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CINEMA IS RETURNING TO CHESTER
Once again it is announced that the Northgate Developement is underway, with a two phase building plan. The first phase will include a six screen multiplex cinema (pictured above and to the side) built on the site of the present bus exchange behind the Town Hall, and next to the Storyhouse centre. It is assumed that this will be operated by one of the commercial cinema operators.
Nigel, who was born in Kettering in 1940, has always been interested in the cinema. His family moved to Surrey and after leaving school he went to work in a radio shop in Walton on Thames. One Wednesday, during half day closing, he went to see a film at the ABC Regal Walton on Thames. A slide was projected, advertising for a trainee projectionist. Nigel applied and got the job. Equipment at the ABC consisted of Simplex projectors, Peerless arcs and RCA sound. Nigel made the tea, cleaned the box, painted and rewound film. He wasn’t allowed to touch a projector for around six months. As he was only fifteen he had to produce a letter from his mother, allowing him to see ‘X’ films.
Nigel went through the ranks. At the Regal he went from trainee to fourth and finally third. In 1960 he moved over to the Walton on Thames Odeon as second, working on BTH SUPA MK 2 projectors. At twenty- one he was made chief projectionist.
Nigel stayed at the Odeon for four years. From there he became a relief chief, based at the Odeon Wimbledon. He covered the Surrey and Hampshire areas and in the summer of 1964 he spent some time at the Odeon, Deal, Kent.
He then went back to Wimbledon and also carried on relief work. For around seven years he operated at the Odeon Surbiton. From there it was to the Odeon King’s Road, Chelsea, which had been a Gaumont Palace. Six months after joining the team at Chelsea, the cinema closed. He then did some work for the zone engineer at several places, including the New Victoria, where amongst other things he operated the lighting board when the Black and White Minstrel show was there. A show that wouldn’t be staged today.
During that time he was going back to Chelsea, which after re-development, he would re-open. He also did a spell of operating at the Odeon, Shepherd’s Bush. He went back to the Odeon Wimbledon, because it was the first Odeon in London to be tripled, and as this was the way forward, he went for the experience.
Nigel re-opened the new Odeon Chelsea and remained there until 1976. He then went to the Odeon Kensington, which was the first Odeon in the West End area to be tripled. During the time Nigel was there, a fourth screen was added. It went on to house six.
Being in the West End area, Nigel would go to the Odeon, Leicester Square and help out on royal premiers. He also helped Sir Sydney Samuelson run stage shows when the royal premiers were on.
In 1983 he was asked if he would like to go to Leicester Square as chief engineer. Nigel said he would give it a try and stayed until retirement.
At the time of his retirement, Nigel worked with George Mole, Gordon Elliot, Glenn Wild and Michael Swarbrick. George was chief technician, Nigel’s number two; and the others were senior technicians. After Nigel’s retirement Mark Nice became chief. They worked on a day on, day off basis. Apart from the Odeon, they had to operate a five screen mini complex next door, known as the Mezzanine cinemas.
There were three Cinemeccanica Victoria eight projectors at the Odeon, plus a digital projector. When they ran a digital copy they ran a 35mm back up copy, which they never resorted to. On royal premiers they always ran a back up. Before a screening took place, Nigel and his team always had a rehearsal. This applied to all films. The Vic 8s had long spool capability and a non – rewind (cakestand) system was also employed. Today films are shown digitally.
When film was screened the four K xenons ran at around 140 amps. The xenons and picture gates were air-cooled. A jet of air was blown on to the back plate.
At the 1990 royal premier, Nigel was introduced to the Queen. In 1997 he was made a Fellow of the BKSTS and in 2004 he was awarded the Frank Littlejohn award for an outstanding contribution to the art and craft of cinema projection. Sir Sydney Samuelson presented this to him at Pinewood studios. Sir Sydney said: ‘Nigel has become a legend because of his very long career in cinema projection, culminating in his position as ‘Chief’ at the Odeon Leicester Square.’ In 1990, Nigel began to help Dion Hanson at MIFID in Milan. Nigel is one of two; I think that has received an MBE for sterling efforts in the world of film projection, sadly now gone.
David A Ellis
Often when I visited the cinema, like many other children my attention would be drawn to the piercing light beam projecting high above. It was more evident then as smoking was allowed in cinemas, so the smoke laced air helped provided spectacular dancing patterns as the picture moved. Much to my parents annoyance, I would spend a lot of my time, head turned around watching this display, rather than watching the film that they had just forked out the equivalent of 7 pence for my seat. My interest of course was what went on over the other-side of the beam, and how these talented people worked in this little known area operating the equipment.
Vin Dunning was one such person, in fact he was more than likely to be one of the projectionists showing the film on my many cinema visits. Vin had previously worked at the Gaumont before moving across to the Music Hall as second projectionist. There he had to adjust to the confines of a very small projection room, because of this he had contemplated returning to the Gaumont, but remained at the Music Hall. He was gifted with skills of the cinematography business, together with the necessary expertise in the operation and maintenance of precision machinery. He was well versed in all aspects of photography, thus becoming manager at Will R Rose Cameras & photo-finishers in Bridge Street after leaving the cinema business.
With all his knowledge of traditional cinema projection, he embraced the new digital cinema technology with an ease of understanding that is exceptional for his generation. He remained interested, and positive with his progressive thinking towards today’s cinema business, and could converse at all levels of technical understanding. Vin was an amiable, mild mannered man. A well respected friend and colleague to many Chester cinema employees, always keeping in touch with his former associates.
Sadly Vin Dunning is no longer with us, but it was more that a pleasure to have had the good fortune of knowing him.