The Hub of the Estate - the Gaumont

Entering a dream world

By Ray Crawley

I think it is true to say that the Gaumont cinema was the hub of St. Helier estate. It's hard to imagine these days how popular the cinema was in the 40s and 50s. The queues would stretch on the right-hand side for the cheaper seats along the front, up the short alley, down past the brick wall and then along the pavement. On the other side, for the more expensive seats, it could be even longer. Prices that I can recall were the 1/9d, that's just under 10p., and the 2/3d - about 15p. I forget the circle prices.

For us children it was Saturdays we looked forward to the most. For just sixpence, we would have a singsong, a cartoon, a serial plus a western. The manager (Uncle Ray) also ran the odd competition. One that I remember was we had to write an essay about Winston Churchill. I wrote mine but decided it was not good enough so I rewrote it. Unknown to me, my sister Pauline had found my discarded copy and sent it in under her name! On the Saturday, Uncle Ray announced the winner as my sister! As she wasn't in the cinema, I went on stage to receive her prize which was 7/6d in savings stamps. And she didn't share the prize with me!

A treat that we all looked forward to was our birthday. On your birthday you received from the Gaumont a birthday card which included free admission to that week's Saturday Club. I think it may have included a friend. As you entered the foyer you had this nice smell of warmth and anticipation of things to come. Most people smoked in those days but I can honestly say it didn't seem to bother us as much as it does these days. If we had enough money, we loved to buy ice cream from the usherette who would stand at the front on either side of the stage with her small tray lit by a small, shaded light fixed to it. I think it sad that today's youngsters will never be able to appreciate what going to the pictures meant in those days before television took over. Going to the pictures was entering a dream world to escape from your ordinary existence. It was the main form of entertainment for the working classes.

We could see the Gaumont from our back bedroom window. This was handy when Mum was going over there with her friend, Mrs. Porter, usually on a Sunday afternoon, as we had to keep watch to see how the queue was going. If it was getting long, she would pack us over there to 'mind her place'.

They sometimes used to have celebrities after the war turn up to publicise a film. When this occurred, we all used to hang out of the bedroom window making a lot of noise - generally insults - to which many turned round to see where all the noise was coming from. Our mother used to get very embarrassed. I recall Richard Attenborough coming and the star of Dick Barton, Derrick de Marney.

During the war the cinema was sometimes used as a shelter during air raids. Unfortunately films were not shown and we were packed in there until the all clear sounded. I remember seeing a man with a young child on his head. The child was laying between two pillows like a sandwich! Strange how you can remember little scenes from years ago like that.

This page was added by Cheryl Bailey on 02/12/2011.
Comments about this page

Hi Ray bang on mate I remember how we used to wait outside and watch for a young couple, then ask them to take us in, and give them our money as you will remember if it was an A film you were not allowed in unless accompanied by an adult, most were obliging as long as you went and sat somewhere else once you were in there. I also remember the Celebritys coming and I was there when Patricia Rock and Margaret Lockwood came for the premier if the Wicked Lady, Patricia Rock gave me a yellow Rose from her Bouquet I remember thinking she was beautiful. I also remember the hype when Dick Barton was coming but was older then and wasn't there. I also remember going to see The beast with five fingers on my own, then on coming out had to walk across the field in the pitch black to get home, I dont think my feet touched the ground once until I reached Paisley road, amazing how no one can scare you like your own imagination. I think the balcony was 2 shillings and ninepence, and a death trap to sit in the rows directly below at the Sat morning Pictures, as you say Ray magical times.

By Ted Blowers
On 07/07/2012

One 'celebrity' I well remember coming to the Gaumont in the 50s was Art Pickles, the 'world yoyo champion'. Yoyos were all the rage and some of us went up on stage with our yoyos to be judged by the world champion!

By Peter Penfold
On 09/02/2013

In 1949 the Gaumont was the most attended cinema  in the country.

Ray Galton of Steptoe / Hancocks fame lived in the cul de sac directly next to the cinema.

By Terry Kates
On 03/08/2015

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