On this page we invite you to recall your personal memories of local cinemas.
If you worked in the industry or just enjoyed going to cinema, then we and many others are interested to hear about it. Whether in the Chester area or any other district in the UK and overseas.
Simply send your story in (long or short) on our contact page of the website together with your email address or telephone number. This will then be added onto this page as a permanent feature on our website.
Peter Stevens writes ~
I’m putting together a page for my family archive. My grandfather was Arthur Stevens [originally from Cardiff] who moved to Chester in 1941 because Cardiff was being heavily bombed. He is pictured outside what my Dad referred to as the ‘Music Hall’ in Chester. The film is 1957 on the IMDB. Can you confirm the date the photograph was taken please?
David A Ellis confirms the date ~
The film was screened at the Music Hall from Monday 21st July 1958. The main feature was Happy is the Bride. ~ David A Ellis.
Peter ~ I bet they were going for the main feature ‘Happy Is The Bride’. My Dad married my American mother in Florida not long after, but my grandparents couldn’t afford to go.
Shirley Ellis recalls ~
Shirley Ellis, who worked there at this time recalls “I remember being given the PINK PANTHER costume to wear and going across to the Top Rank bingo hall to draw the first number, then returning, and being chained outside the Odeon to promote the latest PINK PANTHER film, supervised by manager, Tony Brooks.
It was wonderful working there. It was pure fun, wasn’t like work at all”.
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”.
Jayne Hughes who lived in Bouverie Street recalls ~ I remember going with my mum. Hard seats but fascinating building. My mum’s cousin Beryl Rainford used to be an usherette there…amazing uniform, maroon suit and pillbox type hat and bright bright red lipstick,!
I suppose most people take for granted surround sound and comfortable seats in our multi cinemas now. Perhaps we should remember the time when for decades cinemas had only mono sound delivery from big speakers behind the screen. Do not forget this sound had to be able to reach people’s ears right at the back of the circle and be good quality in an area to seat 2000 people .It might not have sounded as good as today’s sound but showing the film OKLAHOMA I thought it sounded smashing! And don’t forget some of today’s cinemas only have around 200 seats, no wonder sound is great!
One evening back around 1958 while showing the current films of that week, the manager came into the projection room with some chaps from the local photo club. The manager (Mr Woodman) told me this group were pestering him about having a look at what our job consisted of; to say they were blown away is an understatement. They asked about the amplifiers which were under a door in the side of our BTH SUPAs. They wanted to know what amps output was used to drive our speakers. Of course, large London cinemas did have stereophonic sound here and there.
I remember around October 1956 chief asked me to take something (probably a can of thawpit cleaning fluid) over to the Odeon Barking, strange how you remember things like, I know we were both showing ,THE SOLID GOLD CADILLAC, with Paul Douglas & Judy Holiday at that time… Going up to their box and talking to one of their operators, they had stereo equipment fitting just under the top spool box. I was told the magnetic sound was printed on the outside edges of the 35mm print (unless someone knows different) Barking Odeon at that time could put on live shows at the weekends I went once (complimentary ticket) as another good friend Reg Harris was working on the spot lights for the show, not sure but I think Shirley Bassey was appearing.
In early 1958 Odeon Tottenham Court road was converted to show a Cinerama like 3 projector process called CINEMIRACLE. I think J.A. RANK wanted to compete with CINERAMA round the corner at the casino theatre in old Compton Street. The Odeon was going to show CINEMIRACLE had to have 700 seats removed. This was done so they could fit a screen 71 feet wide by 28 feet high. In early 1958 our 2nd operator Tony Phillips was asked if he wanted to be included in the projection team showing the new show in London, Tony was delighted and said yes.
Later that year Tony gave me two tickets to see the film WINDJAMMER which was the only film shown in CINEMIRACLE ever at this Odeon. Would you believe they had a band playing music before the film started! As Dorn (my future wife) who was an usherette at my Odeon and I had only just started courting at this time it was great to take her with me. We both enjoyed the programme, the sound was really impressive. It was Tony’s day off at this time so we could not look around the projection room, shame! One thing about our visit was as we came out of the cinema Dorn put her arm in mine for the first time, magic! Sad to say this project only ran from the 14th of May 1958 till 1st of November 1958. Tony Phillips, who was a good friend of mine, married a nice girl called Jane who you would believe was a projectionist around the Gaumont East Ham! It seems all the nice girls worked at all our cinemas!
