Projector beam was like a searchlight piercing smoke

The Classic cinema, Commercial Road, Portsmouth PPP-140325-120054001
The Classic cinema, Commercial Road, Portsmouth PPP-140325-120054001
Bob Sivewright with quick-thinking newsboy Chris Turner

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Older readers will recall the heyday of the cinema through the 1930s to the ’60s, when going to see a film was an experience.

Audiences were huge and queues long and obviously left their mark on regular Remember When contributor Eddy Amey, who has written of his own memories of cinemagoiing in Portsmouth in those halcyon years.

Eddy, of St Michael’s Grove, Fareham, says: ‘The larger cinemas like the Odeons had a function room and cafeteria in the balcony foyer.

‘I remember going to dance lessons at the Cosham Ambassador (later Odeon). Programmes were changed twice a week and were screened continuously so once the day started the films were shown with minimal pause and patrons could enter at any time.

‘Sitting in the audience you would frequently hear sotto voce ‘‘this is where we came in’’ and then the upheaval as people left. Some occasionally stayed to watch the programme twice.’

He continues: ‘On entering the auditorium the treat commenced. Light music was played or perhaps, if you were at the Savoy (later ABC), a cinema organ rose from the floor in a blaze of coloured glass and lights.

‘The organist played while the lyric was shown on the screen together with a bouncing ball which kept pace with the tune for those who wanted to sing along.

‘Then the audience settled back in their plush seats for up to four hours with two films, a newsreel, cartoon, and trailers. The lights would dim, then like a searchlight in the blitz, the projector beam would cut through clouds of blue smoke caused by hundreds of cigarette smokers.

‘Sunday afternoon screening started at 4pm and it was not unusual to start queueing at 2.30pm. On occasions the queue at the Odeon, North End, would stretch up London Road and down Stubbington Avenue past Whites furnishers.

‘On evenings when the cinema was full, people still queued for as patrons left mid-performance the commissionaire would come along the line offering something like, ‘two one-and-threes and two standing now available’.’

Eddy adds: ‘You had to be 14 or accompanied by an adult to gain entry to see an A-rated film. Many a time we kids stood outside pestering adults to take us in.

‘When successful you gave your benefactor your ticket money and then slid away to find your mates in the dark once the usherette had left. On occasions you went straight to the toilet to crack open the emergency door and smuggle friends in.

‘Walking down Commercial Road southwards, I can recall the Savoy, Classic, Palace, Theatre Royal (for films during the Second World War) and the Victoria, all in one stretch.’