Hank's A Child Caught in a War
The year was 1942. We were living in Moseley, one of the grander suburbs of
In order to escape the death that rained down from the skies in those early years of the war, my father had the uncanny knack of moving us to what was destined to become the Luftwaffe’s next major target. So we had moved from Luton (major tank and aeroplane production factories), to Liverpool (major port for receiving raw materials from abroad), to Coventry (another major armaments manufacturing centre) to Birmingham (the industrial heart of Britain).
It was only sixty years later that I realised he hadn’t intended to put us in danger. His self-imposed role for the war was to entertain the workers. As a conductor and concert pianist in peacetime, he’d converted himself into a cinema organist and impresario for the duration of the war. So he went wherever the factories were located.
In between the supporting and main film – there were always two films in those days – he would rise up from the bowels of the orchestra pit on his shiny, multi-coloured Compton organ. Flamboyant is probably a good word to describe my father. He would bestride his organ seat, black tails almost flapping in the wind, white hair slicked back with brilliantine, pale face reflecting the coloured lights, organ pipes blasting out something like The Valkyrie to give dramatic effect.
Then he would break into a popular wartime tune as words appeared on the blank screen, and the little ball would bounce over each word in turn. Audiences needed no encouragement to break into hearty voice ...
‘Run, run, run ...
‘We’ve got the Bosch on the
‘Run, run, run ...’
Or maybe he’d play,
‘We’re gonna hang out our washing on the Siegfried Line
‘Have you any dirty washing mother dear?
‘’Cos the washing day is here
‘Whether the weather may be wet or fine
‘We’ll just rub along without a care
‘We’re gonna hang out the washing on the Siegfried Line
‘If the Siegfried Line’s still there.’
Sometimes an air raid warning would try to burst above the noise inside the cinema but it would only make the audience sing louder and with more determination. Nobody was going to leave their seat and miss all the fun.
In a more sombre mood, he would play,
‘There’ll be Blue birds over
‘The white cliffs of
‘Tomorrow just you wait and see ...’
Most sombre of all was the time when he played the main theme from Swan Lake, with the cinema darkened and only the pale glow of a swan being slowly pulled across the stage by a thin cord. The hall was hushed throughout as people gave it their own personal meaning, and there’d be a wave of applause at the end. And many a tear shed for loved ones lost.
It was said that people went as much for the organ intermission as for the attraction of the films.
It became a daily ritual for me. As soon as school finished in the afternoon I would rush to the cinema. If my father was in his office – he owned the cinema as well as played the organ – I would ask if I could get an ice cream and go sit in the back row of the circle. If he was out, I would sit on his revolving seat, set behind his grand desk, and spin round and round until he returned. I’d never seen a revolving seat before and I was the envy of my schoolmates when I would describe it to them.
My love for the cinema and films began in
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