Monday, October 01, 2012

Lewisham 1956: 'Rock Rock Rock!'

The 1956 release of the film Rock Around the Clock famously saw riotous scenes at cinemas around the country. The trouble at the Gaumont cinema in Lewisham has been mentioned here before.  The Observer recently reproduced an article about it by Anthony Sampson, originally published in the paper on 16 September 1956.

'Nobody in the one-and-tenpennies at the Lewisham Gaumont took much notice of the News. The pretty Teddy girl next to us, with an apple face, short tousled hair and a pony-tail, had her feet up on the seats in front and was smoking a cigarette.

She was 15, and she worked in a shoe-store at New Cross, she said. The boy on whose lap she was sitting was 18, on leave from the army. They talked to the American girl next to me. "What are American teenagers like? I bet they're hep-cats! But the Americans got no one like Diana Dors. She's gorgeous. I don't like that Marilyn girl – she's covered in make-up."

The News ended. "I'm getting in the groove," yelled a small boy unconvincingly. Some more boys – all with the same cropped hair and long dark coats – sat down in a bunch.The title appeared – Rock Around the Clock. There was a shout of "doyng" – a teenage cry. Then a loud, wild shout beat out, with a sudden throbbing, like an express train rushing through a station. One, two, three o'clock, four o'clock ROCK! Five, six, seven o'clock, eight o'clock ROCK!

Everyone roared the words. Then, just before the music stopped, the stamping stopped. The plot – about a dance band promoter suffering from the dance band slump – took over. "I've seen it five times," said the soldier. "I'm going every night this week. You should have seen this place last night. Jiving on the stage they were, till the cops came."

There were six policemen standing around the auditorium. The plot reached the stage where the promoter was being taken to see a village dance hall. There was great tension as he approached. He pushed the door open and said: "See you later, Alligator."

The audience roared the words as jivers whirled across the screen. The stamping and finger-snapping started again. A boy in front stood up and started jiving in front of his seat. A policeman appeared at the end of the row and pointed firmly at him. The boy hesitated for a moment, looked at his friends, and then walked sullenly out with the policeman, followed by some of his friends. There was a mutter of resentment, but the stamping went on.

One of the boys came back. "They got a meat-wagon in front and put Ernie in it," he said. There was a lot of growling and then 20 of them trooped out, pulling faces at the policemen and jerking their knees towards them as they passed.They came out on the pavement, where hundreds of people were waiting expectantly. Three policemen followed them, edging them down the road in a slow march. As soon as they got ahead of the police, the ringleader of the group shouted ROCK ROCK ROCK, and two girls started jiving while everyone clapped. A police car glided up: someone shouted "The law!", and they all walked faster.

The Gaumont Palace was on Loampit Vale and later became the Lewisham Odeon. The building was demolished in 1991.

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