A wander through the refurbished Civic Theatre brought back many fond memories for Sandra Holling.
It was where as a child, she spent many hours cleaning the floors and marvelling at the new movies her dad played for packed houses. “Dad” was Doug Holling, who as theatre manager was synonymous with the Civic in the post-war decades.
Sandra was one of three children born to Doug and Phyllis, the others being Kathleen and Wayne. It was always the children’s job to clean the theatre on a Sunday morning.
“I remember us walking from our house in Matene Street past the smell of beer, cigarettes and disinfectant at the Family Hotel,” Sandra says. “When we got to the theatre we all had our jobs to do – getting the chewing gum off the floor with a putty knife, vacuuming the carpet and cleaning the glass doors and display cabinets.”
Along with the Sunday morning clean, Doug worked at the theater 61/2 days a week. He would set up the film reels in the projection room, do the bookwork and in winter load coal into the furnace that was below and behind the stage.
The Civic was a busy place, often showing movies to a full house. For many popular movies people would have to ring to make a booking. As a Kerridge Odean cinema, it usually had movies first, so attracted many from out of town.
Movies were shown throughout the week, twice on a Saturday, when there would be an afternoon matinee and then the evening film. For a few years, Chinese movies were shown once a month on Sunday afternoons.
Rita Nicholson for decades sold the tickets from the booth to the right of the theatre entrance. Vi Clancey ripped the tickets as moviegoers entered (and gave “pass-outs” at half time). Usherettes Mona Housiaux and Pearl Eaton would guide people to their numbered seats with a torch.
People could pay extra to watch from upstairs, or from “The Circle” upstairs front.
God Save the Queen would be played before the movies, and everyone would stand up. The first part of a show would often be a newsreel – a form of short documentary film. And there might be a Disney cartoon or a serial featuring well-known stories such as The Famous Five.
Sandra remembers the cartoons being scary for some young children, who in those days would have no experience of television, and certainly not the internet.
At “half time” (never called “interval”) people would rush for an ice-cream and lollies from Marion Mason’s Civic Milk Bar opposite the ticket office, or hurry over the road to the Ritz.
“I was never allowed to go to the Ritz,” Sandra says. “It was where the Bodgies hung out.” (Bodgies were young men, usually with leather jackets and motorcyles. Their female counterparts were known as Widgies.)
Sandra’s sister, Kathleen, remembers a bell ringing 10 minutes before half time so the milk bars had advance warning of the rush.
As the lights went on for half time, Doug would play some of his favourite music, often The Shadows with Apache.
During some movies, especially westerns and James Bond, youngsters would stamp their feet at the exciting parts – or if a film reel broke and Doug took too long to splice it together. Jaffas of course rolled down the aisles and the darkest back row was labelled “breast-stroke alley” for the unseemly antics of its teenage occupants.
After the movies finished and a quick sweep of the theatre floor, Doug would stuff the day’s takings into a little suitcase and carry it the short distance home to Matene Street.
“As manager, Dad never made a lot of money from the theatre, but we always worried about him being robbed,” Sandra says. “It happened just down the road once at the TAB. Fortunately it never happened to Dad.”
Apart from movies, the Civic hosted many live performances. Internationally renowned Ōtaki tenor Inia Te Wiata played there in 1958, and in the 1960s, Selwyn Toogood brought to the Civic his famous television quiz show, It’s in the Bag.
The Holling era at the Civic ended suddenly on April 26, 1977, after Doug packed his little suitcase with the takings, arrived home and had a fatal heart attack.