THE LAST PICTURE SHOW – the end of the road for movies in Littlehampton?

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November 3, 2013 by Whispering Smith

Published in the Littlehampton Gazette March 14th.2013

Cinema has been a huge part of Littlehampton’s entertainment as far back as I can remember and that is quite some way!  Oddly enough, the final movie screened in Peter Bogdanovich’s 1971 drama The Last Picture Show, about a cinema that closed because it couldn’t make enough money to continue, was John Ford’s Red River, and was the first film I ever saw at Littlehampton’s Odeon Cinema.

Saturday morning, out of bed sharpish, Gene Autry cap gun in the pocket and a run across the cornfields, some dawdling around the haystacks to see if there was anything ‘interesting’ left lying around by Friday night adult revellers, and on to the Littlehampton High Street Odeon Cinema for the Saturday Morning Picture Club, and as the lights dimmed, the boys and girls singing along to the bouncing ball as it dashed above the words of the club’s theme song up there on the big screen: ‘We come along on Saturday morning greeting everybody with a smile, we come along on Saturday morning knowing that it’s all worthwhile…’ Then a Bugs Bunny cartoon, the Captain Marvel or Flash Gordon serial and a main feature hopefully, for me at least, a Ken Maynard or Johnny Mack Brown western – not too much singing and love with those two guys – where the thunder of hooves across the prairie was muted only by the sound of the gunfire as white horse mounted, silver screen heroes shot the pistols from out of the bad guys hands and not a blood spatter in sight. The club theme song ends with:‘As members of the Odeon Club we all intend to be, Good citizens when we grow up and champions of the free….’ Well that was the idea anyway and I do believe the majority of us made it and those that didn’t, perhaps they didn’t quite cotton to the idea and went on to do the greater good of becoming county councillors or bankers.

Littlehampton was not short of entertainment for adults or teenagers. There were two other cinemas, the Regent and the Palladium both of which showed double bills with a split week or weekend showing. Sometimes an ‘A’ rated film was programmed with a ‘U’ resulting in this small boy often standing outside of the cinema in the cold asking an adult patron, ‘please will you take me in?’ Gilda Pirella’s Clifton Café where young folk could hang out in a trouble free atmosphere playing table football, chatting or listening to the juke box over a long lasting cup of tea or coffee sounds ideal and it was. Motor cycles lined up like painted ponies outside, flat caps instead of crash helmets, tight jeans, denim jackets and wispy sideburns. Bob Gaitley’s Top Hat Friday and Saturday night alcohol free dancehall and his Sunday morning jazz clubs – plenty of local pubs, including Joy Collier’s popular Cairo Club, for a Watney’s Brown Ale or Babycham before showing off your stuff. The Badminton Club, Rustington and Arundel village hall dances to Don Ayling’s Melodairs  then  a ‘special ‘ Southdown late night bus home – unless of course you were on a promise then the walk would do you good, cool you down some.

The call for local people to become volunteers, to run the libraries, the cinemas and the like, the so called  ‘Big Society’ approach, sounds fine, that cool idea that has us all working for free and doing the jobs that, through our rates and taxes, we have actually paid others to do for us! Leisure pursuits to be enjoyed by us after a long day’s work to earn the money to pay those rates and taxes and hence keep others employed. If the ADC want  or expect LA residents to run the cinema and other forms of entertainment themselves then perhaps those residents should get some of the 15 million surplus cash back to do it with.

Oh, heck, the dancehalls, the Regent, the Odeon and the Palladium and the Clifton Café are gone forever, the cornfields where the hare ran and the barn owl hunted are now long since buried beneath the concrete of The Beaumont Estate – ah, such is progress. However, it is a fact  that no good ever comes of dwelling too much on the past or on the ‘what-might-have-beens,’ remembered, sweet, clear water under the bridge may now taste a little bitter but LA should never be without a cinema, now that really is a bridge to far! 

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