At the movies · Memories

1970s Date Nights

My parents were both born in Ireland in the 1930s. They moved to London, separately, met here and were married in the 1950s. In the years that followed they had three children: my older brother, my younger sister, me in the middle. As the 1970s began the three of us were all at the same Catholic primary school. Most of the other children there were, like us, born in London to Irish parents.

These days there are couples who have young children and who still schedule regular “date nights”, in the way that they did before the children came along. Some couples, I hear, even manage this on a weekly basis, booking a babysitter and heading out for the evening as if they were living their old child-free existence. Things were different for my parents. My dad was often out in the evenings, like many of his contemporaries. He knew his way around several of the pubs here in West London. Some of the hours that he spent in Conway’s, the Hop Poles, the Britannia and similar places were a necessity. He worked on building sites, and many pubs acted almost as a one-stop shop for the construction industry. When looking for work you’d get “the start” from people you met at the pub (and sometimes the publicans themselves); you might pick up your wages at the same pub; and if you were paid by cheque and couldn’t get to the bank by 3pm (which was true for all of them), or if you mistrusted banks (which was true for many of them), you could cash your cheque at the bar by signing the back of it. I never found out how much the publican would take as his commission but I’d guess it was around 10%. And of course, while waiting, either for your wages, or for your cheque to be cashed (under a sign that read “No Cheques Cashed”), it would have been rude not to have a few pints, especially after a hard day’s work.

My mother, on the other hand, spent no time in pubs. She was at home looking after the three of us every school night. By the early 1970s she had started working for a local doctor, initially on Friday evenings, and then, as the decade progressed and we three children became older and more independent, she worked some mornings, and then on other nights of the week.

The parents of the other London Irish kids at our primary school were not all alike. There were couples who enjoyed regular visits to the pub together. We heard stories of younger children being given a couple of nips of the hard stuff, or some other sedative, to send them off to sleep so that the parents could go out for the night. There were other couples who were home every night. The father came straight back from work, reliably, while the children were still awake, and stayed home for the rest of the evening. I believe that most of the other families at school were more like ours: the fathers were familiar with the pub and all it entailed, and the mothers never set foot inside one.

Even so, my parents did have occasional “date nights” in the 1970s. They might only have been once a year but they happened, and usually involved a trip to the cinema and possibly a meal afterwards at somewhere like the Chiswick Grill or Ye Olde Robin Hood Restaurant in Hammersmith. We would always hear about the movie, but not necessarily the meal, the following morning. Childhood trips to the Hammersmith Odeon with my dad are recorded on my Memories Menu, here, with the following recollection:

“Dad always did one of two things at the pictures. Either he kicked his shoes off, put his feet up on the seat in front, and went to sleep, or he said, “Back in half an hour” and went across the road, to the pub, the Britannia. And he came back before the film was over.”

When he and my mum went to a movie he never nipped over the road for a pint but he was known to kick off his shoes and fall asleep. That all changed in 1971, with “Dirty Harry”, a film my mum was keen to see. She liked Clint Eastwood. Early on in the picture, around the time my dad would usually be making himself comfortable, with a strong chance of catching a few z’s, Eastwood’s character (cop Harry Callahan) is about to bite into his sandwich. He (Callahan) is interrupted. Duty calls. He says, “Shit!” loudly, slams his sandwich down on the plate and leaves the restaurant to take care of business. At this point my dad sat up, wide awake, and was transfixed through the rest of the movie. It was, literally, the first time he had heard an obscenity uttered in a film, and it was the first of many in the following 100 minutes. He loved it. Curse words in mainstream movies are common these days but they only became so in the early 1970s.

In the years that followed, my parents’ cinema visits were typically to other X-certificate films, like “The Godfather” and “The Godfather Part II”, and Harry Callahan sequels like “Magnum Force” and “The Enforcer”. By the mid-1970s my older brother, though still some way off his 18th birthday, could also get into these films, so he became my dad’s cinema-going companion for things like “The Exorcist”, which my mum didn’t want to see. A few years later, a sign of how grown-up we were becoming, my parents brought me, though still under-age, to an evening screening of the “The Outlaw Josie Wales”. It also starred Clint Eastwood, and was directed by him, and it had an AA certificate. My sister was in the smaller auditorium next door with one of her friends, watching “One of our dinosaurs is missing”. I would have been there too if I’d been refused admission to the Eastwood movie.

As far as I recall these parental nights out at local picture houses ended around 1980, possibly with another Clint picture, “Any which way you can”. By now his movies were not packing quite the same punch as “Dirty Harry”, and we had had a colour TV since 1978. Before that all of our home viewing was in black and white. We only saw Technicolour at the cinema or other people’s houses. Harry Callahan had two further outings in the 1980s, in “Sudden Impact” (1983) and finally “The Dead Pool” (1988). I know for sure that my parents never saw that movie together, for so many reasons.



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