I have a recurring dream that Diss Picture House is open again. Even in my sleep I know that this is not possible because it closed for good on March 3rd 1973. I was there that night to see a film about Darwin , called The Voyage of the Beagle, and Robert Redford and George Segal in How to Steal a Diamond in Four Uneasy Lessons (known in the USA and on TV as The Hot Rock). When Redford sauntered off with the diamond at the end it was the close of an era for me.
In 1965 I went 50 times. Life was simpler in those days. Anyone who went to see films knew that the height of ambition, the goal of life, was to get the girl and a recording contract. My younger brother and I must have seen Zulu 10 times over the years and could probably supply the dialogue if the sound was turned down. I realise now that it was not an accurate representation of Victorian times; but it was the best British action film of them all. We saw the first dozen or so Elvis Presley films, missing only Wild in the Country, until he started making rubbish. Time gave us the gift of judgement. Did we really walk all that way, spend money and an evening watching Raquel Welch in Fathom?
In the 1950s we used to go on Saturday mornings. Old cinemas have a distinctive smell which still excites me. Jack Jones, the proprietor, would be there in his cap and our tickets would be taken by a girl who sometimes wore a cowboy hat. We cheered the heroes, booed the bad ‘uns and heard the sound of rolling Coke bottles and cries of “Put a shillin’ in the meter!” when the projector broke down. I can remember our bewilderment when Hopalong Cassidy kissed a girl. “Why did Hoppy do that?” we wondered aloud as we walked home.
I was often grumpy on the way home and was usually told by my parents, “You’re tired.” When you are young they always tell you that, even when you are not at all tired. I suppose I just resented being back in the rainy streets of Diss minutes after being in Sherwood Forest or defending The Alamo.
There were grumbles from the patrons on the way out if the film had been anything but straightforward tripe. If and Oh, What a Lovely War, both symbolic films, caused moans of bewilderment.
The town’s first cinema was built in 1916 and rebuilt in 1934, the first film in the new building being the talkie Evergreen, with Jessie Matthews. I remember the queues to see Cliff Richard in The Young Ones. A dozen years later the place closed because nobody was going. Such is the fickleness of fashion. In the post-war years there had been two houses every night as cinema enjoyed a boom period.
Films are not the same on television. There is something special about a large, hushed audience watching a film in a cinema. Certainly horror films lose much of their impact. I had a sleepless night, at the age of 17, after seeing The Reptile. When I saw it again on television I wondered what had bothered me.
I wish the picture house was open again. As we came out, brother Simon would say, “Good, wa’n’t it”. When we got home my mother would say, “Was it good? Many there?”
Poignant moments from films stick in my mind: the Borstal boys singing Jerusalem in The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner; the moment at the end of The Great Escape when the guard turns, touched by the sound of Steve McQueen’s baseball tap-tapping against the ‘cooler’ wall; the ‘freeze’ on Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid as they fall to three volleys by half the Bolivian army.
Basil Abbott (Reprinted from the 1989-91 Diss Town Guide.)