Childrens' film shows in the 1950s

The Astoria when it was a bingo hall
From the 'My Brighton' CD

ABC Minors
Like so many other kids in the pre-TV age I went there every Saturday morning between about 1957 and 1963 for the wonderful ABC Minors children’s film shows.The shows commenced with a singalong to various pub standards – ‘My Old Man Said Follow The Van’, etc. – accompanied by bouncing-ball prompt on screen. This invariably culminated with ‘We Are The ABC Minors’ sung to the tune of a well-known military march whose title escapes me (anybody?).

There then followed a cartoon – Bugs Bunny, Tom and Jerry, etc. – a short Pathe Pictorial documentary and a serial. The latter were the classic pre-war black-and-white cliffhangers and I particularly recall Zorro, Batman (pre-Robin) and Flash Gordon. After the interval there came a feature film, often in monochrome but occasionally, and excitingly, in colour. Examples were “The Legion’s Last Patrol” with Alan Ladd, “The Alamo” with John Wayne and the various Sinbad adventures.

The whole programme started at 9am and finished at midday. Entrance was sixpence for the stalls and ninepence for the circle (old money, of course). My mother would give me a shilling (5p) to pay for entrance (6d), a Lyon’s ice lolly (3d) and bus fare on the 26 trolley between St Saviour’s and St Peter’s (three-halfpence each way). Sometimes I’d walk and use the saved bus fares to pay for admission to the circle. The kids in the circle would often drop their ice-lolly sticks and other sticky objects on the kids below in the stalls, and I must admit to occasionally succumbing to the temptation to do the same.

2001: a Space Odyssey
My other abiding memory of the Astoria was going to see ‘2001: a Space Odyssey’ on its first release in 1968, shortly before I left for university in Bath. This brilliant psychedelic movie on the huge screen, the soundtrack booming through the massive speakers, left an impression on me that has never faded, and it remains my favourite film to this day. I recall walking home still trying to fathom out what the ending was about.

Lone Survivor
Not long after this the inevitable conversion to a bingo hall followed, and that was that for the Astoria. I read recently that of the fifteen purpose-built cinemas or coverted theatres remaining in Brighton and Hove in the fifties, only one – The Duke of York’s – is still extant, having survived as an art-house movie venue. Long may it remain so, as a reminder of a happy cinema-going age long gone.

Comments about this page

  • The words were (if I remember right as it was in the late 40s):

    We are the boys and girls from Brighton, members of the ABC,
    And every Saturday we line up, to see the films we love and shout aloud with glee.
    We are are the boys and girls from Brighton, what a happy band are we-ee
    We’re are all pals together, we’re members of the ABC

    The tune was a Sousa March, I think.

    Another song was:
    There’s a worm at the bottom of the garden whose name is Wiggly Woo

    I will now go hide and hope that my mates are not reading this! Happy days.

    By Patrick Collins (Catswhiskas) (20/04/2007)
  • My recollections date form the late 40’s. The march tune was “Blaze Away”, I think by W. Rimmer and dated from the First World War.

    By Raymond (Dickie) Bird (25/04/2007)
  • Cheers Dickie. The name of that march has been nagging me since I put the piece on the site. I think I must have marched miles in and behind bands playing it and always sang the same old words. Ain’t it strange the things that stick in your mind over the years? Good old times in the 40s but better still when the rationing finished.

    By Pat Collins(Catswhiskas) (27/04/2007)
  • Ah – memories! Do you remember fancy dress at Christmas, and the Guy Fawkes competition?  l had to pay bus fare to get my guy to the cinema! Then there was the organ that went into the ground. What was the man’s name?  Uncle Chips – l think!

    By Sheila Jones (12/09/2007)
  • Does anyone remember the organ which rose up from the basement?

    By Terry Lever (02/05/2008)
  • I remember it so well. We used to go there Saturday mornings. My mum use to give us a bottle of fizzy lemonade to take with us. Thanks Pat for reminding me of the songs, I had forgotten about those (senior moment).

