ABC Regal Cinema, Chester.~ Staff

 

 

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.

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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.

Claremont cinema in Moss side, Manchester. The first cinema Douglas Baker managed.

The ABC was the largest of three “super cinemas” in Chester, the other two were the Gaumont Theatre in Brook Street, which boasted a full working stage, and the more modest Odeon Cinema in Northgate Street.

Left on this picture is Douglas Baker & Hugh Jones, the chief projectionist with members of Chester Fire Brigade 1956

The ABC Chester was regarded as an important venue by Associated British Cinemas, the company who 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 assistant managers and trainees, 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 events during his tenure included a major refurbishment, lasting three months, that took place during 1963, followed by the immensely popular stage shows that commenced the following year.

click on the above frame to watch ‘Cooking with Radar’

In 1965 the main entrance foyer was divided to make way for the Gingham Kitchen, which boasted ‘Cooking with Radar’, as featured on Pathe News. This was because it was one of the first retail premises to cook by microwave in the UK.

Douglas S Baker holds the prestigious  ABC National Good Housekeeping Award for 1965

He regularly won awards for his promotions, and indeed for the coveted National ABC Good House Keeping award, which he was particularly proud of, 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.

 

Manager Douglas Stewart Baker leaves the ABC

D S Baker takes control of the new ABC CINEMA BRISTOL

click on the above frame to watch the opening night

 

The late DOUGLAS STEWART BAKER.                         Master showman of the cinema

Peter Davies © chestercinemas.co.uk

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Known to thousands of Chester movie goers as “the lady with the kiss curl hairstyle”, she was remembered by her work colleagues as a charming, mild mannered and super efficient senior member of staff. Sheila Pickford was head cashier for more than two decades at the ABC Chester. Always immaculate dressed in dark blue or black costumes, complemented with pearl jewellery accessories.

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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!”

© chestercinemas.co.uk

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Chief Jones in projection TITLED B

Born in Wales Hugh Price Jones moved to Liverpool before the First World War. He started work at the Prince Of Wales cinema, Clayton Square in 1915, eventually achieving a position in the projection room. It was at the Prince Of Wales that he met his wife Marian who was a cashier at the cinema and came from the city. They married on 6th January 1919 at St.Peters Church, on Church Street, Liverpool. Hugh stayed at this cinema for fourteen years before taking up a position of chief projectionist at the Hippodrome cinema in Blackpool in 1929.  This cinema also put on stage shows and Hugh worked with stars such as Gracie Fields, George Formby and Arthur Askey. His move to Chester came in 1937 when he was promoted, taking up his position of chief projectionist at the brand new 2000 seat ABC Regal. His technical cinema and stage skills were considerable and he was acknowledged as operating immaculate projection rooms with a large team of hand picked projectionists. In pecking order he was next in status to the General Manager, although often it seemed to be the reverse as he was of a very powerful character .

Terry Jones

His sons, Douglas and Charles followed him into the industry as projectionists, while Terry pursued a career in theatre management, becoming the assistant manager at the Royal Court, and later manager at the Empire Liverpool. Rita, his daughter also worked at the cinema.
Hugh Jones remained in charge until his retirement during 1967 having completed thirty years service as chief projectionist at the one cinema and fifty two years in the cinema business .
He passed away in October 1987.
© chestercinemas.co.uk

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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

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Early 1960s and time to leave school and start work. Mum was the General Manager at the Classic Cinema, Foregate Street in Chester. Dad worked at a garage lower down the same street, so this was a good area to look for my first job.

I started at Burtons the Tailors, right under the famous Chester Clock, then moved to Marks and Spencer before finally ending up at the ABC Cinema. I was interviewed by the General Manager, Douglas Baker. As a 16-year-old I was offered the position of a trainee manager, working directly alongside assistant manager, Ken Cooper. What an experience! They both knew Mum so I had to perform “well” to maintain the Rawson name.

In addition to the normal “management” training, I was fortunate to be employed at the time that the ABC started hosting live concerts. I was then 17 years old and in the position of being able to personally meet and interact with the star performers of that time.

Gene Pitney

I forget the order of these shows but my favourite pop star was Gene Pitney, and … yes you guessed it … I got to meet him! But … not only that, it was his birthday and the event was reported on regional (Granada TV) news. He arranged a small party after the show and yes – I was there! Other performers I remember were, the Rolling Stones, Herman’s Hermits, The Hollies, the Checkmates, Spencer Davis Group, Moody Blues, Diana Ross and The Supremes, Unit Four + 2, Walker Brothers, Bee Gees, Searchers, the Kinks and Chuck Berry. I definitely had “boasting rights”. I also had a collection of autographed show programmes, still trying to find out where they are.

