LOOKING BACK - February 13, 2020 edition

Former Rugby Advertiser reporter John Phillpott recalls a local character who brightened many people’s lives back in the 1950s and 60s…

Thursday, 13th February 2020, 9:37 am
Updated Thursday, 13th February 2020, 9:38 am
John Phillpott, when he was an Advertiser reporter in the 1960s

FOR a man who spent most of his life indoors, Charlie Field certainly had a remarkable sun tan.

And a fine head of hair, too. With not a hint of a widow’s peak, the hairline started in perfect alignment on the brim of his forehead, the lustrous locks then sent cascading back, forming rivulets of brylcreemed jet-black waves.

And to top it all off, Charlie’s crowning glory was perfectly complimented by a perfect row of gleaming, white teeth.

Small wonder then that Charlie liked to smile a lot. When Charlie welcomed you into his regal presence, it was a burst of radiance that instantly informed the beholder that they were in the company of showbiz royalty.

Well, that’s probably how Charlie saw it. But in truth, Charlie was actually a large fish in a small Rugby pond for he was the manager of the Granada Cinema in North Street. Sorry, correction – the Granada THEATRE in North Street.

Because that’s how he liked to regard his empire of sound and moving pictures that once stood in all its majestic grandeur opposite the Benn Memorial Hall.

In the 1960s, unless they were absolute blockbusters, most films stayed for only a week in provincial cinemas. These ‘flicks’ would be accompanied by a ‘b’ picture, usually either a Western or a horror movie.

As a young reporter, I was developing an insatiable appetite for anything to do with entertainment. Writing an entire broadsheet page devoted to show news meant that I had to constantly trawl the Rugby area for stories.

Charlie was not slow in cottoning on to the activities of this young upstart who had been given so much power on the Rugby Advertiser. And that’s why he was invariably on the phone, hoping to attract me to one of his publicity stunts.

And as far as these were concerned, Charlie was an expert. Whenever an event was being staged, he would ring me up and ask if the Advertiser could cover it.

But one Saturday morning, I was present at a stunt which went seriously wrong. Somehow or other, Charlie had managed to persuade a local farmer to ‘lend’ him a flock of sheep to publicise a film that presumably had an agricultural flavour.

The sheep were penned as you might expect. But half way through the proceedings, and undoubtedly panicking because of all the human attention, one of the animals reared up and broke through the fencing.

And that was it. Sheep being sheep, the others followed through and before anyone realised what was happening, the entire flock was running up North Street, forcing vehicles to a standstill and pedestrians to take evasive action.

This was obviously a good news story. What had begun as potential material for my page was now a cracking tale destined for the news section and that’s how it was presented in the next edition of the Advertiser.

Despite all of Charlie’s pretensions, the Rugby Granada was actually a bit of a fleapit. It was an old brick building built in 1933, and originally called the Plaza, but changed its name in 1946.

Many Rugby people will recall as children being members of the Grenadiers, and attending Saturday morning film sessions, which invariably served up cowboy movies or Norman Wisdom comedies.

Once you had sat down in your seat, you were transformed into a land of fantasy and fun. But the one thing that really sticks in my mind was how the noise levels could reach astronomic heights as around 300 children aged between five and 13 screamed, whistled, shouted and booed at every opportunity.

To try and keep some sort of order, cinema staff would pass through the building and randomly hand out shillings to the better behaved children.

But once you had that shilling in your damp little palm, you could pretty much behave as badly as you liked. And as soon as they had all been given out, it was absolute bedlam.

When a Western feature was showing, it was customary for small boys to come dressed for the part. This meant arriving at the Granada complete with check shirt, cowboy hat, and gun belt with holstered Lone Star six-shooters, the weapon of choice for most small boys in those days. It was brilliant fun and utter chaos.

By the 1970s, audience numbers were dwindling, and the Granada finally closed its doors on February 28, 1976. The building was converted into a Granada Bingo Club, which in May 1991 become a Gala Bingo Club. The building was put up for sale in 2007.

Tragically, it was demolished in November, 2011. And with it went a whole host of happy memories, not least of which was working with the irrepressible Charlie Field, he of the permanent sun tan and jet-black dyed hair.

Footnote: Author John Phillpott is currently working on a memoir about his days on the Rugby Advertiser during the 1960s.