by street performers while we waited. You could also get in to see the film part way through, watch it to the end, then stay for the next performance to watch the beginning! On this particular night we had been queuing for some time and were eventually allowed in but had to stand at the back of the cinema until seats became vacant. My new boyfriend turned to me and said, ‘I hope you don’t mind having to stand but you said you really wanted to see this film.’ ‘Oh no, it’s fine,’ I replied, ‘I don’t mind standing, this is the seventeenth time I’ve seen it’; that was nearly the end of the romance!

On another occasion, we’d gone to see Dirk Bogarde, my all-time favourite, in A Tale of Two Cities. The film opened with Dirk Bogarde sitting, white-faced and tragic, in the back of a coach on his way to Paris to do his ‘far, far, better thing’. I couldn’t help myself, a little shriek escaped into the otherwise silent cinema. I was reminded of this many years later when I actually had the chance to meet and shake hands with Dirk Bogarde after one of his shows at The Royal Exchange theatre in Manchester – but I wasn’t tempted to tell him.

The earliest film I can remember seeing was The Legend of the Glass Mountain, at the Carlton in Green Lane, my best friend’s mother took me with them when I was about ten. I have always loved the music from that film.

We didn’t spend all of our spare time at the cinema though; we also had a great love of dancing that was well catered for in the city. In the People’s History Exhibition there was a photograph of a building in Dale Street that housed, at one time, the State Ballroom. I have a photograph of the two of us taken there one Saturday night; I’m wearing the bridesmaid’s dress I’d worn to my sister’s wedding the year before. I have a great fondness for the clothes from the fifties, the full circular skirts of felt, or taffeta, in bright colours, the layered net underskirts that were soaked in sugar water before drying to make them stick out; the wide ‘waspie’ belts that cinched our 22 inch waists.

There was also a dancehall above Burton’s men’s outfitters in Church Street; the Peppermint Lounge in London Road; and who can forget rocking and rolling at The Locarno, or dancing to the band at The Grafton? Happy days! And I mustn’t forget The Empire Theatre, still going strong on Lime Street. We spent many Sunday evenings there watching top entertainers from the UK, America and beyond – Nat King Cole, Johnny Mathis, Shirley Bassey, David Whitfield in The Desert Song (I took my mum), Timi Yuro, Frank Ifield, to name just a few, although Bill Haley and The Comets performed at The Odeon cinema when they came to Liverpool. I also remember that every time we went to see Ken Dodd, we missed the last bus home because he would still be on the stage at midnight!

Hidden Liverpool is a year-long project from PLACED, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The final exhibition ‘Looking to the Future’, will take place in May this year and will explore residents’ views on the potential of the city’s empty buildings.

Thank you, Hidden Liverpool, for unlocking such happy memories.

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