Tony Lord: Childhood memories of The Gaumont Palace Cinema, Lewisham Hill

At about 1pm on a Saturday in 1934, just after my ninth birthday, my mother pressed a sixpence into my hand and told me to go to the pictures.

She said she was going shopping in Rye Lane, Peckham and didn’t want me tagging along behind her.

She was a smart, good-looking widow in her mid-30s but she was not so smart as me who knew she was going to entertain one of her boyfriends to tea and wanted me out of the way.

At that time we were living in a basement flat at the bottom of Lewisham Hill and the huge Gaumont Palace Cinema was just five minute’s walk away at the Obelisk.

There was a bit of a snag at this point because one of the films on the programme had an A certificate meaning that The British Board of Censors had decided that children unaccompanied by an adult couldn’t see it.

Films for children such as the ones featuring Shirley Temple, Micky Rooney, Judy Garland and the Bowery Boys had U certificates (universal) and anyone could go in.

Films about Dracula, Frankenstein and mummies coming to life had ‘H’ certificates and anyone under 16 couldn’t see them.

A cunning way to get round this ‘A’ film problem was to lurk around the steps of the picture house and accost a kind-looking lady and say, “Take me in, missus”.

The cashier would think the woman was my mother.

There was one never-to-be forgotten afternoon when a well-dressed lady wearing a fox-fur round her neck waved my sixpence away and bought me a choc-ice in the interval.

In those far-off days the programme was made up of two films and 10 minutes of Gaumont British News mostly about Hitler, Amy Johnson’s pioneering flights to Australia and South Africa, the FA Cup Final and the Boat Race.

But, on this particular afternoon the assassination of King Alexander of Yugoslavia unfolded before our eyes.

Tony Lord

The dapper little King had arrived that day in his battleship and then was to travel up to Paris to have political talks with the French Government.

When the King stepped ashore he was greeted by an elderly gentleman, the French Foreign Minister, Mr Barthou.

They stepped into their car, a Delage with the roof at the back let down and set off slowly up the street.

Security was lax, the police lining the route were too far apart with their backs to the excited crowd.

Lurking in the spectators was a Macedonian terrorist with a heavy Mauser pistol in his pocket.

As the car moved at walking pace past him this man, Keleman, dodged through the line of policemen, jumped on the car’s running board and shot the King twice.

He was rushed to hospital but was pronounced DOA. Baru was wounded in his arm and died later through loss of blood.

Keleman then killed a lady in the front of the crowd. (Wrong place, wrong time). One of the mounted escort slashed his sabre down on the gunman who died later in hospital.

The audience sat silently watching all this happen.

Space is limited so, moving on swiftly, I was in the same cinema almost three years later watching the Gaumont British News again.

This time it was the giant German airship, Hindenburg (main picture), 800 feet long, coming into the mooring mast at Lakehurst, New Jersey, after crossing the Atlantic from Frankfurt with 97 people on board.

As the camera turned the mooring lines were dropped and the zeppelin hung motionless 75 feet above the ground.
Suddenly the rear part of the airship burst into flame.

A huge mushroom of white fire billowed out of the stern. Within seconds the flames had shot through the whole airship.

The film shows the ground crew running madly away as the burning wreck sank down over them.

Amazingly 62 people survived out the 97 on board.

You can see these dramas on YouTube if you like. I still see these images in my mind’s eye when I’m lying in bed some 80 years later.

Some things you never forget.

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