Sometime in the mid-1970s I, and about 90% of a fair-sized crowd, got to our feet to applaud and then cheer, not a football match or a ‘live’ show, but a film. What’s more, this wasn’t Hollywood or a West End premiere. This was a matinee at the Odeon cinema on Oxford Road, Manchester. We stood and clapped and cheered.
My uncles, Tony and Philip, were more like big brothers to me. They were influential in many aspects of my early life – introducing me to Sherlock Holmes, Humphrey Bogart, Frank Sinatra, SciFi, art, Greek and Roman culture (especially the violent bits), pirates, buried treasure, Laurel and Hardy, and girls.
By my early 20s, I had started to find my own ways in life, but when they invited me to go with them – all the way to Manchester – to see a new film, I didn’t hesitate.
Tony and Phil had often described the thrill of queuing round three sides of the Odeon in Bolton to see the latest ‘Road’ film (Bing Crosby and Bob Hope were, beyond challenge, their boyhood heroes). But I wasn’t even born then, and had never queued more than a few yards to get in a cinema.
For this reason, I think I was the least disappointed of the three of us, when we reached the Odeon on Oxford Road and saw the queue – a queue that started at the door and stretched around the corner, all the way down the side street, around the back, and along the next side street, ending almost, but not quite, back on Oxford Road. Very nearly all four sides of the building. Exciting.
We discussed the matter and quickly resolved to wait it out. Even if we didn’t make the next screening (which, given the numbers in front of us, seemed unlikely), we’d stick it out and catch the one after. We’d come all the way from Bolton to Manchester for this film, and we were damn well going to see it!
Cinemas, before multiplexes took over, were mainly single screen, and the big ones held plenty. Manchester Odeon had a capacity of almost 3,000 (even the one in Bolton could seat 2,500).
As the time for the next screening approached, slowly, steadily, the punters shuffled forward. With the minutes ticking by, we advanced in shadow along one side of the building, around the back of the cinema, down along the next side, back into the sunlight on Oxford Road, and in. We’d made it!
We took our seats up in the circle, trying to contain our excitement. We had no inkling of the ovation that would follow. Given the previous standards of the genre, we were just hoping we hadn’t wasted our money.
Shhh! The film was about to begin. Along with 2,917 other people, we held our breath. Blue text appeared on the massive silver screen:
“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….”
Read Martin’s story Caution – Soldiers Crossing