THE FIRST MANAGER OF CHESTER’S ABC REGAL
RONALD BARRIE ~ The highly sought after position of General Manager at Chester’s largest cinema was awarded to Ronald Barrie. Well respected and talented, he had previously managed the large ABC Hippodrome cinema in Blackpool and was therefore the ideal candidate to take control of this splendid cinema/theatre.
Douglas Stewart Baker was a typical cinema manager of the era when the business was in fierce competition from television, bingo, and bowling. D.S. Baker joined the company in 1946 as an assistant manager at the Ritz Stockport. He came to manage the ABC Regal during 1955. Previously he had been the General Manager at the ABC Litchfield. The ABC was Chester’s largest “super cinema”, the other two supers being the similar sized, and grand Gaumont Palace in Brook Street, which boasted a full working stage, and the more modest Odeon in Northgate Street.
The ABC being a triple “A” grade theatre was regarded with some importance by the Associated British Cinemas Corporation company that owned it. Therefore, it had to be managed by a person of a certain calibre, with the experience required to boost admissions, particularly of such a large cinema, which had high operating costs. Douglas S Baker was one such person. A disciplinarian by nature, with a charming manner, which he used to his full advantaged with the press, and on other members of the local business community to assist him to promote ABC’s film exhibition to all four corners of the Chester district. He lavishly entertained anyone whom he considered would be a willing partner in any of his publicity campaigns. The drinks cabinet in his office was always generously stocked!
He led a team of hand chosen managers, who were dedicated to the profession, nurturing several of them into much higher positions within the company, and in the case of his trainee Chester prodigy Dennis Davidson, went on to form the international PR company of Dennis Davidson Associates.
With the staff in general, you would be expected to take part in Douglas Baker’s publicity campaigns, no matter what was involved. As a sixteen year old, I remember being told to ride a penny farthing cycle, dressed in a top hat & false beard around the busy Chester streets as part of a film promotion. When I protested that I was employed as a projectionist, he replied sternly “ and do you enjoy having that job?”. I duly got on the bike, much to the amusement of my colleagues! Unless management or staff gave a full 100% return he had a low tolerance level. He was very much a company man, and ran the operation strictly in line with the demands of Associated British Cinemas.
He had a traditional respect for his staff, and they in turn respected him. As business dramatically dropped, he steered the cinema through some challenging times, and it was important that he maintained the loyalty of his team. Notable times during Douglas’s tenure at the ABC were the major refurbishment that took place during 1963, followed by the immensely popular stage shows that commenced the following year. In 1965 the main entrance foyer was divided to make way for the Concourse Coffee Lounge, which boasted “Cooking By Radar”, as featured on Pathe News. This was because it was the first retail premises to cook by microwave in the UK.
He regularly won awards for his promotions, and indeed for the coveted National ABC Good House Keeping award, which he was particularly proud, as seen in this 1965 press photograph.
In 1966, a surprise for his colleagues was when Douglas Baker announced that he was moving to Bristol to manage a brand new cinema there. He left the Chester cinema in a buoyant business position, and will always be remembered for his talented contribution to cinema exhibition.
D S Baker takes control of the new ABC CINEMA BRISTOL
click on the above frame to watch the opening night
Peter Davies © chestercinemas.co.uk
After briefly pursuing an acting career when she took a leading role in The Chester Mystery Plays, Pat started work at the ABC cinema in 1963. She had a long & varied attachment to the theatre and cinemas in Chester. Working as usherette and then cashier at the ABC during the hectic start of the pop concerts, she also worked at the Royalty Theatre in City Road.
During the mid 1960s Pat was cashier at the Odeon as blockbuster films such as “The Sound Of Music” & “Mary Poppins” were screened, issuing tickets at a quantity and speed that would make todays cinema managers gasp for breath!!
After leaving the Odeon when she married, she returned in the 1970s as Pat Davies to continue working at the Odeon where here husband was the chief projectionist. Among staff she described as “brilliant!”
The remarkable story of the Chester ABC trainee manager who progressed to form a global media PR company.
Click on the DDA image below to read about DENNIS DAVIDSON
Chief projectionist ~ CHARLES JONES
One of the first employees at the ABC Regal was Charles Jones. Once old enough to work in the projection room he became a trainee operator. For many years he was 2nd projectionist to his father. Taking over as chief operator in 1968. At this time the stage shows had reached their peak. Charles toured the North West ABC region as stage manager on several shows with stars such as Shirley Bassey.
He remained with ABC to oversee the conversion of the building into twin cinemas. On retirement he moved to Llandudno. He passed away on 27th September 2012.
