Friday, October 13, 2006

Mirth and Woe: Movie Club

Movie Club

P. Collins: Any excuseEvery Saturday morning in the mid-1970s, we would queue up outside Loddon Hall in Twyford, for the privilege of sitting in a freezing cold village hall, where Stephen Driver's dad showed movies in the Saturday morning kids' club stylee.

The closest cinema was in Henley, ruled over with a rod of iron by a uniformed commissionaire who put the fear of God into anyone - child or adult - entering his establishment, so the Saturday morning kids' club in Twyford did a roaring trade.

We'd wait for up to an hour to get in, and ther hall was bursting at the seams with virtually every child from miles around, sent out of the house for a cheap, old fashioned bit of entertainment. There'd be a couple of cartoons - if we were really lucky there'd be a classic Tom and Jerry, followed by something awful from the Children's Film Foundation. If we were really unlucky, it would have Phil Collins.

Every time Driver's Dad had to change the reels, the doors to the little hall next door would be pulled back, and there would be Driver's mum selling sweets and drinks. We would stock up with penny chews, which we would throw at the screen the projector, or the backs of people's heads.

There was, however, only so much excitement you could get from throwing penny chews at people you saw at school every day of the week, so plans were invariably hatched to make the CFF two-reelers go that much quicker.

We found that if you sneaked off to the toilets during the movie, instead of turning right back into the hall, you would turn left, creep through a set of sliding doors, and you'd find yourself up on the stage, with mong-faced P. Collins projected onto the back wall, twenty feet high.

Of course, I would never consider doing this and spoiling the cine-tastic fun of my school chums, wrecking their entire Saturday morning, while their parents spent an extra couple of hours in bed, doing whatever it is that parents do with a couple of extra hours in bed. The Drivers must have been responsible for a huge local baby boom…

So… I wasn't the kind of person to do that kind of thing.

Which is why, then, I took a deep breath, legged it out into the middle of the stage, did a couple of star-jumps, dazzled by the projector, and ran for the wings to hoots of derision, only picking up minor wounds from flying penny chews. Back in my seat, pockets bulging from scavenged sweets, I was feted as a minor hero, right up to the moment the next idiot did the same. And the next… and the next…


The penny chews flew toward their target with genuine malice.

"Get off!"

"Owwwwww! You bastards!"

So, when Mikey announced during the last reel change that'd he'd be "going up", we did our best to put him off, knowing that a direct hit with a sharpened Bazooka Joe might well be fatal.

"Naah, don't worry - it'll be the best EVER," he promised.

And so…

"Back to your seats" came the familiar shout from the back of the hall, as Driver's Dad killed the lights and set the projector running again.

And in the wings of the stage, we could vaguely see Mikey, crouching, waiting for his moment. The moment a gobstopper would catch him between the eyes, split his head open, and leave him a mong for the rest of his days as his brains oozed down his chest.

As the on-screen dialogue dropped to a whisper, Mikey, saw his chance, and with a single bound, jumped into centre stage.

As naked as the day he was born.

"Woah yeah they call him the streak!" he screamed, aping the number one hit of the time, before the hall erupted in fits of laughter, and the all-too-predictable shower of sweets.

Protecting his private parts with both hands, Mikey (now forever to be known as "Little Mike") ran to the relative safety wings - sweet, sweet freedom, free sweets, and he hoped, the worship of his peers.


He had run stage left. All his clothes were, inevitably, stage right, and just about everybody in the audience knew this to be true, and were preparing missiles for his return trip. Mikey would have to run across the stage again, if he were ever to escape his predicament.

As the red hot Phil Collins action neared its thrilling climax on the screen, there was a blood-curdling cry of "MUUUUUUM!" and Mikey shot out from the wings in his desperate last minute dash for his clothes.

It was heart-breaking. It was like some poor World War One Tommy going over the top into No Man's Land and a hail of German bullets. Only eight years old, naked and in a darkened village hall. The first gobstopper hit him on the side of the head and he staggered sideways. A hail of sweets struck home and true, and he went down, curling himself into a foetal position to present the smallest target possible, arse to the audience. How could we possibly resist?

Driver's Mum, we couldn't help but notice, had opened the sweet shop again. Top marks, there, for enterprise.

He lay there until the credits rolled, and fled for the safety of backstage as Driver's Dad, rather belatedly, closed the curtains.

We caught up with Mikey, now fully clothed, a little later. His pockets, we noticed, were bulging with sweets, the reward for his naked folly.

"Want one?" he asked.

I declined with all the tact I could muster.

"Are you joking? They've been up your arse."

He scoffed the lot himself, and, predictably, was sick in a hedge.

The following week, there was an announcement.

Going on stage was banned. Nudity, however, was not.

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