From February 14th 1978 to December 27th 2015.
Once upon a time, a long long time ago, that is long enough away to be another place in space and time, there lived a teenage boy, who stood in a cinema queue for long enough that it seemed to be forever, to see a film that everyone wanted to see because they weren’t sure about tomorrow.
We are Tuesday February 14th 1978 It is the second day of the winter half term school holiday. It is freezing and I am standing in an interminable queue with my friend Mark to get in and see Star Wars at our local cinema: the Odeon in Bromley. In 1978 Bromley is dull semi detached asteroid on the extreme suburban outer rim of southeast London. This might be 1978, but Bromley still looks and feels like 1958. We don’t even have a McDonald’s yet (that won’t arrive for at least another three years). A McDonald’s hamburger is a rare treat – the sort of thing your parents might buy you on a family Christmas shopping trip into central London.
On this day that I am queuing to see Star Wars … well, something very important has happened – the U.S technology company Texas Instruments have just patented the world’s first microchip, which will eventually change the world, though we didn’t know this at the time.
This is one of the non-days – just another drab day in life, and yes, despite the nostalgia for the seventies, this part of the decade was very drab, take music as an example. Tuesday was « chart day » that moment of the week when the British record industry released the official results of singles and album sales – for teenagers everywhere this was the day when you would find out who was at number one – SHOCK on 14th February 1978 – British Eurovision winning band, The Brotherhood of Man have been knocked off their chart topping spot – after four weeks at number one with their single « Figaro » they have been replaced by Swedish popsters, ABBA with their new hit song « Take a Chance on me ». Yes, music back then was as boring as life itself.
Music, so important to us teenagers, but on February 14th 1978, there wasn’t much around for teenagers to get into – this was the year of Boney M (need I say more). Most of my mates who are « into » music are firmly into big brother bands – mates at school with 16 or 17 year-old brothers who are into Led Zeppelin, The Who, The Rolling Stones – and there were some great releases in 1978: « Who Are You » by Roger Daltrey and the lads, « Some Girls » by Mick and his mates. The late, great and short-lived Warren Zevon released « Excitable Boy » and later in the year we got the Police and their first offering « Outlandos d’amour » with the hit single « Roxanne ». February 1978 itself saw the release of the second Blondie album « Plastic Letters » and the single from the album « Denis » – notable for Debby Harry warbling one verse in broken French. Denis made it to number two in the UK charts, denied the top slot by a certain Kate Bush and her blockbusting hit “Wuthering Heights.”
In film, life and teenage terms, Star Wars represented something really exciting. Up to then exciting films were – well there was always James Bond. In 1977 we got Roger Moore cavorting around with Barbara Bach (Mrs Ringo Starr) in « The Spy who loved me, » and in 1979, James Bond made it into space in « Moonraker » – certainly influenced by Star Wars, after a such an epic, the only place for 007 left to go was space.
Those other films around that I could get into as a thirteen year old kid: « Close Encounters of the Third Kind » – this one never really fired my imagination, you never see the aliens and there are no spacecraft zooming around like in Star Wars. « Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo » – No thanks. « The Rescuers, » the 1977 autumn cum Christmas Disney offering featuring the adventures of two mice, Bernard and Bianca. « A Bridge Too Far » – the epic war film released in June 1977 retelling the story of the Operation Market Garden and Battle of Arnhem – I did see this. I’ve always enjoyed an epic war film and this was probably one of the last ever made on such a scale, featuring actors who had actually been alive in World war Two.
Into this dreary cinema landscape comes Star Wars – an epic galactic tale of good versus evil in a far away galaxy with some decent special effects – yeah there were friends of mine, true science fiction purists who didn’t like the film because it was billed as science fiction but wasn’t really. (By true Science Fiction purist I mean guys with asthma, spectacles and a full collection of Arthur C Clarke novels.)
Star Wars taught me two things
Unless it is a question of life itself, there is nothing in life worth queuing for.
Everyone will always have it better than you, especially when you are not there
So, there I am, a chubby 13 year old clad in a polyester tracksuit and a quilted nylon anorak, standing in a long queue with my friend Mark. The queue goes from outside the cinema, down the street, snakes its way round the block and comes back to the cinema. The results, those at the front of the queue are only a few yards away from those at the back of the queue. It is freezing. I have been here for three or four hours already, finally I give up, leave the line and get on the first bus home. Yes, I miss Star Wars. The following Saturday though (18th February) mum slips me ten pounds (a lot of money then) to catch the train into central London and go to see the film at the Odeon cinema in Leicester Square – and I don’t stand in a long queue, I get in straight away and the cinema is half empty. I can honestly say that apart from buses, I have never queued for anything since February 14th 1978. If I can’t get the latest « must have » there and then, I will just wait or go without. Apart from the lengthy Star Wars queue, the worst incidents of standing in line for something wonderful, that I have witnessed was around 20 years ago in Leicester Square in central London – hundreds of people queuing up for a fistful of free chocolates from a famous Italian confectioner – how long will you physically stand for a few Ferrero Rocher ?????
And so for the next lesson learned « someone always has it better than you. » –
I leave the cinema queue but Mark stays and back at school on the Thursday morning, Mark is waxing lyrical about his galactic experience. Naturally as soon as I had left, he had befriended the family standing behind him, they had offered him cups of tea from the family thermos and kept him supplied in chocolate biscuits. When he finally made it into the cinema, he had a front row seat, and I suppose this is the story of my life, everyone always claims to have done it bigger and better. People have the ability of transforming everyday events into great adventures. Years after Star Wars, I used to hear the same crap from mothers standing around the school gate at 4pm to pick up their offspring – listening to their gushing I’d always get the impression that every kid in the school, apart from mine, was a genius. So, in this lesson learned – people will always say they have had it better than you, but nine times out of ten, they are just talking rubbish.
And so to the latest Star Wars – Sunday December 27th 2015. I turn up at the cinema ten minutes before. I have a pre-paid cut price ticket. There is no queue as « The Force Awakens » is being pumped out every hour on the hour in six of the cinemas at our local 12 screen multiplex. 37 years on, I don’t have to queue and the new film is just as good as the first one – I fall back into my early teenage years, though far less chubby and no polyester tracksuit.
I have to close this episode of my Star Wars saga with a few words on clothing. All of my mates wear jeans, but mum refuses to buy jeans, she claims they are working class garments for poor children – far better a hard wearing Marks and Spencer’s or C&A tracksuit – which mum never calls a tracksuit but stylish leisure wear », though wearing them is no fun because my mates always take the piss out of me when I wear one and I wear tracksuits so often that some friends have actually refused to go out with me if I turn up wearing a tracksuit. Oh dear. I’m afraid tat is all I have in my wardrobe at the age of 13. At 50, I still boast a tracksuit, I wear it for gardening, painting and putting out the bins.