Taylor - June 2008
Allan, as someone who has lived all my life in Durban, I find
your website absolutely fascinating and nostalgic. I particularly
enjoyed Gerald Buttigieg's description of "what did you
do for fun in Durban" [see here
and here], and I thought
that I would throw in some reminiscences of a period in time
slightly after that which Gerald so eloquently describes.
As a teenager
in Durban in the early sixties, I guess I was what is best
described as a "movie addict", except that the term
"bioscope" was the description in use at that time.
Judging from the number of people going to the movies in those
days, I wasn't alone.
holidays meant two things - beach and movies, and the time
of the year wasn't important because we didn't seem to notice
that it was winter during the July holidays, and that the
sea was cold. I lived in Musgrave Road, and for five cents
I could travel on the municipal bus into the centre of town.
I seem to remember that trolley buses were still being used,
and that if the driver accelerated too fast, a type of trip
switch went off, which he had to reset before the bus would
move again. It was also a regular occurrence for a trolley
to disengage from the overhead line, which meant that the
conductor had to draw out a long pole from a compartment at
the back of the bus, and use this to position the trolley
back onto the power wire.
than spend more bus money, I usually walked from the town
gardens to the area at South Beach where our particular gang
hung out, just below the stone wall next to the XL tea room.
We had a great time body surfing, playing touch rugby or soccer
(using what was known as a "Frido ball" - one of
those plastic blow up balls that invariably got popped during
an over robust tackle), and generally eyeing the chicks or
just sitting on the wall chatting.
us had surf boards - large heavy plywood constructed things
with a bung to let the water out after surfing. These had
aluminium skegs, and I recall that we had to take one of our
crowd across the road to Addington Hospital to get his head
stitched after the board had landed on him when being wiped
out on a rough day.
about 1pm, everyone packed up and headed to "bioscope
row" - which was the part of Smith Street in which was
situated the Embassy, 20th Century, Metro, Playhouse, and
Prince's (which at some stage was converted into the Cinerama).
There was also the nearby Picadilly. The tea room cinemas
mentioned by Gerald (Roxy, Oxford, Capri) had by that time
become unfashionable for our crowd, on the basis that only
the lower classes frequented them!!
for 14 cents you could gain entry to one of the movie theatres,
and sit anywhere you liked. This was ostensibly for the first
ten rows (I think that it was 20 cents behind these) but no-one
took too much notice of this. Which theatre you selected was
generally based upon the number of attractive young ladies
in the queue, so I guess the motivation for going to the movies
was primarily for social reasons.
to the quiet, staid atmosphere of today's cinema, matinee
performances in the early sixties can only be described as
a riot. All theatres were generally packed, and the hooligan
element was always present, although their actions were more
fun orientated than harmful. Once the lights dimmed, toilet
rolls flew like streamers across the theatre, to the delight
of the audience. Before the main movie, news was presented
either by way of African Mirror, Movietone, or Pathe. One
of these had a rooster crowing as part of the opening credits,
and some enterprising person smuggled a live chicken into
the theatre, and at precisely the right moment, threw this
on the stage - seeing the ushers trying to retrieve the bird
to derisive calls from the audience, was hilarious.
colleague of mine had always been intrigued by the interior
of the Playhouse, with its artificial sky with stars, and
the lighted battlements and castle-like structures. He decided
that it would be an ideal environment for bats, and hid three
banana bats that he had caught in a box in his kit bag, which
he released during the movie. The bats flew around above the
audience and across the screen for some time, before roosting
somewhere - perhaps their descendants are still there!
early sixties, large parts of the world including South Africa
were Beatle crazy. I remember that it was decided to screen
the Beatles film "A Hard Days Night" for the first
time in Durban at a matinee on school break up day. The theatre
in question was the 20th Century, and for some reason the
management did not open the doors until quite late (these
were of a folding glass / wood construction). Invariably the
crowd became restless, and the pressure on the doors caused
the entire structure to collapse. Ushers ran for cover, while
the crowd rushed in to grab the best seats.
our rituals after the movies was to head for the Model Dairy
opposite the side of the post office, where they served great
old fashioned mikshakes.