    By Maralyn (07/08/2008)
  • I used to go to kids’ Saturday morning pictures at the Granada, Hove. (It was where my mother working as an usherette first met my father during WW2. Apparently his first words to her were, “Have you got any free samples? I was the first of nine ‘samples’ that followed down the years.) The Granada was an ABC cinema just like the Astoria, so we also sung the ABC Minors song before the picture show started. My recollection of the words are: “We are the boys and girls well known as Minors of the ABC. And every Saturday we all line up to see the films, We like to shout aloud with glee. We love to laugh and have a sing-song, Just a happy band are we-ee. We’re all pals together; We’re Minors of the ABC.” I remember Batman being shown as a fifteen part black & white serial. There used to be some lock up garages close to the Granada. Me and my chums used to run along the flat roofs with only the top button of our raincoats done up, jumping from one garage to the other. The macs formed a good cape. Coming back to the Astoria; in its latter days of being a cinema a group of local politicians from the three major parties used to meet in the bar every Friday night. It wasn’t unusual to see the likes of Dennis Hobden and Danny Sheldon talking amicably about a current issue. The manager (named ‘Chick’?) used to welcome the Friday Club as the gathering was called.

    By Danny Hornby (02/10/2008)
  • I was one of the monitors at the Saturday morning shows at the Astoria. We got in free (saved 6 pence) but had to make sure that there was no queue jumping, no trouble inside and had to give each child that entered a collectors card. There were about 30 to a set, so theoretically each kid had to regularly attend for more than half a year before his set was anywhere near complete. As monitors, our sets were completed long before that, and I still have several of them today. I recall the one on athletes featured Pirrie, Chatterway, Lynn Davies and Bannister’s four minute mile.

    By Roy Grant (06/11/2008)
  • The minors song`We are the boys and girls well known as… was definitely `BLAZE AWAY`. I rose to the grand position of Monitor at the Astoria. Free Admission. My first job was to guard the emergency door by the male toilets to stop anyone letting their friends in for free by that route. I then graduated to being in charge of a number of rows of seats. My time there was around 1948 to 1952

    By Ron Hart (30/11/2009)
  • Very pleasing to see that my entry above has been edited and included in QueenSpark’s excellent new book “Back Row Brighton: Cinema-going in Brighton and Hove”. This is a first-class publication for the Brighton (and Hove) nostalgiast, as are all their other books. Highly recommended.

    By Len Liechti (31/01/2010)
  • Any chance of interior tours being arranged? Until the possiblity of a music venue or even cinema use again this would help to satisfy the many fans of this wonderful cinema. Contact me at 0752 7802029 at any time to discuss! Chris (former regular at the Astoria since 1950).

    By Chris Fruin (04/08/2010)
  • I have just read some of the letters on the Saturday morning pictures at the Astoria- it was the highlight of my week. I used to go with my friend Jenny Johnson if she could get the money, Charlie Hale and Ted Yeates. As soon as I was old enough I became a monitor so I could get in free, you had to make all the kids behave and then pick up all their rubbish that they discarded on the floor, you were always left with a cliff hanger and you couldn’t wait till the following week to see if the hero got away okay. My daughter too went to the Astoria so she too knew the ABC song. I am now 75 and when we talk about old times both my daughter, husband and I all sing it and have a good laugh. Happy Days. 

    By Ann Roberts nee Wickham (18/08/2012)
  • I was an ABC minor in the late ’50s, and my favourite show on Saturday mornings at the Astoria was ‘Rocketman’. He had an atomic rocket powered suit and would use it when he had to go and fight evil. It had a control panel on his chest with 3 buttons: up, down and speed. Press up, take 2 steps forward and leap into the air. I would rush out of the cinema trying to jump off the pavement. I had the control panel but I lacked the required rocket pack!

    By Richard Godden (05/09/2012)
  • Re The Saturday morning pictures, I remember the words to the song as follows:

    We are the Boys and Girls well known as members of the A B C.

    And every saturday all line up to see the films we like and shout aloud with glee.

    We like to laugh and have a sing song just a happy crowd are we.

    We are all pals together we are members of the A B C.

    Any comments?



    By Peter Miller (19/02/2014)
  • I’ve only just come across this page trying to research films I watched at the Brighton Astoria in the 40’s early 50’s.

    I lived off Franklin Road and would walk to the Astoria on a Saturday morning with my two sisters through the ‘Level’ Park along with a few friends. One called Dennis who lived opposite.

    We sang the ABC song and watched Woody Woodpecker, Laurel and Hardy etc then Flash Gordon and a film that featured a boy living in a cave I think with a white horse which he rode bareback to save various incidents. I also remember a film with a small group of children with a blonde haired girl seeming to be the leader. My sisters liked this film. I also remember the film of Gordon ‘Puff puff’ Pirie who, I think, appeared at Preston Park cycle track on one occasion. Afterwards on the way home we would go into the museum which had many natural history items. These comments have reminded me of the atmosphere that existed in the stalls and I remember the lolly sticks being lobbed down from above. Now 76 I’d forgotten most of this and thanks to the contributors for jolting the memories.

    By Ron Woodham (27/08/2020)

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