In 1973, when I was 14, I went with my parents to the opening of the Odeon Kingswest in Brighton, a new three-screen cinema. One of the movies, “The Poseidon Adventure,” was getting its British premier and many of the stars were there so the street in front of the cinema was crowded with star watchers and I was among them (the other two movies that day were “Travels With My Aunt” starring Maggie Smith and “Alice in Wonderland”).
While everyone was milling around a small old lady came up to me and asked if I liked action movies? I said sure. She told me she had won a pair of tickets in a contest to see “The Poseidon Adventure” and had planned to go with her friend. But after reading about the plot she didn’t think she wanted to see it and would I want the ticket?
I have no idea why she chose me. I certainly didn’t look like a clean-cut kid ready for a gala event. I think I was wearing a pair of canvas tennis shoes and faded jeans. I do remember I was wearing a parka coat with a fur-lined hood (not because it was cold but because it was the fashion).
I checked with my parents to see if they minded. They gave the go ahead. I thanked the woman and, ticket in hand, strolled up beside the red carpet to find my place. Most everybody in the lobby was tuxedoed and seemed quite glamorous. My ratty parka stood out so I made my way around the edge and into the cinema.
I sat down next to another little old lady. “Excuse me,” she said. “I think you are in the wrong seat. That seat belongs to my friend.” I explained about the chance encounter and that her friend wasn’t coming, and I hoped she wasn’t too disappointed. She was very friendly (I wish I could remember her name but it was more than 40 years ago, but I think it was Evelyn so let’s go with that). We had half an hour before the film started so we had a nice chat. Evelyn asked me about myself, I asked her about herself and we were getting along swimmingly.
Evelyn told me that she owned a bed & breakfast in town (I had no thoughts of working in journalism back then, I was going to be an artist or actor or something, but the natural curiosity that serves me well in my field was evident even then). I asked her about her B&B and asked if she had any interesting stories. She smiled and asked me if I liked The Beatles.
Back on June 2, 1963, the Fab Four played at the Brighton Hippodrome on a bill with Roy Orbison and Jerry and the Pacemakers. The Beatles played a seven-song set — “Some Other Guy,” “Do You Want To Know A Secret,” “Love Me Do,” “From Me To You,” “Please Please Me,” “I Saw Her Standing There” and “Twist And Shout.”
It’s hard to think of what would be the biggest band in the world staying in a humble B&B, but Evelyn said they stayed at her place. She remembered them well because, “They were such nice boys.” She said that when she offered to make them breakfast they turned her down and thought it would be fun to make her breakfast instead. They sat her down in a chair at the kitchen table, John called her mum, and the boys cooked up eggs and bacon with a pot of tea. As Evelyn told the story, she smiled and laughed at the memory.
I was quite disappointed when the film started and the conversation had to stop. The film was fun. Gene Hackman was excellent, Shelly Winters was nominated for a supporting actress Oscar (although my friends and I cracked ourselves up by re-enacting her death scene every time we went swimming), and it set up a long series of disaster movies throughout the ’70s.
But for the best storytelling, nothing beats little old Evelyn and her brush with probably the most famous band in history. Sometimes finding the best tales is simple a question of being in the right place at the right time.