The Regal Remembered
It is an interesting thought that a high percentage of films shown on television today, were first seen many years ago, not as family entertainment in the home, but by enthusiastic audiences which filled local cinemas of those days.
One such box-shaped building was in the Lancashire village of Brinscall, where the Regal Cinema stood at the junction of School Lane and Railway Road, within sight of the West Pennine Moors. These nearby foothills began as grassy slopes, then merged in places with woodland, before rising to where the grass now of a course nature became lost among ferns and heather. At the highest level, great slabs of rock protruded, and out of such terrain was hewn the quarry, its rugged face frowning down upon the village.
A visit to the Regal never failed to thrill. Even on approaching, the very essence of films reached the nostrils. This was because the projectionist in the cramped conditions of his projection room, found it necessary to keep the door open, so allowing the smell of warm celluloid to drift into the evening air.
And so going to the pictures was a great communal event. For years Hector Tinn with his working colleague went round the village delivering the co-op coal on a cart drawn by two heavy work-horses. He had therefore most often to be recognised beneath a coating of black dust. But every Saturday night, smartly dressed and personifying cleanliness in every detail, he escorted his wife to the balcony seats regularly reserved for them. At one shilling and ninepence, these seats meant extra comfort
Down below filling the first four rows, and having paid sixpence for the privilege, were the boys and girls of the village, a mixture of mischief and exuberance requiring a certain amount of control from the staff in charge. Behind were the ninepenny seats, reaching below the overhanging balcony to the back wall. But when the lights dimmed, an expectant silence befell the audience, as a local factory girl acting as usherette drew a curtain across the doorway. Through the small windows just above the heads of those in the back row of the ninepennies, the purring of the projector was heard. As its rays of light moved above our heads, the sound also boomed out. Then the screen lit up and became alive.
Newsreels were already weeks old by the time they arrived at the Regal, but what did it matter when sporting heroes appeared, like Tommy Lawton, goal-scoring centre forward of Everton and England, the magical Stanley Matthews, or Frank Swift Manchester City's towering goalkeeper. And those Test Match scenes from legendary cricket grounds, with no less legendary idols in action held us spellbound, the names of Bradman, Hutton, Hardstaff, and Hammond were revered by their young fans.
In that village cinema we were captivated by portrayals of bravery and adventure, and on the way home the boys especially were already planning how they could take over the roles of such heroic characters of the screen.
Therefore one evening after watching the swashbuckling Errol Flynn in "The Adventures of Robin Hood", we came out as the men of Sherwood. Our location was to be the very Lancashire landscape that met the eye on leaving the cinema, so at the first opportunity it was away to the woods, where bows and arrows and a staff for Little John were made from the branches of trees. And so a band of outlaws was formed.
Sometimes a rival gang roamed our Sherwood Forest, but if attacked and forced to retreat, we made for the marshes. There a well-rehearsed crossing over secretly laid stones left our adversaries floundering in the stagnant slime.
At one stage the ingenuity of our enemies spread some panic among us. This was when it was discovered they intended using arrows dipped in iodine. Knowing how that particular solution caused much smarting when applied to cuts, we decided not to become engaged in any close combat, lest any of us should be both struck by an arrow, and have this antiseptic applied at the same time. Eventually however, the threat was overcome. No doubt the iodine supply ran dry, and the intruders returned to their end of the village.
When Hopalong Cassidy rode across the screen, we formed a posse and also rode to the hills. In realistic fashion we were able to canter or gallop as required, always holding imaginary reins with one hand, while slapping our thighs for increased speed with the other. Up by the quarry the moors opened out, where there were boulders to take the ping of ricochetting bullets. Ahead lay an untamed wilderness - our Wild West.
At other times we turned to the ever growing tip of waste sand opposite the quarry entrance, on which we marched with the Foreign Legion. This required some of our members to collapse gasping for water under the hot desert sun, but always showing the sterling qualities of Gary Cooper as portrayed in " Beau Geste".
Our recurring mirage was of that films opening scene; the discovery of the white fort, with its defenders propped up motionless against the battlements - quite dead.
