Saturday, April 11, 2009

Remembrance of Fleetwood Past

Barbara lent us some stuff recently. We like stuff. You never know what you’re going to find amongst stuff. Of course, it all depends on who’s given you the stuff in the first place, but we reckon Barbara’s a safe enough bet not to have to wear rubber gloves and take precautionary tetanus injections before having a good old rummage.
Most of the stuff she lent us was to do with Fleetwood.

Now, you’d think that Fleetwood was a fairly unchangeable place. Unlike everywhere else along the Fylde coast which, in recent years, has decided to reinvent itself by tearing down a few shabby but character-filled buildings and replacing them with bland suburban monstrosities (the soulless creations of narrative-lacking council planners and architects with all the imagination of a pin-up calendar in the Vatican), Fleetwood’s architectural song remains the same.

Or does it?

Anybody recognise this place?



That’s the Regent cinema, that is.

Or rather it was. It’s gone now.

We used to call it the ‘Fleapit’ when we were kids. Not because it actually had fleas (at least, I don’t think it had) but because it was the smallest, most run-down, ramshackle cinema we’d ever been inside. (And considering that most of the cinemas in Blackpool had sticky carpets, half the seats missing and a permanent smell of rotten vinegar about them, that’s saying something.)

If memory serves the Fleapit’s screen was an old bed sheet with a large square of flannel sewn into the middle of it in a failed attempt to disguise some antique cigarette burn or other, which was incredibly distracting when you were trying to watch a film. Not that it mattered. The cinema itself was so small and the projector so close to the screen that it was virtually impossible for the projectionist to bring the picture into focus, the sound of the reels clicking noisily on their sprockets drowned out anything remotely connected with the movie, and whenever a flitting insect managed to enter the room through one of the holes in the roof, the screen was transformed into some disturbing Japanese shadow theatre featuring Mothra from Godzilla.

Enough of the nostalgia though; let’s have a bit of proper history to go with that photograph.

The Regent Cinema, on Lord Street, was opened in 1935 (as opposed to 1938 which I wrote previously...cheers for the correction Nick) and managed to attract huge audiences of up to three or four patrons a time (they might have been bigger once, but the last time I went there, the audience consisted of just me and the projectionist…and he went home for his tea halfway through the first reel).

It ran out of steam in 1986. At the time of its closure the Fleetwood Chronicle ran a story about some historic archive footage of Fleetwood having gone missing from the Fleapit’s vaults. (By vaults, presumably they meant the damp little cellar where the usher kept several crates of Newcastle Brown.) Being a naturally inquisitive young man I went looking amongst the rubble for any signs of said footage. Believe it or not I found several strips of old celluloid half-buried by the detritus. I don’t think they were of much historical value though. These were mostly pink and involved a plumber.

Moving on. (Incidentally, the site where the Regent originally stood is nowadays occupied by a travel agency, so bland and meaningless a building that I couldn’t be bothered walking the twenty-odd yards from my front door to the actual location to photograph it.)

This next photograph is, admittedly, rubbish. It’s blurred and it’s difficult to make out what’s going on, but it does have some historical significance.



We all saw the footage a couple of months back of the 2008 Fleetwood Pier fire. And anybody who’s been down to said pier in recent weeks to see if the owners are still honouring that ‘free bag of chips with every battered fish’ coupon from 1998, will have noticed that nowadays the structure’s gone completely. However, back in 1952 Fleetwood Pier (as we’ve probably mentioned somewhere before) caught fire for the first time.

The photograph above (as far as we can tell) shows the pier the morning after. Somehow, despite the carnage, the pier on that occasion survived…after a fashion…only to be totalled once and for all under the ownership of Joey Blower…but for legal reasons, we’re not even going there.

One last photograph (unfortunately another somewhat blurred and slightly rubbish one, although it does have a charm of its own):



Is that a midget? To be honest we don’t know. All we can say about this image is that it was taken during the 1933 Fleetwood Carnival. Presumably there was more to the carnival than this one rather small and unspectacular float. Back in those days, apparently, the carnival was known as the ‘Hospital Gala’.

Hold on…there’s some barely legible writing on the back. Here’s what it says: “Mr G. Rose and ‘Jack’. ‘Here comes the brute’.”

At least I think that’s what it says. It’s a bit hard to tell.

Okay, if anybody out there reading this can elaborate on that, tell us anything about what became of the bloke/dog in the photograph and/or tell us what ‘Here comes the brute’ actually means, please let us know through the usual channels.

26 comments:

bignick47 said...

Sorry Brian, but the Regent opened in 1935 in the old Empress Picturedrome. I got this from a Fwd Chronicle yearbook.

RVB said...

I think it'd be impossible to find a 'timeless' building, unless it happens to be a particularly well-renowned brothel on Gallifrey.

bignick47 said...

Brothel - do Time Lords drink broth then?

Brian Hughes said...

