Sheffield Film Theatre memories at the Abbeydale Cinema

We’ve been asking people to send us their stories and memories from the old Abbeydale Picture House in the run up to this weekend’s Picture House Revival.

Thank you very much to  Jude Warrender for this ace piece of local reminiscence:

SFT programme 1968 001When I was in the sixth form at Abbeydale Girls Grammar School (ex Bannerdale Centre) in the mid-sixties, I was doing modern languages (German and French) as my main A levels.

I passed the cinema, of course, every day on the 17 or 24 bus to school from my home in Page Hall. It was a time when one still had several local cinemas close to home, although I suspect the seeds of their decline were already germinating quietly…

Sheffield was a much greyer place in those days. I longed to be in control of my own destiny, and studying languages and other countries represented an exotic world far beyond that was within my reach. Food, landscape, lifestyle – the continent was another world.

One way of accessing these exotic realms was to join the Sheffield Film Club. This showed foreign films (we‘d now say ‘World cinema’) once a month on a Sunday afternoon. So I travelled across the city yet again on my own, met my school friend from Chelsea Road there and often went back to her house for tea afterwards. My mum religiously, and with an immense amount of effort, cooked a “Sunday dinner” without fail in the side oven to the fire at home, and I was happy to escape the house whenever I went to the Abbeydale – especially in the summer when stoking the fire mainly to cook food would give us all cheeks like beetroot AND exhaust my poor arthritic mother. I vowed never to eat Sunday dinner when I left home, which “swallowed” the day and ‘consumed’ the people eating it in turn!

I can’t remember how much I paid, nor have I sadly any programmes extant from that period, (if they published such – it may have just been a plain typed list that was issued) – but I recall some of the films I saw, including some classic 60s East European films. The sum of 3/6d springs to mind, and in light of the price quoted in a paragraph below, this may be correct.

On googling ‘Sheffield Film Theatre’, only one old reference seems to come up – a photo on Picture Sheffield of 3 civic dignitaries from the local newspaper on the occasion of it opening in the Library Theatre in 1967. So I’ve also no idea when it was started, or by whom, but undoubtedly the success of the Showroom, which has grown out of that same interest in film, and also nurtured in the interim by Dave Godin at The Anvil, can be traced back to that commitment to show quality world cinema in the city.

Ironically, I have just found, in a suitcase of papers from my late husband in our attic roof space, a film theatre programme from 1968 – when the club had already moved to the library theatre. (scanned copy attached). It has sat there for the 32 years that we’ve been in this house. In Feb-Mar ’68 the sum total was 9 films, incl. one matinee each month; tickets cost 4 shillings (20 new pence).

I don’t specifically remember any other people from that era at the cinema, (one is sitting in the dark, after all!), but decades later, when I was in my late fifties, something really strange happened. I had been introduced by my mother-in–law to an elderly lady who was leaving Sheffield and wanted to pass on her German fiction books from her late husband. She thought I might like them.
On going into her living room to collect them I saw a photo on the mantelpiece of her husband, and said – “Oh, I know who your husband is!”

I realized that, though I didn’t know him personally, his face was one of those I had seen all my adult life at Sheffield films; he was one of those who was always at the Sheffield Film Theatre, invariably on his own, and smiling benignly. I learnt his life story, and that of the couple, which stands as a remarkable testament to Sheffielders’ friendship, .., and perhaps explains that smile.
The following is not directly related to the history of the Abbeydale, but here goes…

He and his (then) fiancée were German speaking Czech Jews trying to escape Prague in 1938. After many aborted attempts, and through the offices of a family friend who was keen on Esperanto, the couple was accepted by a Communist Esperanto speaking tram driver from Sheffield, who agreed to sponsor the whole family in his Council house in Shiregreen. And so they came.. and their lives were saved, even though things were not plain sailing on arrival, and they half starved getting here.

The couple was, of course, immensely grateful for this act of generosity and kindness. He took an interest ever after in Sheffield, his wife said, in international friendship and cooperation; so his membership of the film theatre would quite fit with that experience.

His family connections, which I gathered from the funeral eulogy his wife kindly gave me, also made my jaw drop: his uncle was Max Brod, an author in his own right, little known here except in more literary circles for saving Kafka’s works from destruction ( as Kafka had commanded him to carry out) and as the editor of his diaries.

Thus, starting off as a working class child, daughter of a tram driver, who thought that history is something that happens “everywhere else”, I get another example how one bumps into major historical connections almost by accident.

I still enjoy going to the cinema as much as ever, and would much rather see a film of the big screen than watch it at home on a DVD. For atmosphere, social ambiance, “a night out”, clarity of image and sound there is no competition. Those world cinema films too, that I have continued to watch all my life, have also taught me much about other cultures and lifestyles. So thank you Abbeydale for starting it all off!

Jude Warrender,  June 2015.

judewarrender@gmail.com

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