They did give you a membership card when you joined, which assured you of a seat, over non-members, if it turned out there weren’t enough seats to go around on a particular Saturday morning. But I don’t recall ever showing it, except to buy badges – you got one free with the card but purchased others, such as the much “cooler” glow-in-the-dark pin.
Maybe members didn’t have to show the card because practically everyone did wear a badge to the screenings, thereby obviating the need to show a card. The cost was six pence for balcony, nine pence for downstairs – which meant it paid to arrive early to stand in line, because the best seats in the house were the front half of the balcony (so you actually got more for less).
But since everybody knew this and wanted those seats, unless you arrived well before door opening time (9:30, 10:00 or 10:30 A.M., depending on the theatre) you might as well shell out the greater sum for downstairs and hope to do better the following week.
American snack bars might have offered everything that anyone could possibly want in the way of salt, sugar, fructose, fat and general chemical goodness, but you paid for everything yourself. The ABC snack bar might not have had the selection, but the Minors Club did provide A (very old) ABC Minors Club membership card. They did give you a membership card when you joined, which assured you of a seat, over non-members, if it turned out there weren’t enough seats to go around on a particular Saturday morning.
But I don’t recall ever showing it, except to buy badges – you got one free with the card but purchased others, such as the much “cooler” glow-in-the-dark pin. Reggie, Stan & Ian have). everyone with ice cream, small soda, and a small bag of sweets - beyond that, you were on your own.
On your birthday, you got in free if you received a birthday card from the Minor’s Club. But it meant you had to tell them your birthday, knowing that you and all the other “birthday kids” would be called up to stand together on the proscenium as everyone in the house sang “Happy Birthday” to you (you’ve already seen two prosceniums – to the lower right’s another, from the ABC Strichley).
Think going up there might’ve been a little bit daunting? It was. Granted, while we were in line there’d be a perfunctory search for materials that might be used in making spitballs, water balloons and such, but we were largely on our honour. Oddly enough, we were allowed to bring our toy guns to Westerns. The search would be over the minute the doors opened.
We’d be herded in, the smell of disinfectant virtually punching us in the face as we entered, and separated according to which ticket we’d purchased. We were then guided by monitors to the main auditorium or the balcony, as the case might be. Monitors were older kids, sometimes 10 or 11, often as old as 12, even 13.
Their job was to keep the rest of us orderly and on our best behaviour (subject to certain express exceptions, which I’ll get to in a minute), and to make sure that we picked up after ourselves. In exchange for functioning as the sheep dogs to our sheep, the monitors usually got in for free (it An ABC Minors Club birthday card.
An ABC Minors Club “Birthday Card” varied from theatre to theatre, but usually their admission was free – at the very least it was at a substantial discount). How one became a monitor also varied from theatre to theatre.
Some took what I’ll call a “meritocracy” approach: Minors Club members were awarded points for regular attendance, good behaviour and leadership potential. Those who accumulated the requisite points were invited by the management to become monitors, if they so chose. Others took what I’ll call a “Star Search” approach: Any club member wanting to become a monitor advised management.
When a new monitor was needed, those on the list were led up on the proscenium – the one who won the most applause from the audience got the job. A third group took a hybrid approach. Management prescreened the potential monitors on the point system but, having made a determination as to which kids were the acceptable candidates, left the final selection to the kids in the audience.
Management, I’m told, would meet with the monitors during the week, usually on a Friday night, where, over sweets, there’d be discussions about how to improve safety, crowd control, theatre sanitation and the like. I do know that, periodically throughout the year, theatre management threw parties that were only for the monitors.
The photo at right is of a 1949 party for monitors in Derby. Most club members looked up to the monitors (attitudes toward authority were very different then), and respected their dedication. The perks monitors might receive were paid for in time, blood, sweat and sometimes tears (at least of frustration).
Once seated, we were left to talk amongst ourselves until the programme started. It was then that one would often meet other kids, not from school or the neighbourhood, and begin to connect with them – often meeting with the same kids week after week.
We might not meet in any other context, but a genuine connectedness began to develop. Eventually, the programme would begin, usually with the sing-along (though some theatres saved it until the end, a way to wind the kids down, I suppose, before sending them on their way).
Which songs would vary considerably from theatre to theatre, but, depending upon whether it opened the programme (in which case it was the first thing sung) or closed it (in which case it was the last) everyone would invariably sing the ABC Minors Club song (to the tune of Blaze Away) sometimes accompanied by the theatre organ (if one was available), but much more often accompanied by a pre-recorded instrumental backing track (long before the days of karaoke) over the sound system.
