Saturday Morning Pictures, 1940s, 50s and 60s
In the middle years of the 20th century, cinema chains across the country put on special shows for children on Saturday mornings. They were called 'Saturday Morning Pictures' - later 'Saturday Morning Cinema' - and were extremely popular as televisions had not yet come into homes. They were also cheap in real terms. This page captures the enthusiasm of the children who attended them through their recollections.
By the webmaster based on her own childhood recollections with additional firsthand contributions
Saturday morning pictures start again after the Second World War
Saturday Morning Pictures stopped during the war. Below is one experience of them starting again.
I remember when our Saturday morning cinema clubs started up after the Second World War. It must have been not long after I returned from being an evacuee in Wales in 1945, probably after VE Day the following year. It was the Odeon in either Beckenham or Penge, I can't remember which as we lived between the two. The cinema put up posters outside in advance and the news spread like wildfire. On the first day the queue stretched right down the road. The cost of 6d took most of my 8d pocket money but it was worth every penny. My favourite films starred Roy Rogers and Gene Autrey, though I especially remember an old guy called Gabby Hayes. The cheering and booing were part of the fun as they fought the red indians.
The popularity of Saturday Morning Pictures
The auditorium was always full, both at the Ritz in my home town of Edgware, and, as I am told, at cinemas elsewhere. One anedote that really illustrates it is one that I often tell:
One Saturday morning, as an experiment, I lifted my feet off the ground in the crush of hundreds of children trying to get out at the end of the morning. I wanted to to see just how far I would be carried by the sheer force of everyone pressing around me. It was quite a distance to the auditorium door to the foyer, and I was carried all the way! Once in the foyer, the crush eased up a bit, and I let my feet touch the floor again.
The ABC Minors and Saturday Morning Pictures clubs
My local cinema in Edgware was the Ritz, which was part of the ABC group. We children who patronised the Saturday Morning Pictures were encouraged to be 'members', known as the ABC Minors, and we were given a special badge. We even had our own song which we sang at the beginning of the shows. The National Anthem was played at the end, for which everyone stood. I understand that in some areas children were said to belong to what was called a Saturday Morning Pictures 'club' or Saturday Morning Cinema 'club', but that word was never used where I lived.
The excitement and experience of ABC Minors Saturday morning pictures!
First the queue; then the orderly rush into the 'theatre' with its plush seats and impressive, decorated facades. You could feel the growing anticipation: an effectively full Ritz cinema (not the balcony) with hundreds of excited, expectant school kids, all waiting for the performance to begin.
Then the manager addressed us by speaking from the warmly lit stage. Next the lights dimmed, the screen lit-up, the music started, and all of us began singing - or perhaps shouting would be the better word - the ABC Minors song at the top of our voices!
The ABC Minors' song
The song was sung to the sound of a band playing the marching music 'Blaze Away'. The words were as follows (or very similar).
We are the boys and girls well known as
Minors of the ABC
And every Saturday all line up
To see the films we like, and shout aloud with glee
We like to laugh and have a singsong
Such a happy crowd are we.
We're all pals together.
We're minors of the A-B-C.
The final line was shouted at full blast - especially the A-B-C.
I think we sung the verse twice. There weren't any problems remembering the words or keeping time because the text was shown on the screen and a little 'ball' bounced along above the words in time with the music. I have a feeling that, in the beginning, the text and ball must have been white on a black background, but later they became yellow on a green or blue background.
The cost of Saturday Morning Pictures
Entry cost for Saturday morning pictures - 6d
I remember that the cost of the Saturday Morning Pictures was a tanner - ie a sixpence or 6 old pennies.
Sixpence was a coin - a small silver alloy one which was very much lighter to carry and easier to manage than six separate pennies. It was easy to recognise and would have been simple for the booking office to collect quickly.
When I used to go to Saturday Morning Pictures at the Ritz in Wallsend Upon Tyne, the entry cost was still sixpence, and we used to call the shows the Tanner Rush. The reason speaks for itself.
As I happen to know the birth dates of the above contributors, I can confirm that the sixpence entrance charge must have stayed the same over a significant number of years.
Illegal and legal free entry
Some children always got in free via the fire exits. They were of course locked to the outside, but if one child in a group would pay to for normal entry, he could nip through and open the exit for his friends - who presumably contributed to his sixpence.
[The contribution in the next box show that some managers were well-aware of this ruse and used the monitors to prevent it.]
From 1946, I was made a Monitor for the ABC minors at the Ritz Edgware. This enabled me to gain free entrance, thus saving 6d for extra sweets. If it was your birthday you were invited to join the manager on the stage and be cheered by the audience. The manager's name was Mr Dilley, I believe.
Tasks of the monitors at Saturday Morning Pictures
I was born in 1954 and from the age of 9 was a regular attendee at my local Ritz ABC Minors Saturday Morning Pictures. This was in my home town of Luton.
When I was about 14, which would have been in the late 1960s, my mate who was about 18 months older than me was promoted from monitor to head monitor, and he got me a job as a monitor. We were the top dogs and after being briefed on my duties I set to work. It was a bit un-nerving to begin with but soon I was in my stride.
One of my tasks was to wait until the show started, then stand in the exit by the toilets because this was when some of the kids would visit the toilet, then open the adjacent fire exit where loads of other kids would pile in free and slowly mingle into the crowds.
