The day the music died at Cork's Savoy cinema

In Throwback Thursday, JO KERRIGAN returns to the topic of cinemas — recalling the dismantling of the Savoy organ, and the time nuns halted a showing of Gigi!
The day the music died at Cork's Savoy cinema

The removal of the organ from the Savoy Cinema in December, 1970. Con Healy recalls being involved in the removal — the organ ended up in University Limerick Concert Hall.

WE have had quite a few readers sharing their childhood experiences of earning some much-needed cash by doing odd jobs, collecting waste paper, or running errands, following recent Throwback Thursday articles.

John O’Leary remembers working for Mrs Corcoran’s shop in High Street.

“She sold potatoes, veg, and other groceries,” says John. “On week-days, my sister and myself used to deliver the bread to her customers during our school lunch break. We got 3d each per day.”

“On Saturdays, I used to deliver the potatoes and veg to her customers in the morning, and the bread from lunchtime on. I got two shillings for that.”

“All Mrs Corcoran’s customers had accounts and paid the bills weekly, as did my own mother. She kept a ledger with all purchases made listed.”

John shares his other memories of growing up in Cork.

“I remember we used to collect American Civil war cards that came with packs of chewing gum. We also played marbles against the kerb in High Street, and outside our school, the Model School on Anglesea Street.

“Unfortunately, I can’t remember the chewing gum make, only the cards which depicted battle scenes, and the fact that the gum was a thin square shape, pink in colour.

“I used to buy marbles from McCarthy’s toy shop in Douglas Street.”

John now lives in Dublin but is still a true Corkonian.

“Pre-Covid, I got down for two to three week-ends per year, as I have two sisters living in Cork, and of course I support Cork City FC.

“My two sons, who are Dubs, also support Cork City, so we come down to the games together.”

Ah, you can take the man out of Cork, but you can’t take Cork out of the man!

Another reader, Michael English, contributes some useful information on those Savoy Sunday night booking arrangements we mentioned last week.

“There was a permanent booking list available, but people on that list had to collect their tickets by Wednesday, otherwise they went on general sale.

“These tickets were then often on sale again outside the Savoy on Sunday night, so you could take a chance on being lucky, if you didn’t mind paying a bit more. Just like Croke Park on All Ireland final day, with ticket touts outside really.

“The box office remained open on Sunday nights, as far as I remember, as sometimes the show was not completely sold out.”

The Savoy and the Capitol hosted Variety Concerts on Sunday afternoons, recalls Michael, featuring local talent (and at the Savoy, national and international stars from time to time).

“These concerts featured singers, Irish dancers (The Lehane Twins were very popular) and various dance troupes. Danny Hobbs was MC and also told a few jokes.

“Brendan O’Brien appeared there before he joined the Dixies. Johnny McEvoy filled the Savoy one Sunday afternoon when he was on the circuit with his hit Mursheen Durkin. And The Irish Film Society also screened ‘foreign’ films on Sunday afternoons at the Lee and the Cameo.”

On the topic of newsreels, Frank Desmond wants to remind younger readers that in the 1950s, there simply was no television and thus no TV news in Ireland. Radio, of course, we had, but not films of actual events.

“That at least partly explains why in the mid-1950s the Savoy was always full on a Sunday night, and getting in then was an achievement in itself.

“I know this because my own father was rather proud of the fact that he could get himself in there every single time (because he knew the right person).

“As for my own visits to the Savoy, I do remember once seeing the organist you mention and the lyrics on the screen but I cannot remember the film I was going to see at the time.”

Frank’s most vivid memory of going to the Savoy was seeing The Greatest Story Ever Told, with Max von Sydow as Jesus Christ.

“The crowd of schoolchildren was so massive that day that when I finally did get to the ticket window, the wave of kids trying literally to get their hand in was such that I was temporarily swept right away from that window. (Only when I grew up did I learn that this movie was notorious for John Wayne as a Roman soldier saying ‘Truly, this man was the Son of God’.)”

MUSIC MAESTRO: Fred Bridgeman, the Savoy Cinema’s famous organist, pictured outside Robert Day’s fish tackle shop in Bowling Green Street, Cork city
MUSIC MAESTRO: Fred Bridgeman, the Savoy Cinema’s famous organist, pictured outside Robert Day’s fish tackle shop in Bowling Green Street, Cork city

And here is a wonderful update on Fred Bridgeman’s famous musical instrument, coming from Con Healy.