Taking part in the promotional events for the films scheduled to show, was an interesting “hobby” that got me out of the cinema offices. Another “activity” was the ABC Minors shows on Saturday mornings, I was fortunate to end up on stage and run some of those events, supported by other staff members, notably Jack Lally, Sheila Pickford and Lil Rogers.

One of my final activities before being transferred to the ABC Deansgate in Manchester, was the Pathé News opening of the Gingham Kitchen – I got on the other side of the movie lens.

Tony Rawson on the opening sequence of ‘Cooking with Radar’- Pathé News.

I left ABC in 1967, joined Cheshire Fire Brigade stationed in Ellesmere Port.

 

Anthony (Tony) Rawson,

ex Trainee Manager, ABC Cinema, Chester.

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chief Jones ABC

The staff in this early photograph taken in the circle lounge of the ABC Regal shows chief projectionist, Hugh Price Jones (L) presenting the manager, Ronald Barrie, with a gift on the occasion of him leaving the cinema.
The young page boy standing 3rd from right of the manager is Hugh Jones’s son, Charles, who took over as chief projectionist when his father retired. Ladies sitting to the  left is Margaret Cooper who moved across to the Odeon in the early 40s, to her right is Joyce Conway/Garner.  The lady standing between the manager & Hugh Jones is Gwen Artel, she met & married her husband, Ron Thurling while working at the ABC. Ron can be seen directly behind the manager.

© chestercinemas.co.uk
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ABC Chester projectionists. Chester Chronicle 20th May 1961.

Researched by David A Ellis© chestercinemas.co.uk
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Working in the Projection Department.

I left the Classic Cinema and started work at the ABC as 4th projectionist, and later 3rd projectionist. The ABC Cinema was a far more professional outfit and presentation was far more polished than the Classic, but nowhere near as nice to work at, it had a very strict regime within the projection department and heaven help you if you did something wrong, it was not unusual to see acts of violence, and we knew the warning signs, you could feel it building up all day. Our punishment was also by humiliation and ridicule, but I believe it did get worse after I left.

 

The ABC Minors

Saturday Morning Minors was fun, well for the kids it was. That was the only time that we would see the Compton organ being used; I think that the organist or target as the kids would think of was probable on Valium. Douglas Baker, the General Manager, would have any child who had a birthday up on stage to receive a present, some of those kids had a lot of birthdays in a year!

The majority were only interested in the serials, Flash Gordon, The Lone Ranger, etc. The feature films seldom held their attention was of no interest to them.

 

The First ABC Stage Show

The screen at the ABC was fixed onto a huge metal frame. Before the stage shows started the screen had to disappear, and that could only happen by flying it. Parkers the builders from Shipgate Street did that work.  Firstly, they drilled holes in the flat roof over the stage, then they put together large loops of steel rope, they would go through the hole in the roof and a scaffolding pole would slot through the wire, and with the steel rope hanging over the stage they then built a swinging scaffold complete with walkways of planks. This enabled them to put in steelwork that was to take the enormous load of the screen when it was lifted by a counterweight system.

I did go up on the scaffold on one occasion and decided there and then not to do it again, it was terrifying, everything swung from side to side. They would work all night after the last showing, but on one occasion all the lights in the cinema went out so Parkers workers had to find their way down in the pitch black. After that, one of us would be there all night just in case it happened again, but thankfully, it only took a few more nights to finish the job.

The first stage show was the Rolling Stones, on Monday 14th September 1964. We started work very early. The screen frame was flown off the stage floor to give a clearance of a mere 16 feet. The stage was then dressed with extra curtains, swags and borders, etc.

The Rolling Stones performing their latest hit “It’s All Over Now” on the stage of the ABC Chester. The massive screen frame can be clearly seen above Mick Jagger’s head.

I was on the so-called lead spotlight; my colleague Peter Davies was on the second spotlight. Before the show started we were all called into one of the dressing rooms behind the stage by the Tour Manager and were given our instructions about the upcoming show, he would say things like “during this number I want this colour spot on this person, that coloured spot on that person”, and he went through the whole show like that and I kept thinking I’m never going to remember all that, the others felt the same, and it would be fair to say it was a bit of a disaster and did not run smoothly.

 

The noise from the Stones and 2000 screaming fans was extremely loud, the motors feeding the carbon spotlights were also loud, also the intercom from the stage kept ringing, probably the tour manager telling us we were not doing it right but it was too noisy for us to hear him, I don’t think anyone in the audience would have noticed anything wrong, but I think all of us in the projection room were relieved when it was over.

I have seen recently a colourful account by Keith Richards of how the Rolling Stones left the building on the 14th September 1964, he said that on that occasion the cinema was surrounded by screaming kids, and they couldn’t get out. Thankfully the Chief Constable of Cheshire in full regalia complete with a swagger stick said that he knew the way out across the rooftops, and that they went over the rooftops through a skylight and out through a laundry chute. This did not happen, the only way in those days that you could get onto the ABC roof was through the projection room, and once on the roof the only way to get of it is back into the projection room, and we didn’t have a laundry chute, it was not a hotel.