Ron Evans, pictured here in front of a backdrop of the magnificent ABC Chester, worked there as a projectionist in the early to mid 1960’s. He was responsible for not just showing films, but for organizing the immense amount of technical maintenance that was associated with a cinema of that size (2016 seats). He was involved with the preparations in converting the cinema stage in readiness for the highly successful pop shows, meeting many of the major stars who appeared on stage at that time. Before his ABC employment, Ron had worked at the Classic (Tatler) cinema, which was just a short distance away from the ABC on Foregate Street.
Derek Moore was a third projectionist during the late 50’s and early to mid 1960’s. He looked after all things mechanical and electrical both in the projection room and the downstairs auxiliary plant. He was one of the projection team selected to do an advanced training course organised by NATTKE, the UK’s television, theatre and cinema’s union, which set out an in-house plan of further advancement in the areas of electrical and technical expertise. Derek was at the ABC during the cinema’s one and only major refurbishment which was carried out during 1963, and the introduction of the stage pop concerts which commenced in 1964.
On the stage concerts he was in charge of the lighting board. His quick response to lighting cues did not go unnoticed by Stage Managers who traveled with the shows. In 1965 Derek was appointed second technician at the recently opened ABC Blackpool. There he was again involved with stage lighting. ABC Television broadcast “Blackpool Night Out” every Sunday evening from this theatre.
Leaving cinema and theatre work behind, Derek worked as an electrician on Blackpool’s illuminations before heading back to Chester where he was employed at the Countess Of Chester Hospital as an electrician.
He retired in 2001 and passed away seven years later.
A lady well known to many cinema goers was Lil Rogers.
She started her career in cinema at the ABC Regal during the fifties as a cashier. During the mid-sixties, and in particular as the ABC began to host the famous stage shows, Lil started to train in office duties under the watchful eye of Horace “Chuck” Walker. Lil took her new duties in her stride while taking on a responsible role dealing with the many thousands of booking transactions that were then processed manually, as well as maintaining her familiar cashier role.
It was a particularly busy time, when the main entrance was divided to provide a Concourse coffee lounge, which was famed as being the first venue to use microwave cooking. Many changes were to take place in the building which Lil enjoyed being involved with, embracing the change, demonstrating experience and her ability to manage. She was made a trainee manager towards the latter part of the 1960s, eventually becoming a duty manager within a few years. After the cinema was divided into a poorly thought out cine bingo operation Lil was in charge as General Manager. Certainly making the best of what she had available. She remained at the ABC until a few years before it closed.
Lil Rogers was a well respected, and liked manager to her colleagues and customers, many who fondly remember her generosity with those free tickets!
Lynne Wainwright, pictured here in the rear stalls at the ABC Chester, worked on sales and as an usherette during the early to mid sixties. Often she would take part in publicity events, one being for “Carry On Cabby”, although for this she was dressed in uniform and sat on a motor scooter for the press photographs.
A lady well known to Chester movie goers of the 1960s & 70s was Miriam Jeffreys who worked at both the ABC and Odeon cinemas. She particularly enjoyed her time at the ABC when she would be quick at cashing up so that she could watch the pop concerts and once having the chance to meet her favourite star ~Englebert Humperdinck.
In the 1970s she moved across to the Odeon where she worked for several years. Miriam passed away in April of 2020. A sad loss to her many cinema friends.
I remember being a minor of the ABC cinema in Foregate Street, although, my badge is but a memory, writes Cindy Bunch, who now lives in Victoria BC, Canada. “In the mid-1960s, my Mum’s late sister Valerie Cook worked as an usherette at the Odeon. She was very small 4’ 9” which caused a problem when she carried the ice cream tray as it banged against her knees. My Dad fixed the strap on the tray with additional holes to higher the tray.
My Mum’s name was Mignon (Min) Singleton. She came from Salisbury Street, just off Cheyney Road. I remember that she and my Auntie Win (Winnie Green) worked together at the Gingham Kitchen which had been built into the front of the ABC’s grand entrance hall. My Dad, Roy and Auntie Win’s husband Frank told the ladies that “No wife’s of theirs should work. So the following day they went to the manager and jacked in their jobs right there and then. When they returned home, my Dad asked what the heck did she think she was playing at, we need the money! So the next day, Mum and Auntie Win went back to the Gingham Kitchen. As bold as brass, telling the manager “We’ve reconsidered our position. As such we’ll stay on as is” Yup, they got their jobs back.
My Mum served a Gingham Kitchen meal to the folk group Peter, Paul and Mary when they appeared at the ABC before a performance there. A snippet of family and Chester cinema history”.