Polaroid pics of a school trip in 1974

school trip 1974

Aged ten, I was given a Polaroid instant camera and was thrilled to bits. In my small hands, it wasn’t easy to hold this large chunk of cream plastic with big orange buttons but that didn’t matter.

The first assignment I took it on was a school trip around Essex in my last year before secondary school. This would have been just after the eleven-plus exam when some of my friends, who’d failed, were sent off to secondary modern. Seems incredible now but the old system of selection at eleven years of age meant that kids were basically written off and denied a second chance.

Those that passed the eleven-plus with a fair grade went to the local comprehensive. And the best grades went to grammar – if they passed the entrance exam or interview with the head teacher. I hated exams but scraped through the exam. And somehow wormed my way into a grammar.

Anyway, the school trip was to a very picturesque village called Finchingfield in deepest Essex and an old Saxon wooden church at Greensted. We spent most of the day horsing around and signing each other’s autograph books. And then I whipped out my Polaroid to take a few snaps.

Unfortunately, in their haste to see the photos my mates stuck their fingers all over them before they’d properly dried. So their prints have been preserved there for the last 45 years. And what a riot of 70s fashion you get in the photos – so many synthetic fibres and flares. We look like the kids in Scooby Doo or Stranger Things.

School trip in 1974

Fighting for kids’ films in the 1970s

Today in my fifties – I love the movies of the 1970s. It was the decade that gave us the Godfather, Exorcist and Apocalypse Now. But there was one problem being a kid at the time (aged ten in 1973), it was impossible most of the time to enter my local cinema.

Why? Because nearly all the movies were X-rated (the 18 rating today). Adults were well catered for at the flicks nearly fifty years ago. Porn, violence and bloodthirsty horror was available by the bucketload. But films that kids could watch were thin on the ground. We just weren’t box office as far as the local fleapit was concerned. In fact, we were viewed as something of a nuisance to be humoured in the school breaks – and not in between.

Well, a group of us at junior school decided we’d had enough. One of our two local cinemas – the art deco Plaza on George Lane in South Woodford – shut its doors in 1973 leaving only the Majestic, a much bigger cinema on the main road. But week after week, its three screens showed X-rated stuff and nothing else.

Me looking very serious behind the letter X

So, imbued with the spirit of protest of the times, we started demonstrating outside the Majestic on a Saturday afternoon. The cinema chain was called the ABC. Therefore, we painted on old rolls of wallpaper used as makeshift banners:

“ABC = X”

And other slogans. Weekend after weekend we stood outside. Within the glass doors the beleaguered cinema manager Mr Sergeant peered out chain-smoking on roll-ups with his slick-backed hair, waiting for us to give up and go away. But then the local newspapers started coming along to take photos of us and interview the young protestors.

And finally, BBC Radio London – as it then was – came round to my house to interview myself and co-founder of this protest movement, Ian Jefferies. Another co-founder, Neil Arnold, wasn’t around that day. But he needs to be name checked even after all these years!

Poor old Mr Sergeant took the whole matter up with this superiors at EMI – who owned the ABC chain – and amazingly they relented. So what did they offer us? Every weekend, they would bring back “Saturday Morning Flicks” – which had been a regular feature in the 1950s and 60s.

Out went the lame excuses about our health and safety and needing more staff to look after us – and in came movies and features we could actually watch. Don’t get me wrong – some of it was rubbish. But along we went with our whoopee cushions and stink bombs to cause mayhem at the cinema while slurping on our Kia-Ora “orange” juice (well, it was coloured orange and that’s all I can say).

A protest movement of young kids in 1973 and 1974 that demanded more U rated movies and less X rated films