Queen of the aisles shares her tales of an usherette's life at The Palace
Anyone has seen a film called The Greatest Show On Earth will have some idea of what life was like at Hayle's Palace Cinema.
It was run by John and Dulcie Rew, who moved to Cornwall from London. Dulcie ran the ticket office and I was the usherette. I was 15 when I started and only allowed to be there when U-rated films were showing.
The auditorium had a central aisle, plus three long rows of seats at the front. At the time, the Palace was the smallest working cinema in the country, with only 198 seats, including a couple of doubles at the back, which I never got to use.
The projector was operated by the Rews' son, Colin, who later became my husband. Colin had a full-time job as a boat-builder and worked at the cinema unpaid.
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On one occasion, both Dulcie and John were admitted to hospital for entirely separate reasons – leaving Colin and I to run the show. He was in the projection box and I ran the front of house.
This involved selling a ticket and then dashing out into to the auditorium – with a torch – to show customers to their seats, only to repeat the procedure again and again until all had been seated.
Then there was the sale of ice-creams in the intervals and also scooting up the back stairs into the ladies toilet, where another door led to the back of the screen, from where I could manually wind the curtains shut.
Not having television in those days, films – and the news items – were extremely popular. When I was aged four or five I was taken by my mother to see a news-reel featuring my dad working over at Hayle power-station – or the "electric works" as we all called it. I remember seeing my dad down in the hold of a ship, helping to unload coal and I can see him now, looking up and guiding the very large crane that was hovering above him. I can also hear the cheers as the picture house erupted.
There were three different films a week, shown every day except Sunday. Colin and I would often travel over to St Just or St Agnes to deliver or collect films. We made a good team and worked well together.
Colin worked all day at his own business and then all evening at the cinema and in all the years we were there together, we only had one night off. What would we do? Where would we go? What shall we treat ourselves to? Well, it was the year Zulu was released and we found ourselves at the Kings Cinema in Camborne for one of the first screenings in Cornwall. We have laughed about that over and over again.
When film formats changed, some became available in Cinema-scope, which resulted in a "narrower" view, for want of a better word. An area of the screen had to be blanked out and lowered in – via the door in the ladies. The result was that some patrons really thought they were being cheated out of the full picture and one customer, Lottie James from St Johns Street, never believed she was seeing "all" the picture. Bless her.
Other patrons, especially my mother, would come along to see a special film they had waited ages to see – only to drop off to sleep.
When The Sound Of Music came out, we screened it continually from the May to September and as usherette I was lucky to see it several times a week and learn the words of the songs by heart.
As the years passed, television became more popular and audiences began to wane. Something had to be done to keep the public coming in. John Rew decided to pull out the three front rows of seats to make room for a dance floor. It was strange to dance on a slope, but soon became popular with youngsters who came to see local groups play.
These dances were held on Sunday afternoons, much to the disgust of the religious population.
I was a member of the Salvation Army and heard the arguments from both sides of the fence – but the shows went on. Some very good local bands played at the Palace, including Dave Lee and the Stagerlees.
Another of John Rew's ideas was midnight screenings of adult films on Saturdays, which caused even more of a rumpus than the dancing. This move led, in time, to Sunday performances.
During these years, Colin and I became increasingly close and eventually married. The Palace was only closed once: on November 6, 1965 – for our wedding.
After our wedding, another projectionist was found and our involvement with the cinema lessened. It was sold in the early 1970s. John Rew passed away in 1973 and Dulcie in 1987.
Colin and I have been happily married for 47 years and have three children, nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Today, we both remember fondly our times at the Palace in Hayle – and the recent restoration and conversion work to the building has been very good indeed.
Hayle – and Copperhouse, in particular – remain very special to me, as do the cinema building and St Johns Street. I wouldn't have missed those years at all and I hope this has brought back some memories to others.