Monday, 14 July 2014


Saturday morning pictures at the Odeon Cinema in North Finchley was packed out most times. A cartoon, a serial and a movie. More often than not there was a western as the main feature starring the likes of Hopalong Cassidy, Roy Rogers and Tex Ritter. For 6d (two and a half pence) that was real value for money.

The early fifties was quite an austere time work like food and clothes were still on ration. Days out were for the most part free. A whole day could be spent in Friary Park - but when an event like the Festival Of Britain in 1951 occurred it was a great day out. Likewise, Trooping The Colour and The Lord Mayor's Parade in London were all free days out just as were visits to the museums.

So, when mum took me out for a trip to Haringey (North London) I expected to be wandering around the shops. At seven years of age - even then it was boring. But the shops were not to be our destination - but the massive arena. This was a total new experience. The place was packed out with kids almost outnumbering adults and the air was electric with expectation. I just sat there staring down at a sawdust covered arena - gobsmacked.

I had walked into the place so mesmerised that (I do believe even to this day) none of the posters outside registered. I was that unprepared that when the first horseman rode in I jumped as the entire audience screamed their delight.

This wasn't cinema - this was the real thing. Cattle thundered across the arena as cowboys demonstrated herding and driving. Roped them in for branding. Rodeo riders bucked on broncos and bulls. And the gunfights - I don't think that anyone had experienced the euphoria and the magic of that day - so much happening; so much to take in.

And the finale - who can forget that. The stagecoach running around the arena, kids on their feet roaring it on. Behind, rampaging Indians ever threatening to kill all on board - the tension rising until that bugle call that announced the arrival of the cavalry. And how we all stood and cheered.

In the midst of it all was Tex Ritter - the singing cowboy himself - astride Flash. The spotlight began to swing around the audience and when it stopped one lucky child received a twin holster and a pair of guns.

When it was time to go we left our seats and went to meet my granddad. He was a master carpenter and joiner and had been working behind the scenes - looking back that has to be how we got the tickets. Then granddad beckoned to me to follow him - he spoke to one of the cowboys who turned around and smiled at me. He said something but my tongue just got tied up in knots and just couldn't speak - fortunately, my mum spoke me - but, I mean, this was a celluloid hero. This was Tex Ritter. However, as I shook his hand I managed to stammer out a 'thank you'.

Tex Ritter's Texas Western Spectacle remained at the Haringey Arena for six weeks.

I have never been out West but I have not forgotten that day in 1952 when the west came to me.


Oscar Case said...

That was the same year Tex received an Oscar for his song in High Noon (Do not Forsake Me Oh My Darlin'). He was the father of actor John Ritter and ran for the U. S. Senate in 1970 but lost.

Bluestrategist said...

My father, Denny Wright, was part of Tex's band for these shows. He told me that Tex used to travel to the show every night on London Underground in full stage costume complete with twin revolvers. At the end of the extravaganza, Tex gave each member of the band a signed photo of his horse, Flash, as a token of his thanks. My father didn't keep it, sadly.

Anonymous said...

I was there too, aged 5 - never forgotten. Also saw Gene Autry's show - but too scared to shake his hand when he rode through the crowd.

Anonymous said...

I was there with my brother Dave and Mum and Dad. Lorraine

Anonymous said...

I was also there at the age of 5 and I remember the totem pole with someone climbing up. Unfortunately one of the spotlights was dazzling me, so I could not see. That's what you remember at that age. John

Geoffrey Scott said...

I also went there with my mother and brother, i have no idea how she could have afforded it.
We both came away with silver sheriffs badges which we cherished for years.
My only vague memory of the show was the stagecoach circle being attacked by the Indians.

Unknown said...

I went with my mum and dad and yes I got the sheriff's badge, I loved the whole show and have never forgotten it. Tex sang two songs with his guitar " I ride an old paint was one I forget the other. one of the other letters is from the son of Denny Write my other guitar hero from his time with Lonnie. I hope I've got that right. Ron Drewitt