Another task involved the ABC Minors Birthday Club. The manager would take to the stage and announce that after the musical intermission anyone who had a birthday that day could come on the stage and be given an ABC Minors badge. Then the stage would be invaded by hundreds of kids who supposedly had a birthday on that day. An organist would rise from a pit in front of the stage and play the organ to play the ABC Minors theme tune. The words were shown on the screen with a red ball bouncing from one word to the next for the kids to follow.
All this was under my watchful eye! My task was to scan the hoards and if I spotted someone who had appeared on the stage the previous week to eject them from the stage.
When the head monitor left I was promoted to head monitor, and suddenly I ran the show. I had seven monitors under me, to hand on my wealth of experience to.
ABC minors show respect
I used to go to Saturday Morning Pictures at the New Bohemia cinema near Finchley Central. One vivid memory from there was commemorating the death in 1949 of Tommy Handley, the famous radio and cinema comedian. Several hundred youngsters stood respectfully for a full two-minute silence. Today's generation would find it hard to believe!
The Saturday Morning Pictures at other cinemas
The ABC was not the only cinema chain to show Saturday Morning Pictures for children.
The Gaumont British song
We come along on Saturday morning
Greeting everybody with a smile.
We come along on Saturday morning
Knowing it is well worth while.
As members of the GB club
We all intend to be
Good citizens when we grow up
and champions of the free.
We come along on Saturday morning
Greeting everybody with a smile, smile, smile.
Greeting everybody with a smile.
As remembered from the Wandsworth Palace cinema
The Regal song
At the Saturday Morning Pictures that I went to in the mid-1940s (the Regal Handsworth in Birmingham), we sang a song to the melody of Lilli Marlene. The lyric, as I recall was:
Waiting at the crossing just outside
The policeman's there to be my guide
for I'm a Regal minor
a regal minor am I...
Can anyone remember the rest of the words?
I wonder how many other cinemas went independently song-wise as mine did. Any feedback?
The Century Cinema song
In the 1950s my mates and I used to go to Saturday Morning Pictures at the Century Cinema in Stratford in east London, now unfortunately a block of flats.
From memory, the first line of our song was:
We are the Century Rangers little girls and boys. I can’t remember anymore.
The cinema was packed every Saturday. Life was simple in those days for us.
I particularly remember the smell of bubble gum and girls' cheap scent at Saturday Morning Pictures at the Odeon in Muswell Hill.
The Saturday Morning Pictures programme
The programmes consisted of cartoons, regular films and serials to encouraged us to go along on the following Saturday - not that we needed much encouragement. It didn't really matter what was shown anyway, as moving pictures with sound were fascinating and there was only this one place where we could see them. Televisions in homes were decades away.
The serial that I remember was The Masked Rider. I also remember Will Hay in The Goose Steps Out, where he ties trainee German spies in verbal knots trying to pronounce "the road to Slough is rough".
I regularly attended Saturday Morning Pictures at the Odeon in Muswell Hill. It showed cartoons, Tarzan serials and main pictures, but it was the main pictures (films) that interested me most. I particularly remember the cowboys and Indians and the Cavalry and Indians films in which the Indians were always the baddies. I was probably the ONLY child in the audience who was VERY pro-Indian !
The following contributions come as a surprise to me. I wonder how common it was at other cinemas.
In addition to the singing and cartoons, at Loughton in Essex there were competitions and exhibitions of the latest fads, such as yo-yo and Hula Hoop demonstrations.
I certainly remember the competitions. This was at the Ritz in Wallsend Upon Tyne.
I particularly remember the manager being on the stage with an expert adult yo-yoist, who probably travelled around the various cinemas, giving demonstrations, inviting volunteers to have a go and judging the contests. The one trick that has stayed in my mind was called 'Walking the Dog'. He demonstrated dropping the yo-yo to the floor and allowing it to spin across the floor before being made to 'climb' back up the string. My attempts, back home, only resulted in a dull thud and the need to manually rewind the string!
Some competitions were announced the week before, so that girls - it always seemed to be girls - could bring their hula-hoops with them for an on-stage contest. The girl who kept the hoop going for longest was the winner.
Programmes into the 1960s
At the ABC Minors Club in North End Road, Fulham in the late 1950s/early 1960s, we watched Merrie Melodies and the usual Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig. Most serials were black and white and American including a rather tubby Batman and aged superman before the days of Lycra. I enjoyed William Tell and the villain Gestler. Batman scared me. The enemy was played by J. Carrol Nash and the subject matter involved a mine and mind control using a sprung metal device worn on the head. We had The Three Stooges and a couple of series featuring a gang of young American individuals who had scary adventures. I believe Mickey Rooney was a child actor in them.
The cinema staff's view of excited youngsters
At the Regal in Edmonton, Saturday Morning Pictures could be really hectic as we had about 1000 children from about 5 years to 16 years. But it was great fun. At times, though, they used to run riot, although most of the time they were quite well behaved.
former usherette at the Regal cinema, Edmonton
The end of Saturday Morning Pictures
Attendance at Saturday Morning Pictures began dropping off as televisions started coming into homes. According to Wikipedia, only 300 British cinemas were still putting on a Saturday matinee show for children by 1978.