The last great picture show

Tom Cruise and the rest of Hollywood's finest will no longer enrich the cultural life of a North Yorkshire village after the closure of its cinema.
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SOME INTELLECTUALS believe the individual has made little difference to the sweep of history. That it is social and political trends that determine humanity's twisting course rather than the deeds of men such as Napoleon Bonaparte. I do not know whether this is true, but I doubt anybody who has lived in the English countryside would countenance it.

My parents grew up in a North Yorkshire ironstone mining village, which was small, but sufficiently isolated to support a cinema. This was run by a fierce man of such propriety that he used to don top hat and tails for the evening performances. For children's matinees he adopted a slightly less elegant approach. Once the film had begun he locked the exit door and allowed natural selection to take its course. More sensitive bairns naturally tried to escape from the ensuing melee, but the owner refused exit to any who couldn't furnish a reasonable excuse.

The most notorious delinquent in the village was a stuttering tough-boy named "Shedder" Porritt. I cannot recall exactly how "Shedder" had come by his nickname, nor, since I have just eaten a hearty lunch have I tried particularly hard to do so. "Shedder" came from a notorious local family. He was tough but simple. Many years later, when prison had tempered his waywardness, he would tell my dad, "I just want a new lamp for my b-b- b-bike, Tony, then I'm going straight."

One weekend the young "Shedder" went to the closed door of the cinema during an episode of Flash Gordon and demanded to be let out. "Who is it and what do you want?" the owner barked. "It's Sh-sh-sh-shedder and I want a sh-sh-sh..." the door opened before he could complete his sentence.

I too grew up in a North Riding village (Not the same one as my parents, I might add). On my first visit to the cinema in the nearby town, a policeman had to be called midway through Zulu to expel some local youths, who had joined in with the African warriors' chanting-and-stamping routine so enthusiastically that a piece of ornamental cornice had come loose and brained the woman from the bike shop.

When I moved back to the northern countryside after a decade in London one of the first things I did was to visit the local cinema. Dances With Wolves was showing. Everything proceeded normally until the tender moment when Kevin Costner first kisses Stands-With-Fist, at which point the seats around erupted in a peal of giggles and boyish cries of "Aw, Yeeeeeeerch!" I was massively cheered. I had had inner doubts about the wisdom of leaving the capital, but this, I knew, was home.

Monday was half-price night. My partner, Catherine, and I went every week. The films were generally mainstream Hollywood. For seven years I saw every film Tom Cruise made. I hate Tom Cruise, but at pounds 1.20 it was cheaper than staying at home with the fire on.

And besides, the main feature was only part of what merits the term total cinematic experience. There were the usherettes with their torches and trays of ice creams, the moment when the film juddered to a halt and caught fire, the cries of anguish from little kids who had gone to the toilet and got lost in the darkness, and, best of all, there were the adverts for plumbers, pubs, estate agents and one for a carpet shop featuring a young woman in a white polo neck rubbing her hands across the rich wool twist of a Wilton. She had a look of ecstasy on her face, which suggested she was experiencing the tactile marvel of high-quality pile under the influence of mind-expanding drugs.

Six months ago, the cinema closed down. It wasn't unpopular, far from it. Turning up 20 minutes before the start of the programme was often not enough to get you into a film. Even one starring Whoopi Goldberg. It's simply that the man who owned it retired. Now if we want to see a film we have to make a round trip of 60 miles. Just as "Shedder" Porritt could personally create a village crimewave, so the onset of old age in one man has dented the cultural life of a community. It's hardly Napoleon, admittedly. Though I regard the unprecedented five-week run of The Bodyguard as my personal retreat from Moscow.