Forty Years a Showman
by Albert Williams
Do you know, I've done something this Christmas (1991) I couldn't really expect to do all over again. I've been proud to present the films at the Bank's Christmas Party and this particular occasion was my 40th presentation. Many of my colleagues of the Birmingham Municipal Bank will remember with affection the earlier parties held in December in the Assembly Room in Broad Street. Jelly and cakes were the order of the day, terminating just before Father Christmas arrived, with "Uncle Albert's Film Show". I enjoyed, and still do, albeit at a different venue and for the TSB Bank, every minute of it.
It all started way back in 1950 when I was at Aston Branch with Frank Jones as my manager. He was also secretary of the Bank's Staff Association. He knew of my long-established interest in films, for I also worked as a part-time projectionist at my local cinema, "The Grange" in Small Heath. Mr Jones asked me if I would be able to present some films for the Christmas Party and though I had not done a young children's show before, it was a challenge. I contacted a film-renter, and arranged a programme of suitable films, Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, and of course, cartoons, sufficient to last one hour.
The day came and I arrived at Broad Street with projector, screen, films and all the odd bits and pieces that a mobile showman needs. Alf Maggs, the Bank's electrician was at hand and gave valuable help with cables, etc. There seemed to be masses of children and many grown-ups, many of whom I knew, as I had done a spell of branch relief work. First, we got the projector fixed up and then came the tricky part -- getting the cable for the loudspeakers down the length of the hall, as they were sound films. After weaving our way through the children playing games, and some still eating, we made it and up went the screen to a loud cheer. I switched on and started the show. All went well, I'm pleased to say. I was afraid I'd get lynched if it broke down. The show eventually ended and I could at last relax. It had been a success, so much so that I was asked to come back year after year and I missed only one year, 1955, due to other commitments, I believe -- it was the year I was married! Even though I've now been retired for some six years, I'm still asked to come along -- which I'm very pleased to do.
I soon discovered, are a very critical audience and with experience, I got to know which films were most suitable. I did, of course,
eventually have my own children to guide me, two daughters and a son. They would often view the programme first at home in my small
cinema and more often than not their approval was reliable. My family came along to the parties on many occasions and stood by me
with the projector and often gave assistance. It made them feel special: "My Dad, you know". It was certainly an occasion to meet
many colleagues, some of whom I had not seen for some time, and to meet their wives and families. All the children were in their best
party dresses and outfits and looked very smart -- at least, when the party started!
The ages were from around three to twelve years, so over the years I saw many families grow up. Life seems to go by very quickly and an annual event such as this soon brings that home.
Yes, I have some great memories of these parties, children of all shapes and sizes, all full of food. Mrs Cunningham and then Mrs Joan Watson organised the food and lots of help and assistance came from willing members of the Staff Association Committee. Loads of sandwiches, lots of jelly and cakes, etc were prepared and the tables always looked lovely when first laid, but once the children sat down to eat it was like a massive disappearing trick. After the food and the tables were cleared away, it was time for musical chairs and all sorts of games -- very noisy but great fun. I can remember for instance Pearl Hilton -- one of the "aunties" -- dancing and singing like a youngster. Sometimes I am sure the children were outnumbered by the adults. It was often a big crush. However, once the excitement was over and the entertainment was on, all was orderly. There was often a Punch and Judy or a clown and then the films. After the last film, usually a cartoon, Tom and Jerry or a Disney, Father Christmas would arrive. Sometimes he came in his helicopter and landed on the bank roof -- all make-believe, of course. His arrival was announced over the microphone and in he would come with his sack and the loud cheer would welcome, if not deafen him. I recall 'Mac', the Bank's commissionaire as Father Christmas. He was made for the part, with his jolly, rotund figure and rosy cheeks. John Cox, our RSA Welfare Officer now, also played this role. He tried to hide his identity, but I believe was rumbled by his own children. Howard Powell too was Father Christmas for several years, without his specs so that his children would not recognise him. The snag was that he could not see the names on the presents without them, much to everyone's merriment.
The children gathered round the Christmas tree near the piano in the corner of the room and waited for their names to be called, and what lovely gifts they received, suitable for their differing ages. On the way out they always received a further package of sweets, apple and orange and as the patter of feet and the sound of their voices died away as they went down the stairs on their way home, I am sure my feelings were in common with all who had helped (for it was teamwork) that it was all worthwhile. See you next year, eh?
I trust, colleagues, that I've sparked off a few memories of those happy times. Life, they say, is made up of memories. I'm extremely grateful for mine.