Was there anything better than hot potatoes outside a Sunderland cinema?
Alan Thompson’s cinema memories are comprehensive, colourful and compelling.
And after yesterday’s first instalment, we have more of them today.
This time, it’s a tale of gaiety, potatoes and flea pits.
But let’s let Alan explain more.
He starts with a look back on the effect of the Second World War and how the cinemas’ junior clubs were a haven in a time of need.
Sunderland children spent ‘a large part of our lives at war, said Alan.
There were ‘hours spent in shelters away from the bombing, and the attendant shortages and losses’.
But the upside for children was ‘a tremendous psychological boost from the clubs that were formed’.
Let’s return to Alan’s journey through Wearside and the next in his cinema travels.
“Moving on down High Street just a little way, we come to Bedford Street, wherein we find the Royal Cinema.
“This was not outstanding in itself; a pleasant enough place to spend an evening, but no special features worth mentioning.
“Except ... Outside, in the road, stood a man with a barrow, and on the barrow was mounted a little boiler, and on the boiler there were two steamers with shiny brass domed lids.”
The seller “used to steam little new potatoes and serve them up in paper with a little twist of salt”, said Alan.
He remembered just how sumptuously tasty a treat it was.
“On a cold winter’s night, this was ambrosia, and the man never lacked customers.
“I do hope that barrow has been preserved by some society or other; it was 200 years old when I knew it.”
Alan continued his journey and said: “Further down High Street we would come to the Gaiety Cinema.
“No-one that we knew ever went there.
“It was said then that you could gain entry by presenting an empty jam jar, and it was the first time that I heard the term ‘Flea Pit’ used.
“We move now across the river, and move East towards Roker, where we find the ‘Marina’.
“This was out of range for me, so I didn’t frequent it, but its claim to fame was that it had double seats at the end of each row.
“Back now and across the bridge, past the Havelock and to Holmeside, where we would find “The Regal”.
“I went there often, but don’t recall any special feature to mention here.
“Further up to Park Lane and the ‘Ritz’.
“Strangely, I can remember three films that I saw there; one was “Cockleshell Heroes” and the other was “Friendly Persuasion”. There was also “The Robe” with my first experience of Stereophonic sound.”
Alan recalled that the Ritz ‘had a very large foyer, and the Cockleshell Heroes boats were on display there, together with some examples of their equipment.”
Alan’s cinema journey is almost complete and he remembered: “Finally, we take a tram ride to Grangetown, where sits the “Regent”.
“I went there often in the early days of my marriage as it was near to where I lived.
“This cinema boasted a “Loge”, a raised area at the back of the auditorium, and took the place of a balcony.
“A final mention; cinemas in those days ran a program of a ‘B’ feature and an ‘A’ (main) feature; plus a news item and trailers for coming features.
“They operated what was called Continuous Programmes, which meant no intervals, and patrons could wander in at any time and leave when they got to the same point in the programme.
“This may have given rise to the saying, ‘this is where I came in’.”
Alan gets our sincere thanks for sharing so many memories and we hope it leads to other people coming forward with their own.
What do you remember of the cinemas of Sunderland in times gone by?
Which films do you remember seeing and which stars lit up the screens?
Email firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s share some great reflections on a golden age.