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Knottingley and Ferrybridge Memories

RECOLLECTIONS OF KNOTTINGLEY'S
PALACE CINEMA


ROBERT MARSDEN WOOD

I was nineteen years old when the Palace was sold and so have quite good memories of my time spent there. I think the first film I ever saw was Gulliver’s Travels and this I assume was at the Palace and would probably have been about 1940.

The Palace thrived during the war and would have been a good source of escape and amusement to people in a time when there was much grim news.

In the years after the war, in order to encourage the British film industry, all cinemas had to show a minimum proportion of films of British origin. My Father was not too impressed with this requirement as many of these films were rather slow moving and others may have been too sophisticated for the typical Palace audience.

At that time there were three different programs each week; Monday - Tuesday, Wednesday - Thursday, and Friday - Saturday – the latter having a special children’s afternoon show and there were two showings on Monday and Saturday evenings at 6pm and 8pm, otherwise the performance began just after 7pm.

Many Westerns were shown (Roy Rogers etc) which were very popular. I remember that the audience often became very emotionally involved with these films, thus there were often some tense situations with the ‘goodies’ under great danger from the ‘baddies’. This was sometimes resolved by the last minute arrival of the US cavalry and when they came round the last bend, there was often a hearty cheer from the audience as all was now well!

The war and immediate post-war years were a time of great strain on the British economy and one way in which the government raised money was by imposing an entertainment tax. I cannot recall the amount but believe it was very substantial perhaps approaching half the cost of the admission price. This regulation was another source of complaint by my Father.

As well as the main film, there would have been some shorts, perhaps a cartoon and the current newsreel. Material for the news would have been carefully selected, especially during the war, to try to give a positive outlook. By the time these films had been edited and distributed, the news would have been several days old, however, with no televisions it was of considerable interest. Father also showed trailers for forthcoming films as well as slides for later attractions, which he wrote by hand on glass slides.

Having free frequent cinema visits was a pleasant experience for me as a young boy, though sometimes I had jobs to do. Thus when one of the staff was sick the jobs were rearranged so that I could have the easiest task (my arithmetic being considered competent) which was to take the money for those coming into the front stalls. The great majority of customers were admitted at the Aire Street entrance, both for the rear stalls and the balcony seats. The front stalls were I think wooden seats and were quite close to the screen - but they were cheap! There was a turnstile arrangement for these customers and a small cubicle where money could be taken and tickets dispensed.

In the early 1950s, my parents had a holiday with their friends Mr. and Mrs. Heseltine in the South of France. They must have been away for at least a week and during that time I stayed with my Uncle Wilfrid on his farm near Pontefract. I think that it must have still been school holidays, possibly in September; my sister Margaret probably stayed with friends in Altofts. I would have been about 16 and I remember going to the Palace at that time on my bicycle and coming back late at night with the takings for that evening. I suppose I would also have checked the takings to make sure that they were correct and ready for banking. The roads were much quieter and things generally were much safer in those days.

Another welcomed aspect of going to the cinema was food. In the latter years my Father started selling crisps, and Lyons’ ice cream returned after the end of the war. This was delivered in insulated containers, which also contained Dry Ice (solid Carbon Dioxide) to keep the contents cool. As well as these items sold to customers, there was also the possibility of getting fish and chips from the shop across the road in Aire Street and on Saturdays high tea was supplied from a nearby cafe during the period after the matinee and before the evening performances. This I think was usually egg and chips or something similar. Father also liked to support the local shops where possible and regularly patronised the greengrocers, Doubtfire’s, whose shop was in Aire Street.

I think my Father was wise in his choice of staff; most would have been part-time, though the projectionist Arthur Wild must have been on a full-time basis and if there was maintenance to be done outside of performance hours, then he was always there to do it. I think that there would have been a staff of seven with two ticket sellers, three ushers (balcony, rear and front stalls) and two projectionists. Sometimes I watched the films from the projection room and would help the projectionists rewind the films in the other small room nearby. Another projectionist I remember was Edna, whom Father had to train after the previous male employee had been called up for military service. In 1988, Edna happened to visit Pontefract General Hospital and recognised and met my Mother the day before she died there.

An important member of the staff was Lillian Cartwright who took the money at the main entrance and lived in one of the cottages next door to the cinema. We sometimes called in to see her before we needed to get ready for the evening performances and sat in the living room in front of her warm fire. Although I think that Father was firm with his staff (fair but firm) he maintained a cheerful atmosphere and I think the staff appreciated and respected him. In the late 1940s Uncle Wilfrid returned from military service, which was partly in Egypt with the NAAFI. He had sold the family grocery business beforehand and did not start farming until the spring of 1949. For part of the time he was out of work, Father made an opportunity for him at the Palace so that they shared the supervision of the staff.

In Terry Spencer’s account of the Palace Cinema he mentions that the Woods purchased the Featherstone Hippodrome, though I am not aware of that happening. Also he does not clarify the ownership of the Palace. Donald Wood and his brother Albert bought the cinema and initially Uncle Albert did the film bookings leaving Father with the day-to-day management of the cinema. Sometime before Uncle Albert's death in 1951, my Father had bought his share of the partnership. I remember him saying that the takings from the cinema had improved after he did the bookings.

Robert Marsden Wood

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