Disney classic Snow White put Derek off cartoon films for life

For a child, it was a movie so frightening that it could put you off the cinema forever.

The ABC Minors of the Majestic Cinema, Bridgnorth, around 1949 or 1950.
The ABC Minors of the Majestic Cinema, Bridgnorth, around 1949 or 1950.

At least that was the case with the young Derek Sturch, and the film which caused such a reaction was rather surprising – it was Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

In fact Derek was so affected that he has never watched a full-length animated movie in the entire 80 years of his life.

Nevertheless he was to become a regular at Wellington's Clifton cinema at what once used to be a weekly must for youngsters up and down the country, in the form of the children's Saturday morning, or matinee, cinema club.

Members of the Walsall ABC Cinema Saturday Morning Club were in party mood with a huge cake when this picture was taken in 1978

For just a few old pence a sometimes rather rowdy young crowd would be served up magical delights to transport them to another world after which they would leave with a spring in their step and imitating their heroes.

As the lights went down the excited audience would quieten in anticipation, and the fare would comprise perhaps Looney Tunes cartoons, some Pearl & Dean commercials, then a cliffhanger with maybe Flash Gordon or Zorro before the interval, with usherettes dealing with queues for Kia-Ora, Butterkist popcorn or a Jubbly ice lolly.

The cinema club at Great Wyrley in 1981

Now, before indignant multiplex bosses write in to point out that they do still do special stuff for children, they do - but those who can remember those days will surely say it can never be the same. Every town across the West Midlands had a cinema and their showings were looked forward to every week by hordes of children.

Derek, born in Wellington on New Year's Day in 1942, says: "The entertainment came in a format that never changed. Trailers for the coming films, a supporting short film, Pathe News, the feature film and finally everyone standing for the National Anthem.

"It wasn't always like that for me. My very first visit to see Walt Disney's full length animated classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at the Town Hall in Wellington became my last for many months. I got so upset that my mother had to take me home before the film ended.

"To me it was so frighteningly real that for several nights I couldn't sleep. I have never watched another full-length animated film ever since. I eventually did get over it and became an avid film fan.

"In those days Wellington had three cinemas, the Town Hall, the Clifton and the Grand, but it was the Clifton that became the place to be on a Saturday morning.

"Even after we had moved to Devon I still went every time I returned to Wellington on holiday. It had a juniors' 'Clifton Club' and for sixpence (2.5p) you were provided with two hours of 'suitable' films.

"There were the superheroes Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, Superman and Batman, the cartoons Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, the comedy of Charlie Chaplin, Abbott & Costello, Laurel & Hardy, Jewell & Warriss, Bing Crosby and Bob Hope in the 'Road to' films and my favourites, the Westerns with Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Hopalong Cassidy, Tex Ritter, and Tom Mix.

"We cheered and clapped the goodies, booed the baddies.

"Most films were in a serial form with cliffhanging finales so that only a national disaster would make you miss the following Saturday. What memories they recall.

"The best 'sixpennorth' of entertainment you could buy. Even after I moved to Devon I always received a birthday card and various film paraphernalia from the 'Clifton Club'. Happy days."

Among other clubs were the ABC Minors who used to enjoy the Saturday picture shows at the Majestic Cinema in Whitburn Street, Bridgnorth.

Sorry about the poor quality, but this is the only picture we can find of the ABC Minors actually in their seats at the Majestic in Bridgnorth in November 1949, at the opening of the children's special matinee.

And one of those to enjoy the fun back then was Mrs Joyce Foxall, who at that time was a young Joyce Truelove.

Joyce, who lived in Victoria Road, Bridgnorth, was a monitor at the shows, which was a bit like being a prefect, and had certain responsibilities.

“Block 13, I was,” she was to recall, speaking to us in 2015.

The ABC Minors badge

“When the children came in I had to make sure they were quiet. You had to keep them in order, and if they dropped sweet papers I would ask them to pick them up. If they didn’t I had to go round my block afterwards and clean it up," she said.

“It was good, as we saw lots of different pictures. I enjoyed it. It’s going back a few years now.”

An evocative photo from around the late 1940s or maybe 1950 shows the club members, and Joyce and her husband the Rev Frank Foxall were able to put names to many faces.

The ABC Minors of the Majestic Cinema, Bridgnorth, around 1949 or 1950.

They are: two adults at the very back, unknown.

Back row, three unknowns, Roger Preece, Tony Brickley, unknown, Graham Rutter, Peter Banks, unknown and possibly George Baker.

Middle row: three unknowns, Joyce Truelove, Tricia Smith, Pauline Hawker, Janet Thorne, Muriel Turner, Gwen Coleman, Margaret Rogers.

Front row: two unknowns, Peter Bray, Ken Hall, “Paterson”, Audrey Starr, Ann Summers, Mary Dyke, George Banks, and Alec Edwards, with the pair sitting closer to the camera on the right being Selwyn Bowen (“he was a brilliant whistler”) and, on the right, unknown.

The sign on the back wall, right, says “Kind Hearts & Coronets” which was a 1949 British movie starring Alec Guinness, and the photographs on the wall may well be stills from the film.

According to the internet, there was even an 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.”

Today the Majestic at Bridgnorth is still going strong, but the Clifton at Wellington lies closed and empty and with signs indicating that demolition is imminent.

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