Dick Spivey’s Memories
From Leigh Spivey
This is my Dads Memories I was talking to you about last night.This part goes up to the start of WW2
The following is a typed copy of my father – Harry Duncan (Dick ) Spivey`s Memoirs and was handwritten by him in the 1980’s. Unfortunately, he passed away before he could finish it and only covers his life up to 1942. Some of the text I cannot read and I have used appropriate words I think fit or question marks in brackets – Leigh Spivey ( July 2010 ).
SEPT 26 1926 PICTURE HOUSE CROWLE ONE HOUSE AT 7.30. SAT 2 HOUSES 6.30. 8.45
CHARLIE CHAPLIN IN `THE GOLD RUSH`
As I sit in my office at the Three Kays Motor Showroom, Crowle, the day bill from the early Cinema days brings back many memories (as now the poster is framed and has pride of place). 1926 – Just about as far back as I can recall – the days of entertainment with Music Hall and early Cinematography
My Father the late Joseph Spivey as a boy floated up and down the Yorkshire canals as a barge boy with my Grandfather
During the Great War the flair for entertainment struck at Alnwick Barracks in Northumberland – he ended the war entertaining the troops in the North of England as a comedian, with my older brother Bill – then a mere boy of 8 he played as stooge to my Father as an Army Officer complete with Sam Brown – my Father being, of course, an Army Private.
After Demob the flair for fantasy and entertaining the public had taken the grip.
Back home in Goole, a marquee was erected near Bluebell Wood, White City, then Shows were given with an Aunt and Uncle of mine, Father, Brother Bill and chorus called the Carlton Mascots
During this period Dad bought an Army truck, this vehicle was as versatile as Sammy Davis and Stanley Baxter rolled into one. At night power was generated from a dynamo for the marquee driven from the rear wheel of the truck. On days during Harvest corn was thrashed from its rear wheel driving the Thrasher. This vehicle was used during the day for carrying stone for road repairs in the Rawcliffe area, and at weekends a portable top was fitted and used as the first Bus to run between Rawcliffe and Goole. My late Aunt Louie was not only a hit on Stage she was `just the ticket` as a Conductress.This old Fiat truck had a habit of changing its rhythm at certain speeds, it spluttered and coughed on its 5-mile journeys from Goole to Rawcliffe. Of course, an appropriate name was given to it to link in with the stage – KKK Katie. Many miles were covered `Singing along with Joe`to the rhythm of the old Fiat and the words of the Great War song.
As time went by the Theatre Royal in Goole was taken over by my Father – the big dream had come true – A Theatre with his own Carlton Mascots. From the Theatre Royal, my Father got bookings, traveling around the Country with his Carlton Mascots – he told of sleeping on the Prop baskets many nights on Stations up and down the Country. He played the `Bill` with George Formby Snr. and Nellie Wallace at the Empire, Leeds and the Tivoli, Wakefield
Then the flame of celluloid struck, – on odd nights a `Penny Peep Show` was shown – the Birth of the Movies. Now the big chance came to own the Carlton Cinema, Goole the bug got deeper.Not satisfied with just Cinemas and Vaudeville, he opened a Roller Skating Rink in Crowle, and eventually took over the Picture House held in `The Old Market Hall `. A tin projection booth was erected at the rear of the Hall, wood forms fitted, an old gas engine to operate the power, and clotheslines strung through the roof by tie bars to operate screen tabs and coloured bulbs to illuminate
Still determined to expand – why not Mobile Cinemas, so a model T Ford van was purchased and an old Austin engine with a dynamo attached was bolted down in the rear of the van, a mobile projector, arc lights etc. and off they went to the surrounding villages. Oh ! , how that van worked wonders – in bright yellow, as it ran down the village street to open up their very own Picture House – to a big cheer from all the inhabitants. The engine was started in the rear and Wow! , the van jumped and bounced around, and after a two hour Show, it was always a couple of feet away from its original moorings.
All this was up to 1926, Dad had told me of all these crazy things, now I started to recall. On top of all this Dad was asked to Manage the Picture House, Askern, so all our family had to take an active part irrespective of age. The Stage itself was still in Dads blood -and it had to be in ours -whether you liked it or not.
Brother Bill ( in his spare time ) played in a Dance Band. I recall him learning to play the Drums and Saxophone in a small bedroom when we slept together, it was like trying to sleep in Battersea Power Station – however, it paid off – the Band went from strength to strength. Dances were run at the Market Hall – after the Film Show till 2 a.m. on a Friday night. All the seating in the Cinema had to be stacked up at one end after the Show and of course, replaced the next day.
