Sheffield Telegraph’s Ian Soutar talks to veteran cinemagoers Clifford Shaw and Tinge Krishnan...

Dr Clifford Shaw Showroom cinema
Dr Clifford Shaw Showroom cinema

In fact Dr Clifford Shaw could well have seen more films than anyone else in Sheffield since he has been cinemagoing from the days of silent cinema to the age of the multiplex.

Not that Sheffield’s former Medical Officer of Health sees this as anything special and a request to calculate just how many films he may have seen in his time is firmly rebuffed as “rather pointless”

He adds: “I don’t think there is any great merit in claiming to have seen a large number of films and in fact there might be a de-merit when one considers some of the things one has gone to see.”

But he has no doubts of the quality of the four films he has chosen in French costume classic Les Enfants Du Paradis, Ninotchka starring Greta Garbo, screwball comedy You Can’t Take It With You and Vietnam war drama The Deer Hunter.

“Two of them were made in the late Thirties, one in the Forties and the other in the late Seventies. That is not to suggest he is marooned in the past for at the age of 92 he remains an avid filmgoer with a catholic taste. With a season ticket at Cineworld you are as likely to see him watching a Hollywood teen movie as the recent Korean season at the Showroom.

Reluctant to pick a recent favourite, he says: “The number of really good films in any one year is probably eight or nine.” When pressed he allows: “The King’s Speech was an excellent film.”

As to where it all started, he says: “It was 1928 when I was nine or 10 I got in the habit of going to the cinema and that was the last year of the silent era. I thought I could remember in some detail the coming of the talkies and yet when I looked up newspapers of the day my memory was not that accurate.” It certainly is in other respects.

He certainly remembers his first talkie, “Except the first reel was silent, but it was called The Glad Rag Doll and starred Dolores Costello. She was not someone who went on to have much of a career,” he says dryly.

For a small boy, the experience of hearing sound for the first time must have been astonishing.

“Well by then I had already seen a sound newsreel. My parents had taken me to a variety bill at the Colisseum and this included Movietone News in sound. It was the novelty of the day. My father seldom went to films so I either went on my own or sometimes with my mother.”

It was a sign of the times perhaps that he had the freedom as a small boy to go off on his own on his bike to cinemas in the suburbs of North London where he grew up.

So began a lifelong passion, continued wherever he happened to be. In wartime London it was during the daytime rather than the evening (“I remember walking through the city at night with my tin hat on and finding all the cinemas closed”) and he arranged film shows in West Africa where he was posted after qualifying as a doctor.

He has a record of all the films he saw because he kept a diary - “as one is able to do when one is young” - although once his professional life became more demanding this tailed off.

After the War he worked in London, Ipswich, Rotherham and Nottingham before arriving in Sheffield in 1956 originally as deputy medical officer of health, taking over as chief in 1965. “Having an office next door to the Gaumont was very convenient. I could do a bit of work in the early evening and then go and see a film.”

Retirement in 1984 brought a new aspect to his love of cinema after joining the newly formed Sheffield Cinema Society which resulted in him compiling a history of the city’s picture houses. “I hadn’t really thought that much about the structures of cinemas, still less their histories,” he admits.

But he found himself appointed to the committee in 1991 and soon assumed responsibility for editing the newsletter and has done so for the past 20 years.

He set about overseeing the compiling of a history of all the cinemas in the city and uncovered some fascinating stories about such pioneers as Jasper Redfearn and Len Shaw (“no relation”). The ABC of the Cinemas of Sheffield has become the standard reference work on the subject.

It is tempting to say that he probably knows more about the history of Sheffield’s cinemas than anyone else, except that Dr Shaw would not approve.

Les Enfants du Paradis will be screened on Sunday and then the other three films on Thursdays through December, each with an introduction by Dr Shaw. “I am hoping there will be enough interest in them for other people to be invited to select their films,” he says.