The Savoy cinema in Kettering: ‘A place of work, entertainment and gross stupidity’

The former Savoy cinema in Kettering in 2008

The former Savoy cinema in Kettering in 2008

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Former Northamptonshire madcap inventor John Ward is writing his memoirs and has been recalling his time working at the Savoy cinema in Kettering.

“During my formative years in the 1960s I worked full time as part of the projection team in a cinema (the Savoy cinema in Kettering, now sadly no more).

John Ward

John Ward

In those days we rarely saw a complete film as we were busy overseeing the projectors running, plus changing the reels over and rewinding the film, to be shown again in the “second house” performance – remember them?

You could buy popcorn with mere pence, without checking first the exchange rate for Krugerands and gold bullion prices like today, were not frisked at the door for bringing your own eatables in and you were shown to your seat by an usherette with a torch to guide you in most cases.

I found some diaries or notes recently of my experiences while working there and I am currently scribbling away writing a book (they say there is a book in everybody, and in my case, if the x-rays are anything to go by, it’s that dull grey bit near the top on my ribcage, just to the left) and presently I am on about 60,000 words with quite a bit to go yet as I unravel my jottings from those years ago.

Social history section: It was not so much the job that was interesting, but the customers or our patrons that made it so involving and at times made the likes of TV’s Last of the Summer Wine and similar seem quite normal.

There was one patron who attended quite a few matinees who brought a packed sandwich lunch with her, including flask of tea – “I don’t take sugar as it upsets my back you know, dear” and a small trifle in a small china bowl, with spoon, and basically set it all up as a picnic on the adjacent seat. Afternoon tea with Dickie Attenborough? – No problem.

Another regular came on a bicycle, and always locked it to a metal drainpipe outside the cinema and found on one memorable occasion that somebody had stolen the chain and the padlock but left the bicycle. Interpol were not alerted.

Another brought her pet cat, or rather her neighbour’s cat that she had entrusted her to look after while she went on holiday, hidden in a shopping bag to a matinee performance as she didn’t want to leave it all alone at home and, during performance, it escaped.

Here was a real touch of the Mrs Slocombe character from BBC TV’s Are You Being Served? years beforehand, as she reported the matter to the kiosk staff who rang to tell us “A lady has lost her pussy down in the rear stalls” and if you thought seeing it in the afore quoted sitcom would be hilarious, we had it for real.

It took three of us with torches going up and down the rows of seats, whispering “Here, kitty, kitty...”

Luckily not many people were in as it was a matinee, but we eventually found Sammy in the orchestra pit, all curled up asleep on some old tabs (stage curtains).

Another incident was when a budding Steven Spielberg dropped in to discuss “hiring the place to show his movie films” of his family’s holiday in “foreign Spain” (not to be confused with anywhere on our mainland, then) as he had a whole 13 rolls of film he had taken on cine camera eight millimetre film, in colour, approx an hour long in theory, to show to all his family and friends.

He wanted to know what the cost would be, and pointed out he was “happy to fit in time-wise” with any of our closed days, but would need ample warning, due to the invitations being sent out.

We operated 24/7 – so he was given a polite “No way”.

These are but the tip of the intellectual iceberg and ripe for a sitcom in their own right possibly, but interestingly I was called upon at short notice to give a talk a while ago (the chap booked was ill) and I included some of the above in my “usual stuff” and was pleasantly surprised when one of the audience had been a patron of the Savoy whenever he visited his relations there many years ago.

Sadly, the Savoy has now been demolished but in its day it was a place of work, entertainment and gross stupidity, and they often overlapped and I enjoyed it – and lived.”