Were you in stalls when Bambi met Thumper?
PUBLISHED: 14:03 25 February 2009 | UPDATED: 10:28 23 August 2010
It is difficult for people of this modern age to exercise the imagination needed to take them back to a past in which they never participated. It is equally difficult to lead them there with words. Last week a younger reader of this page (yes, there are
It is difficult for people of this modern age to exercise the imagination needed to take them back to a past in which they never participated. It is equally difficult to lead them there with words.
Last week a younger reader of this page (yes, there are a few) said he could not understand why people living in the 1940s and 1950s got so excited over "those boring" black and white films while sitting in a cold, damp cinema, often on their own.
He was, of course, unwittingly comparing life then with today's mollycoddled society and all the electronic extras that were just not available in the dark days of war, or the austerity years that followed. The cinema was a release from the tension and the hardship of the age. And it was exciting.
To prove my point more reminiscences have arrived from former cinema buffs and none seems more obsessed by that "make-believe world" than Catherine Hickman (née Thorne), of Denver Road, Dartford.
Catherine lived in Gravesend until 1947, when she married. She went to all the cinemas in turn but the Majestic was always her favourite. "It was situated next to Dunstalls, a lovely jewellery shop," she writes. "After buying a ticket which may have been 9d, 1s or even 1s 6d for the balcony I stepped up the wide, white-carpeted steps to see the full show, including Pathé News."
She remembers the usherettes and their strong torches, Billy Cotton and his Band playing during the interval and the great Compton organ rising up as if by magic followed by a short recital of popular songs.
Julie Baker, of Norwood Lane, Meopham, was among the hundreds of children who joined the Saturday morning film club, the ABC Minors. She was so smitten with the club song that, at 14 years old, she wrote to the manager, David Rose, and asked if she could become an usherette. "My mother was a widow and I wanted to help with the family finances," she writes. "I had a nice letter back telling me I was too young. But he admired my courage and sent me two complimentary tickets."
Julie writes of other memories. The day her mother was taken ill in the cinema with a strangulated hernia and how staff looked after her and, perhaps even more memorable, her first visit to the ninepenny seats in the back row with a boyfriend. "I was warned by my mother not to go to the Plaza in Windmill Street as I might catch fleas!" she says.
Finally, I have a letter telling me of a special film which came to Gravesend in November 1945. Shown in conjunction with "thanksgiving week" it accompanied a poster competition and was perhaps the most eagerly-awaited film since the showing of Gone With the Wind a few years earlier. Made by the incomparable Walt Disney, it was simply called Bambi.
Every child who had the privilege (if that is the right word, because there was not one dry eye in the house) of seeing the adventures of Bambi, the fawn, in the auditorium of the Majestic on that winter's night 64 years ago, will surely remember it to this day.
Watched by an audience of more than 1,000 children to the background of classical music, this Walt Disney masterpiece used silhouette, panorama and splendid animation to tell of life in the forest and the meadow.
For two wonderful hours the animals became human. Remember Flower, the Skunk and Thumper the rabbit. And then there was Bambi, who had to survive in the forest after his mother was killed...