Occasionally a long trek over cheerless terrain was called for, and Spencer Tracy as a tough leader of men in " Northwest Passage" was most adept in such a role. In this adventure a river had to be crossed by wading waist deep in treacherous water. Therefore our way led across moorland, to where at the edge of fir woods a waterfall tumbled over its rocky route into the valley below.
After scrambling down to the lower level, it was found that the stream thus formed made all the right sounds of turbulence as it bubbled over a stony course. These gurglings emphasised the danger involved in making such a crossing. But as we took off our boots, there was to be no great risk in this narrow stretch of clear water, which came only inches above the ankles, and even in its deepest pools never reached our knees.
The Regal Cinema provided plenty of war films, of which "Back to Bataan" was one to capture the imagination. Depicting the heroes of that particular battle zone in the Philippenes was John Wayne, and he might have approved of our supporting role.
This called for much crawling through damp undergrowth towards enemy positions. An operation of such importance should have required the application of some camouflage, had not enough soily substance attached itself to hands, knees, and faces, without any great effort from ourselves.
Sometimes real-life drama took over. The cinema served the village during World War II, and if the nearby Air Raid siren wailed its warning during a performance, it would be decided safer to evacuate the building. Should the drone of enemy aircraft then be heard, great care was taken to prevent any light from shining out onto the pavement to comply with strict "blackout" regulations in force.
An incident occurred one night when, beneath the ominous throbbing sound of aircraft engines, people were walking home in precisely those blackout conditions. The darkness was suddenly transformed by a mysterious light from above, and eyes were raised to see this phenomenon. What they saw, hanging like a sparkling chandelier in the sky, was a cluster of bright flares released from a reconnoitring war-plane.
Individuals in the home-going throng were able to recognise each other, and stone fronted houses stood out clearly. Wooded landscape, fields, and rising rugged moorland, became for a brief interlude illuminated as if part of some spectacular festival of light. When eventually, both aircraft noise and the intruding brightness had diminished, night and a sense of safety was once more restored to the village.
Nature too could sometimes prove hazardous for the Regal, set in its low-lying position. Storms can be recalled when torrents of rain-water brought sand and debris down the road from the quarry, and the loose surface of Well Lane was also washed away to block roadside gullys at lower levels. With School Lane also channelling its surplus water down towards the vulnerable cinema, evacuation was again necessary, when the rising torrent flooded into the building.
A more pleasant feature of those days was the Christmas treat provided by the Co-op for member's children. This took the form of a free film show - to a packed and enthusiastic audience. The programme always contained a western, and the ever popular cartoons. At the end of the performance, white-haired committee-man Mr. Michael Kennedy first of all called for, "three cheers for t'cowboy", and then, "three cheers for t'Co-op". His request was lustily carried out. Then we trooped off home, clutching the lucky-bags of sweets and chocolate which were an extra and important part of the proceedings.
In trying to re-create the adventures of screen heroes, only one recollection of actual injury comes to mind. The incident occurred when it was decided to match the skill of Tarzan who made swinging through the jungle look easy. From a sloping bank in the trees just off Railway Road, a convenient path enabled us to reach out and attach a rope to an overhanging branch.
Throughout the afternoon, any passer-by might have noticed mysterious figures taking turns to swing confidently into space, and then attempt to regain the safety of the path. Interspersed among such strange manoeuvres were piercing war-cries from shrill voices, which were intended to add more realism to the scene.
It was only on waking the following morning, that acute aches in limbs and joints convinced us that underdeveloped muscles were not yet ready for such strenuous exertion. The day of discomfort that followed gave ample time to realise that there was only one Tarzan in the powerful shape of Johnny Weissmuller, who could cope with such rigours of the jungle.
But inevitably we grew out of our childhood games, and the images of make-believe were left to drift amid the Lancashire landscape that embraces the village of Brinscall. Meanwhile, the real world also moved on, and technology eventually brought television to finally silence the purring projectors of the Regal Cinema. Now nothing of the building remains. No inscription informs that here a generation of adults once found a haven from the anxieties of living in a world at war; that here the dream world of children took shape upon a silver screen.