Children of today are warned not to speak to strangers at all times and likewise adults are wary of speaking to children that they don’t know in case they are accused of being a pervert.
How times have changed. Who can remember going to the cinema in the 1950s, and because the film classification was an A which meant that children had to be accompanied by an adult, going up to someone and saying ‘Can you tek us in with you, mester?’
Their world was black and white. Good guys against the bad guys. No shade of grey
The child would give the adult a tanner for their ticket, the adult would ask for one and a half, and in order to establish a relationship, sit with the child all through the film. Unbelievable, I know.
Luckily for many children the original version of The Magnificent Seven was a ‘U’ certificate and they were able to watch it to their heart’s content.
The present remake of the film is certainly a sign of the times with its 12A certificate denoting the extreme level of violence in it. What a shame.
Strangely enough the original film did nothing at the American box office but was a great hit in the UK.
But then, of all the most favourite things exported to us from the States, the western movie was right up there at the top.
How many of you, boys mostly, remember ‘Get offa yer horse and drink yer milk.’ or shouted ‘drop yer gun Kincaid’ whilst spending many happy hours playing at cowboys and Indians as children?
Cowboy heroes were many and varied during the 1950s and 1960s, but were usually without exception men’s men, pitting their wit against villainous characters, an unforgiving landscape and the wily Indians.
Their world was strictly black and white. The good guys against the bad guys. No shade of grey.
The hardship of family life and the toil on the womenfolk were not usually considerations. And few people in the West in those days lived beyond the age of 50.
In Sheffield every Saturday morning, scores of children queued outside the Ritz, Star, Plaza, Essoldo and Forum and many more in a time when there seemed to be a cinema in walking district of every home. In 1948 there were 65 cinemas which had dropped to 18 by 1969.
Eyes like saucers would follow the escapades of the Lone Ranger with his horse Silver, trusted friend Tonto with his horse Scout, Hopalong Cassidy with horse Topper, Roy Rogers and his horse Trigger or Gene Autry with his horse Champion.
The Durango Kid was one of the earliest western films, with 65 being made over the years from 1940 with Charles Starrett in the starring role.
However, no one was really bothered what the actors were called off screen. Real life was on the screen. The moment when the Lone Ranger shouted ‘Hi Ho Silver’ and rode off into the sunset to the strains of the William Tell Overture was indelibly stamped into young minds for ever.
Saturday morning film shows were a great time for children to let off steam, with parents often taking the chance to go shopping. The manager of the cinema would welcome the children before the show started, sometimes stopping the film halfway through to threaten children who were behaving badly.
Everyone would stand at the end for the National Anthem which depicted the Queen on her horse at the Trooping the Colour, and no-one would be allowed to leave the cinema until it had finished.
My husband remembers the cinema manager Uncle Bernard, at Stocksbridge Palace Cinema, who stood by the side of the screen and pretended to pat the horse.
When the picture zoomed up to show the Queen in close-up, he was then patting part of the Queen’s anatomy, provoking gales of laughter.
Everyone looked forward to this little Saturday morning comic routine or so he thought.
During the interval children would run up and down the isles looking for their friends, and purchase ice lollies or ice cream in little tubs with a wooden spoon from the harassed usherette.
Besides the westerns there were always cartoons with Mickey Mouse, Tom and Jerry, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck or Popeye. But the moment when the western was due to start provoked the biggest cheers.
The greatest cowboy of all time was John Wayne who made over 200 Western movies. He never really made the transition successfully to any other kind of film as can be remembered when he played a centurion in The Greatest Story Ever Told and uttered the immortal words ‘He truly wars the son of Gawd.’
Unfortunately with Westerns came the stereotyping of the American Indian. When we were children the cowboy would always be the good guy and the Indian would end up being chased and shot.
Many early films portray the Native Americans as savages and murderers whose sole aim is to kill or kidnap women or children.
Possibly the only ‘good’ Indian in the early western films was Tonto the Lone Ranger’s side kick.
However, he was always depicted as less intelligent than his boss.
In those days we didn’t think about issues like gun crime, injustice or racism. All that mattered was getting hold of the money for the Saturday morning film show and then playing cowboys and Indians for the rest of the week.
Although John Wayne was undeniably ‘The Duke’ as far as his film roles were concerned, his private views gave rise to concern.
So much that a proposed yearly John Wayne Day has recently been rejected at Congress because of his remarks supporting white supremacy and the selfishness of Native Americans in wanting to keep land for themselves.
An interesting point of view if you have ever seen just how much land there has always been for everyone in America, with the Native Americans being the first custodians of it anyway.
Given the bigot that he was, I wonder what he would have made of Brokeback Mountain.