The first thing up on the screen was usually the Pathé News, with its familiar introduction of a cockerel crowing.
Then followed the ‘shorts’, usually including a comedy featuring Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton, or the Bowery Boys. I think the general feeling in those days was that these old films, now rightly accepted as classics of the cinema, were ‘OK to keep the kids happy’, and not much more, or maybe that was just my impression.
That they certainly did, and one of the enduring impressions of these occasions is the way the cacophony prior to the film would subside the moment it started. We were there to watch the film, and woe betide any kid who interrupted it.
No matinee would be complete without the serial. The hero of these was always a champion of justice, defender of the downtrodden, and an upholder of virtue and a lady’s honour (although these were somewhat hazy concepts at my then age.) He was a pillar of integrity (even if he was Jesse James or Billy the Kid) and invariably wore a white hat.
Apart from the Western characters, a favourite of mine was the notorious Captain Kidd, with his fearless sword-play, and hair-raising adventures on the Spanish Main. Yes, all right, so he was a pirate, with one or two anti-social traits, but all us kids just knew that deep-down, he was one of the good guys.
Superman was another favourite (my abiding memory of him is that, for some reason, he always seemed to be chasing someone through a huge gasworks, or similar complicated installation).
When we came out of the cinema, we used to run down Duke Street, which was across from the entrance of the Plaza, as Superman, with our coats fastened round our necks by the top button, like a cape, and then play on the railway embankment, near Fenton Station. (Somebody give that lady from ‘elf ‘n’ safety’ some smelling salts!)
Some of the serials strained credibility a bit far, though; with the hero bound to a train speeding towards a yawning chasm, the rails missing, and not a snowball in Hell’s chance of escape. The screen would suddenly split apart with a tearing sound, and we would be exhorted, with lots of exclamation marks: ‘Don’t miss next week’s exciting episode!’
When next week came, it was amazing how, with a superhuman effort, he would burst free in the last second, and jump to safety to fight another day. The SAS had nothing on the heroes of the serials. Cliffhangers, indeed!