Ian McMillan: Two boys don’t make a mob

For a while in the distant early 1960s me and my mate Chris were regulars at the Saturday morning matinee at the Plaza Cinema in Wombwell;

I remember them as shouty, screamy occasions punctuated by gasps of awe as a cowboy fell from his horse or a villain tumbled over a cliff. Occasionally there were live bands on the small space in front of the screen or local dancing schools would provide a heavily-made-up phalanx of girls who tottered through a couple of tap routines. I realise now, from all this distance, that I was taking part in a ritual that had lasted for decades and which was, even as I paid my cash and went and sat down, starting to change and disappear. One week, between the serial and the main feature, there was an advert for a Cliff Richard film and the girls in the audience went mad, screeching and whooping and weeping until the trailer finished, then braying and keening for it to be shown again, which it wasn’t. One thing struck me and Chris though, during the trailer and the mayhem that accompanied it, and we discussed it later round the comics stall on Wombwell Market. Our question was: Why, given that Cliff’s virtual appearance caused such hysteria in a small town in South Yorkshire, was he allowed to walk untouched through the crowd of women in the film? The trailer, as I remember it, showed the bequiffed one strolling by some beauties, singing, and the girls just gazed at him and smiled. There was no weeping and screeching as far as we could see. Chris picked up a Spider Man comic, discarded it, and said: “I bet they were told they couldn’t mob him.” I nodded sagely. Yes, that must be it. The girls would have wanted to, in Chris’s elegant word, mob the great man, but they would have been prevented from doing so by kindly early-1960s bobbies who looked like Dixon of Dock Green. Of course I know now they were actors just doing what the director said, but those were innocent days.

As we walked back to Chris’s house we discussed what we would do if we met somebody famous. In those days we didn’t use the word “celebrity” but the concept was the same: somebody you recognised off the telly, somebody who had a record in the hit parade, somebody who played for a local or national football team. Chris and I thought we wouldn’t mob him, partly because two schoolboys don’t make a mob, and partly because we thought we were too sophisticated to mob anybody. We decided we’d say “Hello!” in a cheery voice. Then, a few weeks later at the Church Garden Party, our non-mobbing plans were put to the test. They’d organised a Club Turn to snip the ribbon in the Rectory Garden to open the event. I can’t remember his name now, I’d heard of him then. Me and Chris were ridiculously excited and we hung about hoping to spot him. After a while we saw the curate going to The Cross Keys and coming out with a man in a suit. It was him! He walked towards us; we felt we had to say something, do something, to acknowledge his fame, but we weren’t sure what. He got closer and suddenly Chris shouted “We’re not gunner mob thi!” and we turned and ran. Fame, eh? It’s a case of mob rule. Or not.