I had no educational qualifications as a young adult. I was very much a straight “C” school pupil. I blame my mother. My mother, Harriet, known as Hetty, was a single-parent, having divorced by father, Colin Yates, when I was six. He was a very violent man: a part-time police inspector, and a surface coal miner. It was only after the police raided a house I shared with my mother and sister years later, “looking for explosives” during my “ALF years,” that my Mum had a flashback and remembered that daddy-o had a special pair of brown leather gloves which he used to beat people up with on the grounds that they left no marks. Needless to say, I did not attend his funeral when I learned that he had died.
As a single-parent, a social status with much stigma in the 1960s in the “grim North” of England, my mother first got a job in a cinema, which quickly turned to a cine-bingo job, and then she became a very successful bingo manager. So successful, in fact, that she was regularly brought into a bingo club as the new manager to build it up before being moved on to another location for the same purpose. This meant that we moved around the country regularly, and my education suffered as a result. By the time I had learned the names of my classmates, it was often up and out of there. I eventually got my “O” and “A” levels in the 1980s while in prison for 4-years for “animal rights activities.”
One move we made was to Ryde on the Isle of Wight. This was late 1971 to early 1972. Quite a culture shock, it was, for a Yorkshire lad in his teens. The kids at my high school were into music, not football and, as another example of the differences, rather than going out at break times to kick a ball about, they would stay in the classroom playing chess. The Leeds United Revie team were the popular team of the day, even outside of north Yorkshire. Therefore, I was very popular with the few who were into football when I first arrived in Ryde. They had only seen the famous Leeds team (Sprake, Reaney, Cooper, Bremner, Charlton, Hunter, Lorimer, Clarke, Jones, Giles, Gray, and Madeley) on TV and, in the 1970s, only one or two matches were featured on Match of the Day, resulting in infrequent showings of any given team. Indeed, fans would know if a particular match was being televised if they saw TV cameras set up as they arrived at the ground on the day. Because I was a regular at Elland Road, Leeds’ home ground, I was able to teach fellow pupils the songs which were sang on the terraces. The more risqué songs were the most popular, such as, “He’s here, he’s there, he’s every-fucking-where, Eddie Gray, Eddie Gray.” The second verse then became: “He’s here, he’s there, we’re not allowed to swear, Eddie Gray, Eddie Gray.”
However, most in my school had little interest in all of that. The nearest professional football team – Southampton – was a ferry journey away. Southampton weren’t too great in those days: Leeds beat them 7-0 in an infamous match of that era at Elland Road. In relation to “popular music” tastes of the early 70s, there was this thing about whether you were either a Slade fan, or a T.Rex fan. Seemingly, it had to be one or the other. Slade, it was affirmed, were the group all the boys liked and, apparently, all boys who liked T.Rex were “poofters.” I liked T.Rex. I still have a couple of colourful pictures of Marc and Mickey that female classmates gave me in 1972.
My mother’s club at Ryde was called The Commodore. It was a huge place (see photo below). The bingo club was located in the old “stalls” – the downstairs, ground floor, part of cinemas and theatres. That would have been 800 seats in the old cinema days. The upstairs circle area was left abandoned. The circle was so large that it was eventually made into two 300-seat cinema screens. There was also a separate ballroom and a “clubroom” which still has posters advertising 1960s gigs by The Who and The Kinks on the walls. The ballroom was also to be made into a cinema using an unusual periscope form of projection which made focussing the films a real bother. Before all that development, though, this was my playground. In the ballroom was a white grand piano and I would plonk away on that thinking I was Elton John or Liberace (well, after all, I was supposed to be gay). It was totally out of tune, of course, but that mattered not since I couldn’t play. When the cinema work started, “my” wonderful grand was simply smashed up. I came back from school one day distraught to find it in hundreds of pieces.
The bingo club had afternoon and evening sessions, the latter being very formal. The evening “caller” wore a tuxedo in those days. It was more relaxed in the afternoons, and Mum liked to employ female callers. As the circle of the old cinema wasn’t being used, it wasn’t lit. However, there was enough reflected light coming from the stalls to just about see up there. There were no seats left, just large “steps” which made up the tiers. There was a walkway at the very back – in “the Gods” some would say – so the ushers could easily seat people.
Picture the scene. The caller is on the stage looking out at the bingo players who were sat in the body of the old stalls, at least half of which, the rear part, being covered by the circle. The players are all looking towards the stage at the front where the screen used to be. The only persons in the whole place who could dimly perceive the darkened circle were the caller and my mother in her office which was built along the back of the stage, another indication of the immense size of The Commodore. One day I played an afternoon trick. I managed to get hold of two candles and I put on a hooded coat but wore it backwards. With two lit candles and apparently faceless, a figure very slowly walked from left to right at the very back of the circle. The effect was immediate. “f-f-four and two, forty t-t-two,” stuttered the caller. “w-w-w-one and six, s-s-sixteen,” she went on.
After “the ghost” had left the circle, the calling resumed as normal, if in somewhat an uncertain, less assured, tone – but I wasn’t finished yet! There were stairs leading up into the body of the circle which came out about a third of the way up onto another walkway. I sneaked up one of those entrances and quickly behind a partition board. I removed shoe and sock from one foot, rolled up by trousers and, laying down on my back, slung the leg over the partition. From the stage, a pale dismembered leg could be seen moving about. “f-f-five and six, f-f-f-fifty-six.” Victory was mine!
A little later, I was in my mother’s office when the still-shaking caller recounted her ordeal. “Oh, Mrs. Yates, it was horrible,” the caller said. “Horrible.” My mother, who glanced my way - I know not why - reassured her employee that she would never – EVER - see this frightening apparition again.
And so, sadly, after just one solitary outing, it seemed that the Ghost of The Commodore would finally be at peace and never more would it roam the deserted balcony of the old cinema. Ah, well.