Nick,

Ah...my fault entirely. I shall correct it forthwith.

Reuben,

That well-renowned brothel...are the workers bigger on the inside than the out? (On second thoughts, don't answer that. This a family site.)

Jayne said...

"Here comes the brute" looks like it should be more "Here comes the bride" with that fancy dog cart.

Brian Hughes said...

Jayne,

I'd be more inclined to believe that round these parts if it was a sheep rather than a dog.

shirley said...

Hi Gang your fleapit The Regent is like the Empire Cinema in Blackpool was. It also had a huge burn in the screen but did not bother us as my mother used to drop us off and go shopping whilst I got bullied by cowboys that didn't like indians. There was (hate to admit it) a woman playing a piano for a couple of years right at the front. Yes there was plenty of hurrah's and boos and Flash Gordon, Lone Ranger, were our Saturday morning cinema treats. Years later it turned into a night club and I witnessed P.J. Proby splitting his pants on stage. Ahh the good old days eh Brian!! Catch you later. Shirley

Brian Hughes said...

Shirley,

"There was (hate to admit it) a woman playing a piano for a couple of years right at the front."

I'm surprised you could hear the film. The Regent in Fleetwood used to have a big fat woman playing the piano in it as well. She'd fallen through the rotten joists from the Mission Rooms upstairs and hadn't realised.

Ann oDyne said...

the dog is a Manchester Terrier and the guy looks like Jimmy Cagney.

Brian Hughes said...

Annie,

If that's Jimmy Cagney, then shouldn't he own a dirty rat rather than a dog?

Jayne said...

After seeing Jimmy Cagney playing Bottom in the 1935 B&W version of A Midsummer Nights Dream he should be sprinkling fairy dust and trilling sweet airs....

Brian Hughes said...

Now there's something that doesn't bear too much thinking about...a crowd of people watching Jimmy Cagney's bottom.

History Hunter said...

Isn't there another dog in the cart in a dress or am I just seeing things.

Brian Hughes said...

Melanie,

Could be...could be.Alternatively it might be a cat in a penguin costume...it's tricky to say. I'll have to get in touch with the people who program the computers in CSI and see if they can enhance the image.

The Actor said...

I think that 1933 was the charter year or somesuch.

Brian Hughes said...

Martin,

So that midget's possibly the mayor?

Jayne said...

Feral Queen found a locket stuffed with about a dozen tiny B&W photos of dwarves all dressed in period costume a la British Pathe in her father's shed years ago.
No idea where they came from or what her father did with them (always said he was a midget in the grey matter dept) but thought I'd throw that red herring in with some tartare sauce....

Brian Hughes said...

Jayne,"...a dozen tiny B&W photos of dwarves all dressed in period costume..."

It's a highly specialised area, from what I can gather. "Each to his fancy and me to my Nancy," said the farmer as he patted his cow, and all that.

Bwca Brownie said...

oh dear I really need to know the rest of the locket-dwarves story.

Just popped in to wish Michelle a lovely day on her birthday Wednesday. X O X O

Brian Hughes said...

Annie,

I think the Feral Queen must have been seeing the Blackpool Tower Midgets behind John Lester's back.

I'll pass Michelle's birthday wishes on to her. Thirty-five again, eh? Who'd have thought that recurring temporal anomolies like that were actually possible? Cheers.

Bwca Brownie said...

the doglet is dressed as a bride and the cart says
"heres comes the bride"

There must be a website about old vaudeville acts to refer to.

Brian Hughes said...

"...the cart says
"heres comes the bride"..."

By gum Annie, you've got better eyesight than I have.

Dave D said...

A little late, but better late than never. My dad thinks the small chap with the dogs could be his great uncle Billy, who's surname was Grose and wasn't the biggest bloke in Fleetwood. The dog is pulling a cart with another dog in it and they would walk along with the carnival procession carrying a collection tin. They were pretty fond of going round the pubs and collecting from the drinkers. He's long gone and presumably the dogs are no longer with us, but one of his daughters is still around and living in Fleetwood.

Brian Hughes said...

Dave,

Excellent! I'll have to look into that. Grose, as a surname, shouldn't be too difficult to pin down. Cheers for the information.

Paul Fodz said...

The Regent's nickname, according to an old next-door neighbour of mine from many years ago, was "The Old Laugh & Scratch"; the cinema's dinginess matches this.
I have many great memories of the Regent, as it was the only cinema in town when I was growing-up in the 70's and 80's. As well as watching children's films and cartoons with my mum and sisters and brother, I also watched cinematic greats, such as Jaws (when I was eight!), Star Wars, Grease, amongst many others.
Fond memories, but it was sadly getting to be a bit of dump in its later years . . .

Paul Fodz

Wayne Moore said...

I own the rare nitrate film (fleetwood floods etc)that my dad Fred Moore (manager of regent cinema)gave to me the film is now on u-matic and vhs master tape.

Wayne Moore.