Going to the Tiv
by Grafton Maggs
The Tivoli and the village
At this time 1960s, the cinema had been converted into an Amusement Arcade. Opposite the Methodist Church is the entrance to The Dunns, widened in 1970, after the shops on the sea-side were demolished. This is now a garden and is next to Oystermouth Square car-park.
Another favourite pastime in the 1930s was ‘Going to the pictures.’ It was a special occasion with an excitement far exceeding that of a visit to the impersonal, sterile cinemas catering for today. The village cinema, or ‘bughouse’ was a social centre and Mumbles had two of its own, right in our midst. We knew all the staff, we knew each other and we were in easy walking distance of our homes The Tivoli, 'down the front' was the older cinema and hence was called ‘the Old’ and the Regent in Newton Road, being newer, was called the ‘New.’
The New Cinema, Mumbles, c1922
The Tivoli was built on the same site in 1939
In later years, confusion reigned amongst 'foreigners (i.e. anyone from East of Blackpill) because the Tivoli was knocked down and rebuilt in the late thirties and yet locals persisted in calling it ‘the Old’. As a result, the newer cinema was 'the Old' and the older Regent called ‘the New’!
The original Tivoli (The Kursaal Entertainment Hall) had a tin roof, which although excellent for acoustics had obvious disadvantages with heavy rain, hailstones and the proximity of the Mumbles Train. However, being a small cinema with no upstairs these distractions only added to the feeling of cosiness and security and created an enchanting atmosphere. Regarding atmosphere, this was physically added to as a result of treatment meted
out by some parents, every Spring, ‘for cleansing the blood'. Young offspring were dosed with sulphur-containing tonics or plain sulphur tablets. Possibly this worked but had one grave social disadvantage which when compounded by many dosees in a confined space begat a formidable environment. A rumour (entirely false) was that, in Spring, the usherettes used miners' lamps in case of an explosion!
Each cinema presented two programmes a week, spanning Monday to Wednesday and Thursday to Saturday, with matinees on Wednesday and Saturday. Every programme had a double feature, supported by news, trailers, cartoons e.g. Mickey Mouse, Felix the Cat etc., or a short comedy e.g. Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton, Charlie Chase etc. A matinee would start at 2. 00 and finish at 5.30 — three and a half hours of entertainment for 3d! Before the advent of the continuous programme, the cinema would close for cleaning and ventilation (essential after a Spring matinee) and reopen at 6.00pm.
Felix The Cat cartoon
Being rationed to one visit a. week, it was an agonising decision to choose a cinema. When Buck Jones was chasing Indians in the 'New', Boris Karloff was rising from the dead in "The Mummy" at the 'Old' -- a decision that would have tested Solomon. The cinema would start filling about half an hour before curtain-up. Excited chatter would build up as raucous greetings and insults were exchanged. Here and there high-spirited skirmishes would erupt, rapidly quelled by immaculate usherettes, Dolly Chugg and Olive Kostromin. Miscreants were threatened with the direst of penalties— ‘Vinegar,' ‘Trailer! I'm going to tell your mother about you!’ and ‘Tiddy' Talbot, take that half soaked grin off your face!’ This usually did the trick but when hard cases like Georgie (Pudgie) Jones resisted, it resulted in a bang on the head from a torch. The last line of defence was to call in Mr. Sermon, the uniformed commissionaire, who, like a latter day bouncer, would eject the young hell-raiser.
At 2.00, cheers would greet Roley Thomas, who resplendent in green page-boy's uniform would swagger down the aisle, mount the stage and pull a rope to raise the safety curtain — a curtain emblazoned with Mumbles' trades-people's names, such as T. & G. Davies, Bakers; Lowther's, Stratford's, Varley's, Peachey's, Kemps etc. Roley would then saunter back bestowing a wink here and there on a favoured few.
Then the lights would dim and the curtains part to reveal the famous Gaumont-British News composite of small action pictures surrounding a central town crier, ringing a bell. The news was about a fortnight old, not that this mattered because we were hearing and seeing famous people, from Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin to Duce Mussolini. We saw long-shorted soccer players always, seemingly, playing on dark, foggy afternoons and such things as the RAF team flying over Everest, which evoked cries of ‘My father was driving that first plane!’ or ‘My father AND my two uncles were driving the front planes!’ and so on. Soon the main feature would be on and invariably we were transported on the magic carpet of total absorption, screaming our rage at villain, Lon Chaney and our encouragement to Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller) to swim faster and save Jane. We marvelled at H. G. Wells' epic "The Shape of Things to Come" and we laughed at the Hulberts, Sydney Howard and a young George Formby And, at the end, we stood dutifully for ‘God Save the King’.
A Buck Jones film poster
Such was the impact of a good film that it would be the main topic of conversation on the way home and for weeks to come. This is understandable because apart from reading and the early wireless programmes, the cinema was our only illustrated source of knowledge of life beyond Blackpill and had a tremendous influence on our behaviour. Of paramount importance was that every film demonstrated that good vanquished evil. The handsome, clean-shaven hero always defeated the scruffy, shifty-eyed blackguard and as a bonus to the glory won, the affection of a beautiful damsel. As early adolescents we were just beginning to appreciate the merits of the latter. For weeks after a special film, our street behaviour was affected and to this day I can hear John (Butty) Hinds' Tarzan call as he dived off the sea wall into two feet of water. After the King Kong epic, we would all climb trees or walls and beat our chests, unfortunately without a Fay Wray in our arms. The sound of Tommy-gun fire was heard all over Mumbles after the Chicago cops eliminated Scarface (Paul Muni) and the important point is that we all wanted to be the cops not the villains.
In their heyday, the picture houses played a great role in most peoples' lives, not just the children's. Here was a haven to which hard working mums and dads could escape and find a Shangri-La for a few hours. Here, too, was a warm sanctuary for courting couples who could share a few hours of precious togetherness, away from a crowded home, being able to whisper lovely things to each other.I know that many, many married couples in Mumbles still treasure memories of those shared moments in 'the Old' and ' the New'.
So this was the essence of my often remembered and always treasured childhood, but tragically many of my erstwhile playmates were destined not to grow old, as they would be lost on the battlefields of the second world war.
Previously published in the All Saints Church Parish Magazine, July 1996, August 1997, July 1997 and April 1997
Photo: Tivoli Cinema WGA:P/PR/77/II/4/17
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Any additional names or details would be welcome