Mick Jagger pictured on the staircase of the ABC Chester’s main entrance hall prior to the evening performance.

The way the Stones left the cinema was a lot simpler. The building was surrounded that is true, but the cinema did have a very long entrance hall, several doors in Foregate Street and a lot more in Love Street, so they switched all the lights out in the entrance hall and a crowd of us ran down to the Foregate Street end and all the kids at the Love Street end followed us, the doors were opened at the Love Street end and the Stones left the building.

After the Rolling Stones show we all realized that things would have to change, and the change had to be in the communication, or lack of it from the stage. There was a deaf aid system in the cinema where a person with hearing problems would be directed by the usherette to one of a number of seats where that person could plug in their personal hearing aid, and one of us would go down to the stage and switch on the amplifier that powered it. Two wires were run from this amplifier to the projection room and a microphone was connected to the amp on the stage. Four sets of ex-Army headphones were purchased for a pound each from Telfords Warehouse, Southview. This was before Telfords became a popular bar.

In front of each of us in the projection room was a two-pin plug, and when the stage show was about to start, it was strike up the spotlight, ear phones on, and let the show start. The tour manager would then cue the lighting board and spotlight operators via the microphone/headphones telling us exactly what to do, and after that every show was perfect.

Sadly, live entertainment in Chester seemed to go into decline, and instead of things getting better, and seeing more live entertainment, things got worse.

Despite the way we were treated I did enjoy working there, but having just been married I found the pay to be rather low. My wage was ten pounds ten shillings a week, so I left to work at Royal Mail for a massive fourteen pounds ten shillings a week. I intended that it would be a temporary job. I left Royal Mail 34 years later!

 

Some of the acts that I remember appeared on stage when I worked there were-

Rolling Stones- Tom Jones- Dion Warwick- Ike and Tina Turner- Sony and Cher-           Freddy and the Dreamers- Cliff Richard and The Shadows- The Hollies- The Kinks- Dave Clark Five- Gladys Night and the Pips- Gerry and the Pacemakers- Cilla Black- Gene Pitney- The Small Faces- The Searchers- Moody Blues- Diana Ross and the Supremes and lots more.

 

 

Ron Evanscopyright whitechestercinemas.co.uk

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Derrick Moore began his cinema career at the ABC Chester in 1956 as a probationer projectionist. Within a relatively short time he had progressed his position to that of third operator. 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. Derrick 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.

The late Derrick Moore. Photographed behind the camera at the ABC Theatre, Blackpool.

 

The ABC Theatre, Blackpool.

Blackpool’s famous illuminations

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 travelled with the shows. In 1965 Derrick was appointed senior second technician at the then 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, Derrick 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 sadly passed away seven years later.

© chestercinemas.co.uk

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Living next door to the Royalty Theatre on City Road, Geoff Williams could hardly escape being involved in entertainment. He decided that the theatre was not for him, and applied for a position as trainee projectionist at the ABC in the early 1960s. Geoff came into his own when he took control of the lighting board on the pop concerts that began in 1964. After considering employment with the BBC, he chose to follow his brother who worked at BOAC, where later he achieved a senior position.

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From left to right~ Kiosk sales- Ethel Hewson, Betty Langton. Cashier- Shelia Pickford. Commissionaire- Dennis Radford. Photographed 1965.

 

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For many years Jack Lally was one of the cinemas commissionaires. He was usually the first person to greet you on arrival, with a beaming smile he always had a kind word for customers. However, for those who chose to gain free entry through the exit doors, they found that Jack’s smile had disappeared as he quickly and forcefully escorted them back to the street.

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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!

© chestercinemas.co.uk

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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.

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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.

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Usherette, Mal Tones, is pictured in the lofty entrance hall of the ABC Chester during 1965.  She was part of the large staff that managed the thousands of patrons who frequented the building for film and pop concerts.

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For many years Ethel Hewson was head of sales and was a familiar face, serving customers from the impressive kiosk that was located in the main entrance foyer.

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Chief projectionist- Charles Jones

Charles Jones-  His first position was that of a page boy, soon after the ABC Regal opened. 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 1967.

From the early 1970s, ABC and Odeon circuits discouraged the practice of close family members from being employed together in their projection rooms.

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.

© chestercinemas.co.uk

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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”.

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Harry Wakeford recalls his time working in the projection room at the ABC Chester

I always enjoyed the visits to the ABC Chester working as a Relief Projectionist. The working environment was always a relaxed happy atmosphere making it an enjoyable place to work, not to mention the staff who always made me feel welcome.

One day i will go and visit Chester and have a look at the building just for old time sake, i know it has changed somewhat over the last few years and not for the better, like all the other ABC cinemas i worked in, these have all disappeared, but the happy memories are still so vivid.

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