By Martin P
Growing up in small town East Kent, I was spoiled for choice with two cinemas. Two! One, the old Canterbury Odeon, betrayed its theatrical roots, with a balcony and actual stalls at the rear of the lower tier. It was by far my favourite place to see a film. The first I can remember seeing was the Walt Disney animated version of Robin Hood – I vividly recall being given a poster of the titular fox in the foyer afterwards, which I proudly took home and Blu-tac’ed to my bedroom wall. I also remember another time, going with my school friend Alex’s family to see a James Bond film, probably For Your Eyes Only. The film clearly was lost on me.
What wasn’t lost on me was the fact that my friend’s older sister, Denise, on whom I had a prototype crush, sat next to me. This may or may not have been a factor in what happened when, during the interval between supporting and main feature, a collection box for the Red Cross was passed around. Now although Alex’s family had taken me out, my parents had not wanted me to go empty-handed, or with empty pockets, so had packed me off with a crisp new £1 note. When the collection box came to me, I felt pressured to put something in, just like everyone else – it seemed the right thing to do, the grown-up thing to do. And I had no change. So the whole £1 went in.
Had I hoped to impress Denise? Maybe. Was I subsequently unable to buy a Kia-Ora? Definitely.
Anyway, whilst the old Odeon is now the Marlowe Theatre in The Friars, the grubby old ABC is now the marginally less grubby Odeon, in Upper St George’s St. Though the Odeon was my favourite, it’s the ABC I need to talk about. I didn’t like the ABC as much. It felt a bit tatty. And whereas the Odeon has a circle and stalls, the ABC was just an enormous terrace of seats for its single screen. To give you an idea of how things were, my last visit there was in the ’90s for a late-night screening of Reservoir Dogs. They let the audience sit there for nearly an hour before cancelling and offering refunds because the bulb in their projector had blown and, incredibly, they didn’t have a spare.
So, we’ve established I didn’t much like the ABC but in those days, when there was far less choice, you took what you could get. And what I got, one day, was The Waterloo Bridge Handicap.
Now IMDb tells me this film was made in 1978. If I Googled hard enough, I could probably find out what films it was shown as the support feature for in the years that followed. But I’m not too bothered about that; the very fact that I can’t remember what the main feature was tells me all I need to know. But The Waterloo Bridge Handicap stuck.
It’s a simple tale of commuters, haring over the eponymous river crossing in the style of a horse race, complete with commentary from a young Brough Scott. He’s not the only notable name on show either. Leonard Rossiter plays the lead, Charles Barker, whilst Lynda Bellingham, Patricia Hodge, Gordon Kaye and Zoot Money all put in appearances too.
The reason this film stuck, and that I’ve been thinking about it lately, is that I now have a 10½ minute walk from where I park to my office. Note, 10½. Not 10, not 11. That’s how much I’ve refined the walking leg of my commute. And the thing is, if there’s anyone further up the path than me, I try to walk them down. I have a notional finishing line. I even talk to myself about it (in my head, not aloud – don’t panic). It becomes a little race for me. I know how that sounds, but when you walk the same 0.8 miles twice a day, every day, well, what would you do to make it interesting?
I’m going to embed the film now, courtesy of YouTube. Even if you think I’m a bit sad with my walk to work, this is worth a watch, partly for its time-capsule illustration of how much things have changed: in film, with the leisurely (pedestrian, you might say) pace of the opening; in London, with buildings and street furniture that are consigned to history; in transport, with British Rail rolling stock; and in people, not only in dress but in technology, with not a mobile phone in sight and people either talking to each other or, at least, looking where they’re walking. And if the Thames station ident at the start of the clip doesn’t get your nostalgia muscle flexing, nothing will.
Martin has been blogging on issue cultural, musical, cinematic, political and otherwise at New Amusements since 2005. This blog entry was first published there in May 2016. I include it with pleasure.