When I was young (16), I started work as an apprentice at Blaggs next to the Gaumont cinema in 1956. The building was owned by the cinema and had no toilet so we had to use the toilets in the cinema. In those days the Gaumont had a really good dining room upstairs which was open every day, I remember having some good lunches there.
The projection room had two Gaumont Kaylee projectors. Some very good stage shows were put on, I remember seeing Charlie Chester in “Zip goes a Million ” and seeing Lonnie Donigan. In it’s hey day it was a brilliant theatre.
When it was converted into a bowling alley I was appalled to witness the organ console dragged into the foyer and badly damaged, I’m not sure if it was rescued or just dumped but seeing how damaged it was I would be surprised if it would ever be used again. The building was converted by building another structure inside the old. The main ceiling and stage were kept but I expect all this has long since gone.
Changing face of the movies
Recently, I re-visited a number of old movies I saw when I was younger; movies that I thought were wonderful when I first saw them. While some of them are still exciting to watch, others are not. As a young lad I didn’t know how movies were made, so I didn’t give much thought to it. But now, I can see the shortcomings of many of them, because of the technology and censorship at the time. There were some science fiction and other genres that were meant to be serious, but now produce a giggle.
Today, movies look real, due to advanced technology, and censorship that allows things through, that would have been on the cutting room floor years back. Now, many old films look corny because of their technical shortcomings and the censorship at the time. Here are a few examples of things that didn’t ring true with movies of old. On some of the Roman epics we had people talking in different accents when they were from the same place. Some, for example, would have posh English accents, and others would have American, with Tony Curtis hair cuts, kept in place, no matter what. People spending days in the heat of the jungle would emerge as clean as a whistle, sweat free. Some low budget science fiction films of the 1950s had the alien dressed in a space suit, with an helmet. Not very convincing. Also, there were special effects, where it was obvious models were being used. In some cases the acting was bad and the horror film was more of a comedy than a film to scare the pants off you.
One film that has become a classic, though it is a turkey, is ‘Plan Nine from Outer Space’. In the western and other movies where a gun was used, not a drop of blood could be seen when someone was shot. Another unreal thing in the western was when chairs and tables broke so easily over a head during a fight, and the person hit unaffected. Of course, films such as the above shown to children, should still stay unreal looking in these areas. Married couples had to have separate beds due to censorship rules No on screen passion then.
By the late 1950s things became more relaxed, but even then a mild expletive, and a couple in bed, even if just lying there, would be enough to give it an adults only certificate. Some films used back projection, a film running behind a screen, which in many cases was pretty obvious. Someone, for example would be sitting in a mock up car with a projected film behind them. The driver would often turn the steering wheel from right to left. If it was a real car it would be all over the road. Painted backdrops tended to stand out. For example a castle in the distance was a model or painting, which looked unreal.
Of course, back then there was nothing to compare them. They were all limited by the technology of the time, and people didn’t look at them thinking this or that doesn’t look real. Apart from the limits of the film industry, there was other technology that was displayed in films that was supposed to be futuristic, which looks dated now. For example films of the 1930s, which were set in the distant future obviously tried to make thirties technology futuristic and of course now looks unreal.
For example, Flash Gordon, set in the distant future, made in the nineteen thirties with Buster Crabb, obviously had to use old valve technology, which now looks funny In our high tech computer age, and makes the films look very dated. They would have looked ok when they were made, eighty years ago. If someone sets their film in the 23rd century with the technology we have today, even if they try and make it more futuristic, come the 23rd century, the film may become laughable, because the technology would have moved on that much more. It would be like us watching Flash Gordon today.
Today, film makers can make the unreal look real with blue and green screen, computer graphics and all sorts of digital wizardry. Film makers can now let their creative juices flow more than ever. There are now small high quality digital cameras, some not much bigger than a cigarette packet. These can be put in places that was impossible a few years back. Also because of high film speeds natural lighting can be used more. Lighting a set is still very important for some scenes, but not as many lights are required and they are small but powerful.
At the end of the day though, it is the story that counts. Some of the old movies may have lacked special effects and were sometimes held back by censorship, but in most cases the stories were good. It is only today when we compare them to the modern digital effects that these films look dated and show their limitations.
Today, almost anything goes in the movies, with not much left to the imagination. But why do film makers, in a number of cases think they have to include a load of expletives and extreme graphic imagery to sell a film? Make it look real, but don’t add things that are not necessary and over do it. Some films have included the odd expletive and violent scene, which wasn’t necessary, and as a result has been given a certificate, which has prevented younger people from seeing it.
David A Ellischestercinemas
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