by David James
In 1946, Mum, Val and myself were living in the hall at the bottom camp of Beech Barn, waiting to get one of the huts to live in as the soldiers were moved out.
The first time I heard anything about the Regent cinema was as follows – after explaining the buildup:-
At the end of November Uncle Frank (Frank Barnes, my Mum’s full brother) mentioned to Mum that he was fed-up with the little rented caravan that he and his family were living in, and Mum suggested that they should all come and live on the balcony in the hall. No sooner said than done and, after rigging up blankets all around the balcony for privacy, they moved in and another family had its foot in the door for a hut.
Two days later Mrs. Reid moved out of the officer’s mess and we moved in. There can’t have been many officers as there was just room for Mum’s double bed, my bed beside it and the three orange boxes. The windows had little diamond-shaped panes of glass set in lead. Mum got a job in a snack bar in Chesham, a lady called Phyllis also worked there and they became very good friends. Phyllis (Auntie Phyllis to Val and I) Ramage lived at Old Amersham with her husband, Bob, and young family. They were renting a room over a doctor’s surgery and Mum promised to try and get them into the camps somewhere.
Sometimes the soldiers would leave without time to tell anyone that a hut was empty. As there was much coming and going nobody would notice for a while. Uncle Frank cottoned onto this and, being a male, was brave enough to go out each night and shine his torch in the windows of the soldier’s huts. This paid off at the beginning of December when he found an empty wooden hut in the top camp and he quickly moved his family in that night. Now our family had a foot in the door of both camps.
A couple of days later, while trying to find a hut for us, he discovered another empty wooden hut. Baby-sitters were found and he picked the lock, moved some beds out and Auntie Joyce and Mum sat on some boxes behind the door to stop anyone else coming in. They had decided to let Phyllis and her Family have this hut as they were more desperate than us. Uncle Frank hopped on his bike and raced down to their room in Old Amersham, only to find that they were at the Regent cinema in Amersham watching a film. Uncle Frank raced back up to the cinema and asked Mr. Carr, the manager, to flash a message on the screen. Mr. Carr said he could only do that in an emergency, but when Uncle Frank explained the situation he agreed because he understood the hard times some people were having just after the war. The message was put up on the screen, Phyllis and Bob came out and things began to move quickly. They borrowed a van, loaded it up with all of their furniture and they were moved in the hut by midnight that same night.
Mr. Carr lived at Pinner near London, at the time the cinema belonged to Shipman & King, and Mr. Carr was later to become a very good and respected friend of our whole family.
Extract from David’s Memoirs;
“1947:- Chesham had two cinemas, the ‘Astoria’ in the Broadway and the ‘Embassy’. Amersham had the ‘Regent’ cinema already mentioned. They were big cinemas, and we went to the pictures often. When I think of the time we were in that first hut, I always think of two films. One was ‘King Kong’ and the other was ‘The Lost World’, and I went and saw them both with Mum. I remember that she covered my eyes with her hand because I was scared. The two scenes that I can remember from ‘King Kong’ was the one when a great dinosaur (a great ‘duck’ as I thought it was at the time – I didn’t know about dinosaurs in those days) picked a man off a tree in its mouth, and the other scene was when King Kong smashed the train off the railway bridge. Both those scenes put the wind up me at the time and I wouldn’t have been the least surprised if that great ‘duck’ and the huge ape had come storming over the horizon and trampled our flimsy dwellings to a heap of rubble. And the Embassy cinema, as I recall, was the only cinema that we went to for the Saturday-morning pictures.
In 1949, Mum’s mother (Annie Challis), stepfather (Bertram Challis) and their son (Mum’s half-brother, James (Jim) Challis), moved into the hut with us. And eventually Annie (my Nan) got a job as cleaner at the Regent cinema. Every morning she would go and clean the seats and floors with other cleaners, and they were a happy lot. Nan would take Val or myself with her sometimes and it was funny to go all over the cinema when there was nobody there. I was spoilt by Mr. Carr, the Manager of the cinema, who often came over from his home at Pinner on Saturday mornings. Nan used to save the ice cream cups, wash them and bring them home for me to play with and I’d build castles and walls with them, roll a ball at the structure and laugh as the lot collapsed. It wasn’t long before I knew every little nook and cranny in that picture house.
Nan, with her new connections, managed to get Mum a job there as usherette. Mum still did the domestic work in the morning and the Christmas club work, so she was a busy lady with all this and having to look after us as well. But Nan, Granddad, and Jim helped a lot.
And I remember when I was a lot older, that she told me she had sat in the back-seats a couple of times with Dirk Bogarde – no husband at the time!
And I also remember that Mum used to wear a very dark red uniform while working in the cinema.
Then, as we slipped into 1953, Jim started work as a projectionist at the Regent cinema. He’d already been spending evenings up in the projection box after school and knew the job inside-out. He was happy there and I spent many evenings with him. I always got the job of winding the films back onto the original reels so as they were ready for the next showing. This was done with a special two-reel winder and worked by hand (turning a handle like a lady used to turn the handle of a mangle). It was good fun working the curtains, lights, and music. Sometimes I’d feel very important as I sat by the projectors and was seen by the patrons walking past the open door of the projection box. I was never allowed to go into the cinema when there were ‘X’ rated films being shown.
I was so lucky to see and enjoy the movies, and the one I enjoyed the most (and almost watched it daily for a full week) was Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”.
And Finally, I so well remember the Amersham Common – St. George’s – School putting many of us kids into coaches, then all of us being taken up to the Regent cinema where we all sat down in the seats and were shown Queen Elizabeth the 2nd’s Coronation film, then the film of Tenzing & Hillary’s climb to the top of Everest – and we were all given a cup of ice cream as well!
Extract from Elizabeth Barry’s diary courtesy of David James:
In late 1950s or thereabout, I managed to get a usherette job at the Regent Cinema in Amersham. This pleased the children as they were able to watch the films free and life went on happily.[Some years earlier] my brother asked me if I could make room for my mother, stepfather, and 14 year old half-brother.
They had been living with my step-grandmother, who had just died, so they had to find somewhere else to live. So it was that they arrived and moved in with us. It was a tight squeeze but we managed. I never questioned, why they didn’t find a rental in their own village or nearby.
Dad got a job at Latimer collage, Mum did cleaning at the Regent Cinema. When my young brother left school, he also got a job at the Regent as a projectionist. Mum was able to be with the children after school and weekends and put them to bed for me, which was a great help as I was able to work more hours.
After 18 months they were allocated a hut for themselves.
So once more I had the freedom of my own place and the children had their own rooms. I was pleased to be able to help my family, but at the same time, it was great to have my own space again. They had only moved across the green, so mum was still able to look after the children.
Unfortunately a few months later, I had to give up work, as the stress of my broken marriage had played on my health. I wasn’t able to take the children on outings or go to their school meetings, as I had done previously”.