jaws image

It’s the long, hot and very boring summer of 1976. A group of youths, about twenty in total, the youngest seven or eight, the eldest 14 or 15, leave a housing scheme in Airdrie, (I’m one of the younger ones) and happily head off on yet another adventure. We meander from Rochsoles, through Whinhall to march upon the picture house at Coatbridge, which, like most of picture houses of that era, has been turned into a snooker hall.

Our mission? To see Jaws. We never rushed into it. The film celebrates its fortieth anniversary this week, but that’s for the US release. The film was released in the UK on Boxing Day 1975. We eventually latched on to the hype about six months later. By then Jaws had been become known as the first official ‘summer blockbuster’ and the highest grossing box office film of all time, reaching $100m…before Star Wars came out a couple of years later and surpassed it.
After climbing over walls, and crawling under fences, then being chased by guard dogs, then crossing the electric Airdrie/Helensburgh train line, passing the then Rowntree Mackintosh factory, we finally made it down to Coatbridge town centre.

Imagine kids doing that now? ChildLine would be called and we’d all end up in care and our parents arrested for neglect. Kids nowadays are overprotected, lifted and laid from door to class room.
‘Oh but it’s different now,’ the parents say. No its not, it’s just the same. Perverts, paedophiles and murderers lurked everywhere in the 1970s too. It added to your skillset and your development and you learned from your peer group who the weirdos were.

I remember before starting primary school, being warned to cross the road with the lollipop man. I was petrified because I thought he’d be like the child catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang tempting me to cross in front of oncoming lorries with a lollipop. Do I trust someone giving me a lollipop or not? You told me to stay away from strangers offering me sweeties now a strange man called the lollipop man is supposed to have my best interests at heart? I’m five. What’s with the mixed message here? Anyway, by the time we got to the pictures to see Jaws we had all become quite fearless.

A few things I remember. Absolutely shitting myself with excitement and fear while trying to tell people that Jaws wasn’t real, it was a mechanical shark. Jaws was in fact not one but three full-size pneumatically powered prop sharks which I later found out the crew called ‘Bruce’, after Steven Spielberg’s lawyer, Bruce Raimer.

electirc shark

Jaws aka Bruce.

One of the film’s stars was called Robert Shaw. My pal next door, Shug, real name Bobby Shaw was in fact also called Robert Shaw. I didn’t know Bobby was short for Robert. I just thought Bobby was Bobby. So I learned that fact, while we queued up.

The IMDb pitch of Jaws reads…When a gigantic great white shark begins to menace the small island community of Amity, a police chief, a marine scientist and grizzled fisherman set out to stop it.

Jaws itself was a dramatic thriller, in the spirit of man v beast and Moby Dick. But it was also more than that. That’s why it was so special. The characters all had a distinct nature, intention and depth and the chemistry between their personalities worked. Police Chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) to protect those he served. Quint, (Robert Shaw) a bounty hunter, there for the kill, financially and to kill the shark. Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) an oceanographer, obsessed with sharks. It was also about Amity Island, a small beach and holiday town who relied heavily on tourists. We had the shark, the Sheriff and the Mayor. The Sheriff wanted to close the beach to swimmers and the reluctance of the mayor who didn’t want to lose out on business.

Some fun trivia. The line ‘You’re going to need a bigger boat’ was an ad lib by Roy Sheider. But do you know that Spielberg’s shooting star first appeared in Jaws? Spielberg played ‘Amity Point Lifestation Worker’, his dog played Brody’s dog and the original Brody was apparently Charlton Heston. Spielberg went for Scheider, annoying Heston so much that he declared in the best tradition of gun toting right wing Hollywood greats that he would never ever work with the him. Benchley, the writer played the ‘interviewer’.

Speilberg in Jaws

Spielberg’s brief encounter.

How intrinsic to the movie has the theme become? The John Williams motif has become iconic. Just two notes, singularly undramatic but together evoking imminent danger. The original theme was completely different and was changed at the last minute for the two tense notes. Williams freely admits that the lack of notes were down to running out of time to change anything he also had an instinct that the two notes worked. Anytime we went to the baths that summer all we could hear was the Jaws theme…

Finally, on the long walk home someone said one of the funniest things I think I’ve ever heard which subsequently has been said by many an observant comedian. Can’t remember who but they said ‘I don’t know why they stayed in the water. As soon as I heard that music I’d have bolted.’

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