When I spotted this photograph advertised on E-bay a couple of years ago, I could tell straight away that it was special. And what a picture! Pin sharp, and beautifully lit, it shows a 1951 L.E. – the first year of the 192cc Mk.II model – in all it's factory fresh detail, placed intriguingly in front of a mirror on a plinth in an ABC cinema. We know it’s an early season machine because of the publicised price: £158 15s which had been announced the previous November in the motorcycle press By August 1951, this had risen to £168 18s 3d.
The frame is finished in plain silver grey, although the headlamp (black on a Mk.I) clearly bears the metallic paint of the earlier 149cc model. I have seen Mk.II machines as late as 1953 with headlamp shells finished like this. The front fork sliders remain plated rather than painted – they contrast with the adjacent dust covers – again a practice used on the Mk.I model. Veloce were concerned that the soft soldered sliders would be damaged if put through the factory’s stove enamelling process. The machine’s pannier bags remain the canvas type fitted to 1948/49 models and the pillion seat cover has the earlier type thinner sides. However there are also finishes which identify this as a Mk.II model – for example the polished cylinder heads. They were left rough cast on the earlier model. The stand retraction mechanism remains, attached to the handstart lever, and the silencer is black painted. Later on it was silver.
So, where was this photograph taken? Well, we can see from the sign written board below the display that the motorcycle was supplied by Velocette’s agent in Grimsby, Freddie Frith. The E-Bay seller could tell me very little, other than he had bought the print at auction. However, thanks to power of the World Wide Web, I was soon able to establish that the shot had been taken at the Ritz (ABC) Cinema, Grimsby Road, Cleethorpes.
The cinema’s manager Bill Conolly was well known at the time for arranging imaginative foyer displays, which promoted local businesses and also particular films. The photograph was taken by a photographer from the local Grimsby Evening Telegraph, who Bill recruited to record each display for posterity.
Bill managed the Ritz 1947 - 58 after returning from RAF war service, and then transferred to the Regal (ABC) Grimsby until he retired in 1980. He died in December 2008. The Ritz opened in 1937 and closed in 1982. It was demolished in 1993 and the site is now occupied by a McDonald’s restaurant. This background information was provided by local cinema historian Raymond Emsley; also by Bill’s son Jez Conolly, who is a librarian at Bristol University.