The Band played around the District and eventually came second in a Dance Band competition at the Palais De Dance in Nottingham, coming second to Billy Merrin & His Commanders. I recall them coming home from playing in Doncaster and at 2 am. in the morning they stopped the car – the trumpeter got out and played the Reveille -of course there were no breathalyzers in those days.
So my brother has now steeped in Show Business it came to my elder sisters turn – Peggy. She was crazed on dancing, so to Leeds once a week for lessons with Father, who did this run weekly – Leeds being our HQ for film.
Things now were starting to roll, but we almost lost Father. One night after the Show at Crowle he went down to stop the old gas engine – it was a thundering great thing with a two-ton flywheel – and a large governor spinning near the handle you stopped the thing with. This particular night he was wearing a scarf and as he leaned over to stop the engine the scarf wrapped around the governor and dragged him down to the safety rail were he held on till fortunately, the scarf broke. He always said it was Woolworths who saved his life, had it been an expensive scarf he wouldn’t have stood a chance. After that he bought a big one cylinder, Petter Diesel – you had to start it with a blow lamp, and when it was running it sounded like the Battle of the Somme.
We were now getting near the `30`s, he was still running Askern Picture House and Crowle and the Villages, with the odd Stage Show.
A note of Askern Cinema – during the 1926 General Strike my Father was the only person allowed to drive through the town in a motor car, the miners there looked on him as part of them. I have been with him in the town – he would see a child in bare feet and many times he`s taken them into a shop and bought them footwear – his great weakness was children.
By now my elder sister Peggy was getting very proficient with dancing, and at 15 started to run dance classes, and of course, she started staging Shows and Pantomimes. This is something I shall never forget, Father in the wings -Stage Manager, Props, Scenery, Sound Effects – the lot. I have seen him many times at the side of the stage with tears running down his cheeks I now was having to take an active part, a re-wind boy at the Cinema, Bill Boy, sweeping up, etc. Saturday morning with an old cycle ( built up from old bits and pieces ), I peddled round all the villages with a paste pot hung over the handlebars sticking up posters and handing out day bills to the various shops.
Then the inevitable came. It was my turn to hit the stage – in one of my sister’s shows.I had to appear – reluctantly – thinking what will my school pals say – but Oh! , Now when Dad said On the Stage – you went on the stage
So the big night came, dressed in red soldiers uniform with pillbox hat awaiting my intro music, tears in my eyes, dad stood behind me ready to push me on. away I went to the strains of `Captain hi ti hi ti` hi tiddly hi ti hi ti`- better known as `Archie of the Royal Artillery` – bamboo cane under my arms, looking at all the faces in front of me -Wow, I was making it. After that I became part of the shows with such numbers as `Wobble Wobble Walk `,` Underneath The Arches`, Somebody Stole My Gal etc.
I always remember Dad saying `keep this up and one day, who knows, if we ever stage `The Good Earth` , you may get the part of playing the worm
A short while later my younger sister had to join the happy throng, she had versatility ( hidden), she was almost double jointed, and as an acrobat, she was a wow. At home right after the Cinema, Shows, Sunday, etc.- rehearsals in the house. Dad on piano, Bill on drums , Peg tap dancing, Edna trying to turn herself inside out – Me singing. Of course by now something unbelievable had arrived, something Dad just yearned to get his teeth into – Talking Pictures,- of course the very first he had to see – so off he goes with me to the Paramount in Leeds to see `The Singing Fool `, that did it with him , Talking Pictures it had to be – no matter how primitive, It had to be the cheapest he could find so at the Picture House, Askern -the first all talking film sound on disc – the equipment ` Morrison Electric ` – Blacksmith made with a little help from – I believe he called him Fred Carno – or was it Heath Robinson. However the big opening night – Janet Gaynor in `Sunnyside Up` – a big lavish musical in those days, the only snag was when dialogue was visible on the screen, the sound was someone singing, – Yes, synchronisation was the problem in those days, until Dad made a variable pick up arm which could be adapted whilst the show was going – it worked and kept going until sound on film arrived. Him having experience now with sound on disc, we had to have it fitted at Crowle – and it had to be cheap. So a gentleman in Crowle who had just arrived – from Halifax – he learned had sound experience. This was how Bill Hartley joined us, a brilliant man at doing anything. OK – we`ll make our own sound on disc ( and he did ), amplifier, the lot, and it worked equally as good as Askern. So we struggled through -me as his rewind boy, the old Petter oil engine, the old gas engine as standby and plenty of guts in a projection booth you could just about turn around in with nitrate film and hot arc lights – it was like being in a Lancaster bomber over Berlin every night. We still, of course, did odd nights in the villages, I sat on an old sidecar with Bill ( now known as Talkie Bill ) on his old Norton motorbike complete with films and rewinder.
