There was never anything to do in Liverpool on a Sunday night. Of course, it was 1939. 10 years before TV arrived there. There was the radio. But even ITMA - the hit radio show with our own Tommy Handley hadn't happened yet. Blue-laws had always kept picture cinemas dark on Sundays so that attraction just wasn't available. Then, like a blessing from God, the Regal Cinema on Broadway in Norris Green announced that they were going to have one showing of a movie on Sundays. Not only that, the first picture would be Errol Flynn in the 1935 film "Captain Blood". It didn't matter that it was old. It was Flynn and a costume adventure. My Dad's favorite meat.
No way he would miss that movie. He wanted Mum to go but she couldn't go for some reason so Dad took me. He was pretty sure it was going to be crowded so we left an hour early to get a good place in line. Walking from Porchester Road, we got to the theater and found there were already 20 or 30 people in line. As we waited. the line grew quickly and steadily. Eventually the line turned the corner into the alley beside the Regal and then turned at the end and came back out of the alley and trailed out onto the large vacant lot that was beside the cinema in those days.
A kid in a tacky navy blue uniform came out and waved his hand at a section of the line and said, "Everyone past this point might as well go home. There isn't enough room for anyone past here." There were a lot of groans and some people peeled off and left. Others just moved up, hoping that others ahead of them would get discouraged and leave, too. Time passed. People continued to arrive. There was grumbling. The crowd was starting to get restless until the manager came out looking grand in a black dinner jacket and bow tie. From the opening of the alley he called to the crowd that he wasn't going to open the doors until many more of the people beyond a certain point left the line.
There was great indignation over this, especially from those ahead of that point. "Come on! Open the bloody doors, mate! We've been waitin' here forever!" and the mood definitely started to change. Finally, the manager relented and started to sell tickets.
I don't know whether you remember the Regal but, by today's standards, it was really - well, quite regal. All across the front under a fan shaped glass awning there was a long row of many-paned polished wood doors - I guess that, why, that would have been Art Deco, wouldn't it? Then you went through the first door on your left to the box office in the huge outer lobby with its shining beige terrazzo marble floor and ahead was another line of doors the same as out front. Beyond those doors there were a couple of steps down with polished brass rails and yet another inner lobby equally large, a field of glowing marble. Over there, to the left and right of the far mirrored wall, there were double doors each at the top of six steps. The doors were covered in studded leather and led into the auditorium itself.
Well, I don't really know what happened but - just after the line started to move inside - Dad had just bought our tickets - and all of a sudden there was a tremendous burst of angry bellowing. A lot of furious people were pressing against the outside doors; they were yelling; banging on the doors, glaring through the glass. The staff was shouting; the manager cried, "All right! Now that's enough!" But the anger in the crowd was boiling.
Dad and I and those inside started to move toward the doors of the inner lobby and just as we got to the door, where you gave in your tickets, there was an almighty crash and the crowd BURST in through the doors - all of them, right across the front of the theater. It was like looking back at a tidal wave! Scores of people hit us right in the doorway and we were swept forward as in a cataract. Only 9 years old, I was lifted off my feet, just crushed between big bodies. I was 12" off the floor. I couldn't fall. There wasn't room. Dad had lost my hand in an instant and was swept away from me. "Eric!" he cried, "My son!" He was only about three feet away from me but he had to fight to get back to me. I was definitely going under when he reached out and grabbed my upper arm and at full arm's length plucked me up like a cork from a bottle, across and down to clutch me against his chest . All the time, the irresistible force of pushing people crashed across the inner lobby, up the steps and smashed us against the theater doors. The ushers were frantically holding the doors closed from inside the theater! We looked back and all we saw was a sea of wildly struggling people. People of every age. Milling. Yelling and cursing. Punching out at each other. Breaking mirrors.
Then in an instant, we saw six Bobbies bursting through the crowd into the inner lobby. They were cutting their path through the crowd, laying to the left and to the right with short truncheons like a farmer with a scythe. As I watched I saw heads cracked and noses burst as the hard black weapons smacked indiscriminately on heads and faces and shoulders. Within minutes they'd reached the doors where we were. Horrified, Dad watched a policeman approach with his truncheon raised, battering the people immediately in front of us. He held out his two ticket stubs like a cross to a vampire. "We paid! We paid! We paid!" he yelled. The policeman turned his back on him and, without stopping, all six policeman now turned like a machine and drove the crowd back out ahead of them like cattle, flailing to left and right as they did before. Dozens of people had cracked heads, bloody noses. Once out on the street, the police made no attempt to arrest anyone. The crowd just faded away in the face of their onslaught.
They never showed the movie that night. And they didn't show movies on a Sunday for three more years. It was a long time before we risked going "to the pictures" on a Sunday, you can believe me.




This story was added on 7th May 2011

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