The ABC Minors Club: A 60’s Experience Part 1: Sometimes it’s little things

The ABC Minors Club: A 60’s Experience Part 1: Sometimes it’s little things

Sometimes it’s little things – the details from the distant past, or sometimes even the near past, that you forget about, until someone draws your attention to them – that bring back a time and/or place again. They can take so many forms: Tacky wall hangings you once thought were “cool,” but now find laughable; the first time you smelled incense, or walked into that neighbor’s house that always reeked of fresh ground coffee, apples and cinnamon; the sights and smells of that candy shop with its pseudo dark oak paneling that seemed to have every color and flavor of candy cane in the universe.

Or sometimes it’s places: Your grandmother’s house, with its curios and antiques, and its musty smell, mixed with the scent of fresh linen and the ashes from last night’s fire in the fireplace, and an indeterminate onslaught of spices wafting in from the kitchen; that lame kiddy fun zone you could never get enough of when you were little; the first vacation you ever took in that tiny, garish beach town that was falling apart even then (but you never quite consciously noticed at the time because you thought the place was so exotic), where you felt the waves pull you in and out, over and over again, until you still felt it pull you back and forth as you lay in your bed at night.

ABC Minors Club

Or it could be the cinema . . .

The featured picture – it’s of the old ABC Cinema in Edgbaston – yeah, the same place where Tolkien grew up, only much later. Kids went there every Saturday morning in the 1960s for the ABC Minors Club, mainly from Edgbaston, Harborne, Quinton, Bartley Green – even Moseley – and other parts of Birmingham’s leafy, woodsy southwesterly portion, but a bit to the north too, “past the trees,” in more hard-pressed areas such as Handsworth, Ladywood – and even Aston. The ABC Edgbaston closed in the late 60’s – the building no longer stands. The Minors Clubs are gone too – not only from Edgbaston, but from everywhere. They started in the postwar Atlee era only to die off during the early days of Thatcher’s time.

I use it to help evoke the early 1960s in my novels “Walking Backwards for Christmas” and “The Bluebottle Boys.”

By using the details again for the readers who were there — and for the first time for those who were not — I try to place the reader in that setting at that specific time.

There were ABC Cinemas, nearly every one with a Minors Club, throughout Birmingham – all over the UK, actually. The initials “ABC” stood for Associated British Cinemas, not for American Broadcasting Company, Australian Broadcasting Company or Alcoholic Beverage Control. Warner Brothers had the controlling interest, and the chain had exclusive rights to its films, as well as those of MGM and Paramount. It meant the Minors Club ran a lot of Looney Toons, but was rather light on Mickey Mouse and other Disney fare, the exclusive domain of the Odeon Cinemas and their kids club (I’ve heard it was called the Mickey Mouse Club but I’m open to correction on that; if any of you went to the Odeon on Saturday mornings back in those days, feel free to set the record straight). And yes – the film club for kids at the Odeon had has also left the building.

Then again, the cinemas I‘d later go to Stateside on Saturday mornings haven’t fared too much better:

One has survived as a Spanish-language cinema, another’s now a reception/banquet facility, a third’s become – ahem! – a “gentlemen’s club,” part of a fourth has been salvaged as a community theatre, and the fifth seems to have been wiped off the map. But how significant the loss of these kid clubs is – at least to people in the U.K. over 50 – tends to be lost on Americans. After all, there were kiddy Saturday matinees in most American cinemas, as well – all fondly remembered but all – well – fungible. And who needs them when a multitude of child-friendly DVDs are available? What’s so tragic about the loss of the ABC Minors Club and its ilk?

The answer is that the ABC Minors Club wasn’t just another Saturday matinee. Perhaps if I contrast the two, it’ll become clear why.

First, credit where credit is due to the American matinees – starting with the snack bar: Popcorn, pizza, pretzels, nachos, hot dogs, corn dogs, cheese dogs, chili dogs, chili-cheese dogs, five or six kinds of ice cream treats in as many flavors and enough varieties of candy, cakes and cookies to bring on a diabetic attack a good seven times over. I nearly fainted the first time I set eyes on it. American snack bars offered anything a kid could possibly want in the way of salt, starch, sugar, fructose, fat and general chemical goodness in a way that British cinemas — at least back then — did not.

With one exception: I will live and die a Tizerholic, and there was nothing that even approximated Tizer among the soft drinks. But at the time, snack bars in the UK were comparatively small and pedestrian, not even coming close to such an array.

American kiddy matinees also had better film lineups. I’ll explain why next time and why it means less than you might think.

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G. H. McCallum

G. H. McCallum is author of the Reggie Stone series, the first of which, Walking Backwards for Christmas: A Tale of Woe from Soggyhall, was released on 12 December 2014; look for the second, The Bluebottle Boys, in late spring of 2016. He blogs principally on the 1960s, Victoriana and magic realism.