Cars now were beginning to take a grip, or anything Dad could buy to make money. Cars were lined up at the front .of the Cinema, with prices on they ranged from £2.10 to £20. Bull nosed Morris`s, Austin 7`s, Calcotts, Model T Fords, – I can remember Red Label Bentleys for £15. Eventually, it was decided Brother Bill and I had a motor business in the name of Spivey Bros, so petrol pumps were erected, a mechanic employed and off we went in the Garage business.
Around this time Dad with his flair for buying came home from Askern Cinema one night and said `I have bought an airplane`. This was unbelievable in those days but not with Dad. Off I go with him to a Farmer who like him would buy anything. I can still see that plane now stood in a long field – A bi-plane looking like Von Richtofen`s Dawn Patrol – The lot. The first thing on Dads mind – Will it go? -` Course it`ll go` says Harold Poskitt -that did it -both these men devils in their own way. So it was started, both of them climbed into the two cockpits, never will I forget the fright and noise on both of them as they ran up and down this field. they didn`t take it off, but it bounced around `like a cat on a hot tin roof `. Eventually, the plane was dismantled and sold to a `motor wreckers` in Hatfield where it stood on display up to 1940.
His next crazy buy was Woolworths at Doncaster. They had a fire there and the roof was burnt off, so off dad went to find out what was to happen to all the goods in there – He was right – They wanted it moving to get on with re-building – He bought the lot. Five days with five lorries carting the stuff back to Crowle. Every nook and corner the stuff was stacked. The final two loads,- he ran out of space, so they were tipped in the Market Square, and all the locals came and helped themselves. All the kids had red fingernails, tinned fruit was rolling around the square, there were sacks of Monkey Nuts – Everybody had indigestion for a month. I`ve never seen so many white teeth. We literally shoveled Maclean’s toothpaste on the lorries – even today we are still using small garden tools and using nails from Woolworths fire. All the market stalls in the Towns in the District were selling garden tools with scorched handles, and toothbrushes with melted handles.
Now we were in the mid-1930`s. Sister Peg was blooming, she won the North of England Tap Dance competition. She played the consecutive leads in `No No Nanette`,`Rio Rita` and `Goodnight Vienna` at the Palace Theatre , Scunthorpe.
The time now is 1936, all our family involved in all forms of public affairs, dances, carnivals, shows of all descriptions. Carnivals were organised for Scunthorpe Hospital, my younger sister Edna being the first Carnival Queen. Of course, Dad had to have this on film, he contacted `Gaumont British`, they came down and filmed the Carnival on 35mm film – costing the fabulous amount of £16. After paying all that Dad started his own filmmaking , first on 9.5mm, then on 16mm. He filmed local weddings, shows etc., and showed them at the evening film shows. His slogan being `Come and see yourselves as others see you`.
Around this time the cinema side had really taken hold, and our biggest thrill came, we built a new cinema in our own hometown. – The Regal Cinema on High Street. It opened with all the glamour of the West End ice cream, doorman, equipment to modern standards. Now with all the family running these cinemas. I was in complete control of the Picture House – still with its old Petter diesel engine, the spiral outside staircase to the projection room which had been built on the rear. We never knew what it was like to be off on a Saturday – matinees in the afternoon, two shows at night, nobody could have had greater satisfaction when the show ended and you watched through the projection room porthole and saw the audience leaving – you had entertained so many, and Oh!, the films in those days `King Kong`, – The show of shows, `-Superman` Series,` Mickey Mouse `, and of course the Newsreel which had a runner to transport it from one cinema to the other.
The old diesel engine kept running `big ends`, the old gas engine standing by. I kept having fires – life was full of surprises.My father by now had got greater ideas.he packed in Askern Cinema and was in mind of another Cinema A new Regal Cinema at Dunscroft – some 7 miles east of Doncaster. The new Regal opened the day war broke out, -then, of course, the way of life had to change