“To let your readership know, I was one of the people to dismantle and remove the organ from the Savoy. It was bought by Russell Winn. He had a R&D facility in Kilbrittain and he lived in Kilbrittain Castle, which he restored. He had a trove of items, which included some lovely old cars, he collected from all over.

“We began the work in the early summer, 1975, I remember the first day we arrived to start to dismantle the organ. We weren’t allowed to begin as there was a film being shown in the afternoon, Magnificent Chivalry. So we watched the film as we had to wait around.

“It was the intention of Mr Winn to install the organ in the tower of his castle home. It took us several weeks to dismantle and remove the organ.

“The console was the piece the public saw, but there were rooms full of pipes and air ducts and cables and brackets. It was all stored in a shed at Kilbrittain Castle, another project on the to-do list.”

Sadly, Con says, Russell Winn died in a plane crash in 1980. His effects were auctioned off and the legendary Savoy organ was purchased by Limerick University.

Wonder if it’s still there, and if they have set it up so that its unforgettable tone can be heard again? But thank you so much Con for that unexpected bonus information!

Meanwhile, back to the cinema, and Mary O’Leary’s family weren’t great cinema-going fans, she says, “but when we were in Courtmacsherry each summer, films were shown in Ruddock’s Hall.

“Now, that hall would strike terror into the heart of the health and safety people today. It was situated over a garage (think petrol, oil, grease, etc), and accessed by outside stone steps.

“The films were not exactly new releases, but we didn’t care. The system was quite simple: children sat in front and the adults in the rows behind. They sat on long forms — no red plush seats, in fact, no back support at all.

“Right at the back there were several full size oil drums with planks laid on top. These seats were the exclusive preserve of teenagers with raging hormones and woe betide anyone else who attempted to try for a perch there!”

Mary recalls seeing A Night To Remember, a 1958 black and white film about the Titanic. “That one wasn’t a good choice for my asthmatic sister.”

Another offering was Reach For The Sky, a 1956 offering about pilot Douglas Bader, who lost both his legs in World War II, starring Kenneth More.

Mary recalls: “My friend, Diarmuid, tells of one night that his mother was not inclined to let him go and the only way he got around her was by persuading her that it was a religious film.

“It was in fact Barabbas, made in 1961, and from the description I have read, I am glad I wasn’t around that week and didn’t see it!”

Ruddock’s Hall, she says, was a saviour for teenagers on wet days. “We had access to the key through one of the Ruddocks, and would bring a record player to the hall and have our own hops. Simple times, happy days and at no cost. Who needed good weather on holidays in West Cork?”

Margaret Holly wonders if anyone else can remember a showing of Gigi at South Pres in the early 1960s.

“Everyone was given a free bottle of Coke. It must have been a promotion and it was the first time I had tasted it. 

"While that in itself is memorable, what really sticks in my mind is that the film ‘broke down’ half way through and the nuns seemingly couldn’t get the projector going again.

“In truth, they didn’t like the turn the film was taking and stopped the show! 

"Years later, it was showing in the Ritz in Washington Street and, on an impulse, I went in and finally saw Leslie Caron, Maurice Chevalier and Hermione Gingold perform to the finish!”

Yes, Margaret, this writer well remembers a serious discussion the nuns at St Angela’s had with senior girls about the advisability of going to see that film.

“My mother says it’s just about teaching a girl to become a woman,” said one student wisely. And so we all went.

Mind you, I think the reality of Gigi’s education went right over our young heads back then. One wonders how on earth the censors let in a film with such a theme as training a girl in the arts of a ‘poule de luxe’, but possibly the songs disguised that side of it effectively, especially when delivered by Maurice Chevalier.

******

Now listen, there are two interesting dates coming up. February 15 will mark the 50th anniversary of the day Ireland went decimal, quitting forever the pounds, shillings and pence, and embracing a new European concept of numbers coming in tens rather than sixes, twelves, and twenties.

So what did we learn all those ‘times tables’ for? Can you remember what it was like to go from a long-held habit to a completely new one? Let us know if you do.

The second date is February 17, Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent. Back in the 1950s and ’60s, Lent was a harshly demanding period before Easter allowed relaxation once more. The Church enforced the strict regulations on fasting and sacrifice. Can you remember what you tried to give up in Lent? Tell us your memories. Email jokerrigan1@gmail.com.

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