Remember the song? All together now, Minors, follow the bouncing ball:
"We are the boys and girls well known as
Minors of the ABC
And every Saturday all line up
To see the films we love and shout aloud with glee.
We love to laugh and have our sing-song
Such a happy crowd are we – eeeee.
We’re all pals together
The minors of the ABC."
Usually around that time, the birthday kids would be presented on the proscenium, and we’d all sing “Happy Birthday” to them. Then the theatre usually rolled a film or two, as we loudly cheered the heroes, and booed and hissed the villains – in fact we generated so much noise it was sometimes difficult to hear the dialog and know just what the movie was all about.
This, oddly enough, was not only tolerated but encouraged. We did know that the theatres in the ABC chain shared and swapped films back and forth, and perhaps management hoped to “recycle” the film in a few months and show it again, thinking we wouldn’t remember it or know the difference (which was very likely true).
Doing this, they could obviate some of the need for the chain to rent or buy new films. It didn’t matter, back in the days when the size of the average tv screen fluctuated between 14” and 17,” the mammoth projected images enveloped us all, and drew us in to worlds well outside our own. For some reason (no doubt the edict of some well-meaning executive further up the ABC cinema food chain), a certain amount of time (not too long, thankfully) was devoted each week to lectures on aspects of road/traffic/highway safety.
We took this as the equivalent of the commercials on ITV that we had to endure to enjoy the shows, and sat in respectful, if somewhat stony, silence until these “presentations” were over. Much more enjoyable were “guest appearances” nearly every week by actors featured in kids’ television shows, or, less often, in the movies.
It didn’t matter if they had big parts or small – if they were recognizable at all, we were “star struck.” From time to time, they’d not only appear, but actually perform, dazzling us all, and leaving many happy memories in kids’ minds that have lasted to his very day.
Around Halloween and Christmas, there’d be “fancy dress” (costume) contests, and at Easter, there was an Easter hat contest for the girls (Princess Beatrice, move over). The rest of the year there were periodic talent contests. Having never participated, I don’t know if there was any audition or other form of screening, but based on some of the entries, I doubt that there was.
Once in a while, some kid’s act would clearly not go according to plan, and he or she would be left standing there, devastated. At times like that, especially as I got older and knew I’d soon leave the minor’s club behind anyway, I thought of bolting down the aisle as a “last minute entry” and perform something so lame that the kid would think he or she wasn’t the worst one there – but then again, there were those aisles, those long aisles, and that big stage, and looking out at that huge, cavernous auditorium … and I stayed in my seat.
And yes, you did ultimately leave the Minors Club. Rumour had it that the upper age limit was 15, but I don’t know of anyone who stayed around long enough to find out if it were true. Usually around the time you entered secondary school – at age 11 or 12, you began to drift away – not all at once, but you began to find other things you preferred to do with your Saturday. Except for the Monitors, kids usually voluntarily left the Minors Club by around the age of 13.
And we didn’t know that the Minors Clubs would soon be leaving us, as well. Televisions grew bigger and went to colour, a second BBC channel was added – then came Channel 4. Associated British Cinemas hit hard financial times and closed some of the theatres (including the Edgbaston in November 1968 – I believe the Minor’s Club moved to the nearby ABC Cinerama, or consolidated with the one there).
ABC was picked up by EMI in the early 1970s. Minors Clubs began to disappear one theatre at a time, until, in the early 1980s, the last of the Minors Clubs (in theatres) closed down (there was an attempt to keep them alive on television, but that ultimately went out with a whimper, too).
The ABC chain itself didn’t last much longer. Some of the more promising theatres had been slowly siphoned off into the Odeon chain; the rest were sold to the Cannon group in the mid-1980s.
Then Cannon began to have problems. Videotape cassette players were ubiquitous, and there was less motivation to go to the movies; multiplexes were on the rise. The chain was sold and resold to several successors, each closing down a few theatres – usually left derelict or torn down – until the last of them closed at the end of the 1990s.
There’s a tendency to write off the Minors Clubs as quaint relics of a bygone era – and, in a sense, that’s true. They were quaint – corny really. Today’s sophisticated kids would never accept the clubs as they were in those days.
And yet, I know what a void those old clubs filled back then. Today’s kids need personal connectedness as much as we did, and so often there’s none to be found. If new clubs arose, more sophisticated, no doubt net-savvy, which adapted and catered to a new generation, they might not fill the need on their own, but they’d at least address it and, in some small way, stem just a bit of the tide of alienation so often surrounding today’s kids.