|One of Herriot's "brawling boys?"|
In All Creatures Great and Small, James Herriot and Helen meet outside the cinema for their second date. The doors are locked, the lights off. Yet Helen asserts that the cinema is open every night except Sundays, and she points to other adults, mostly couples, as well as some rambunctious boys, who are waiting too.
About two minutes before the first movie was due to start, a figure “pedaled furiously around the corner of the street, head down, legs pistoning, the bicycle lying at a perilous angle with the ground.” The man stops outside and flings open the doors. The neon light blinks on, illuminating the darkened street. When the bicyclist whips off his coat, Herriot’s eyes widen: the man wears an immaculate evening suit. Meanwhile, a “very fat lady…wedged herself into the pay box.” The boys gave up their brawling to squeeze into line; they punched each other as they paid their nine pence and entered through the curtain into the stalls. James and Helen follow the adults, who pay one-shilling-and-six pence (or eighteen pence) to sit up in the balcony. The manager smiles and bows as they pass.
While neither of the two employees we saw that night wore formal attire, the woman who had given me a copy of the schedule opened the doors at precisely 7 pm, the stated opening time. We proceeded to the first window, where we paid the five pounds admission (or 1,200 pence in the old coinage).
At the second window, a wide variety of snacks were available for purchase. Usually, we avoid the concession stands at home. They want nearly the price of a matinee for a “small” drink, and more for a bag of popcorn. Yet before us lay a wide range of candy and snacks, priced for scarcely more than one would pay in the stores. I purchased a can of soda for seventy pence. Then my wife noticed that you could buy a ticket for ice cream.
Staying in small hotels, without a refrigerator, we had not yet enjoyed ice cream on this trip to England. The attendant explained that, once they had finished out front, she would deliver the ice cream, about halfway through the movie. This measure of extra service, not to mention the treat itself, seemed too good to miss.
|The staff plied us with "healthy" treats.|
(Including ice cream!)
Many had bypassed the concessions and stomped up the stairs toward the balcony. Although we usually elect to sit up high and toward the back, we entered through the double doors on the ground floor. I have no idea what “the stalls” were in Herriot’s day, but inside we found rows of modern, comfortable seating. We sat down and waited for the movie to start, enjoying nostalgic touches such as the clock by the screen and the backlit curtains that changed color periodically.
In his book, Herriot claims that the cinema was sweltering. We had brought light jackets with us, as the multiplexes back home often overdo the air conditioning. Yet to us, the temperature seemed perfect.
I wondered what the balcony looked like, and rose to see. Gone were the old sofas that James and Helen had sat on. Neither did any members of staff like Maggie Robinson, the blacksmith’s daughter, giggle as she watched the young couples in the “courting seats.” Unlike the evening of James and Helen’s visit, when the odors of old sofas mixed with that of a tropical jungle, the ambiance suggested that a pleasant evening lay in store for us at Ritz Cinema.
Waitin’ for the curtain to rise,