David constantly researches details of Chester’s cinemas. On this page he updates us with photographs & editorial on cinemas of Chester, and the people who were employed in them






A short piece of movie film that David has shared of the Classic projection during the time that he was a projectionist there during 1966

Click on the above frame to play the video


In the ’30s and ’40s there were many studios turning out films to satisfy the hunger for the movies. Sadly, many have gone and the sites used for other purposes, such as housing estates. Elstree was the home to a number of Studios. They included the Gate Studios, now long gone.

Still there, is the old Associated British Picture corporation studio, now just known as Elstree Studios. Many big films have been produced there, including Star Wars. A lot of TV material is now shot there. Also standing, across the road from Elstree Studios is the old ATV studios, which years before had been the Rock studios run by American Joe Rock.  This studio is now used by the BBC for programmes such as Eastenders and Casualty.

MGM Boreham Wood

There was a large MGM studio at nearby Boehamwood, where many great British pictures were shot. Margaret Rutherford in the Miss Marple films were photographed there. This was known as MGM British Studios.




At Ealing there is still the studio that is famous for many George Formby, Gracie Fields films, as well as the famous 1950s comedies and some serious dramas, including It Never Rains on Sunday.

Pinewood…the home of 007

Gregory Peck at PINEWOOD

There is still Pinewood and Shepperton turning out excellent material. Pinewood is home to the James Bond movies and all the Carry On films were shot there.

There was Nettlefold Studios, turning out low budget television material such as Robin Hood, starring the late Richard Greene.

At Merton Park they filmed the Edgar Lustgarten Scotland Yard films and the Edgar Wallace shorts. A bust of Edgar Wallace would move around in the Mist during the opening credits. This was shot using a gramophone turntable. There was Beaconsfield studios that became the National Film School, Lime Grove Studios in Shepherds Bush that had been Gaumont British, where Hitchcock shot some of The Thirty Nine Steps, before being run by the BBC. There was Riverside and several others. Some studios have been completely demolished, such as MGM, which is now a housing estate. Lime Grove was also demolished.

David A Ellis © chestercinemas.co.uk



click the above frame to play the video


Brian & Warren Bennett

Father and son Brian and Warren Bennett are both composers and performers. Brian born in 1940 started at sixteen playing in a skiffle group, then went on to play drums at the 2i Coffee bar in Soho, London. Many recording executives would visit, looking for the next recording sensation. One of the visitors was pop producer Jack Good, who produced the 1950s ITV pop extravaganza Oh Boy! He put Brian on his show, backing many famous British and American recording artists, including Conway Twitty. Brian went on to perform in Marty Wilde’s group Marty Wilde and the Wild cats.

He went on to back Tommy Steele at the London Palladium and over the years has backed a number of super stars including Ella Fitzgerald and the late Olivia Newton John.

In 1961 he was offered the job of drummer with The Shadows. Brian remained with the shadows until they disbanded.

He co-wrote the song ‘Summer Holiday’ with Bruce Welch for the film of the same name. Brian said they wrote it in just twenty minutes and said he wrote the middle section, adding that twenty minutes made him more money than he earned since.

Asked why he chose a musical career, he said, “Music chose me. It was love at first sight. From the first notes I heard from our radio, that was it. Taking it up as a career was a risk I was prepared to take.”

When he was with the Shadows he co-wrote a number of songs for Cliff Richard including, In the Country and I Could Easily fall in Love with You.

Bennett went on to do film scoring, his first being ‘Terminal Choice’ (1985). “It was to be scored by John Scott but he was offered another film, so gave it to me,” he said.

Asked what method he uses to score, he replied, “I work with pen and paper. I also work with Logic Programming. The combination of both is perfect for me.”

How does he approach a film score? “It is good to read the script but you need to see a rough cut. A script will give you an idea of the project but the director will interpret the script on the screen the way he thinks it should be. I do sketches to a rough cut but won’t waste time until I get a fine cut.”

In 2004 he was awarded the OBE for services to music, presented to him by the Queen. He said that was special.

Apart from performing with The Shadows he formed The Brian Bennett Band. Over the years Bennett was awarded three Ivor Novello awards.

Today Brian is still working hard on musical ideas in his studio called Honeyhill Studios, the name chosen by his wife, which Brian said just came out of the sky.

Brian’s son Warren, born in 1962, followed in his dad’s footsteps and has performed with the Shadows and is also a film composer. He has worked with Bennett senior on a few things, including, Manalovo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards, directed by Michael Roberts.

When deciding what to work on he said, “You can hear with some scripts what kind of music you would like to write by reading it. If that is the case, I am usually keen to get started straight away.”

Though he gets ideas from the written page, he feels it is more useful to see and then hear the text performed by the cast. He added, “That way you get an idea of what the characters will be like before you have seen any cuts.”

Bennett has worked on many projects including the BBC series New Tricks, which he says was special saying that the whole crew were a happy bunch. He scored nine series of the programme.

He was a performer and arranger on Hank Marvin’s solo albums and he wrote the title track from Marvin’s first album ‘Into the Light’. He was also a member of Marvin’s touring band on each of his six solo tours between 1994 and 2002.

Bennett has his own record company called Waffles, named after his first dog. He also has his own recording studio.

Thanks to Brian and Warren for giving me their time.

David A Ellis © chestercinemas.co.uk


david ellis writes main reduced ratio




The Chester Debating Society opened its second half session at the Old Palace (YMCA) on Tuesday, when the Rev Father Hayes introduced for discussion, “That the cinema has proved to be an educational boon.” He looked upon the cinema as an evolution from the magic lantern, and said that as an instrument of education the cinema when properly used was capable of being utilised to great advantage. A tremendous amount of thought could be engendered through the screen. He had recently seen an exhibition depicting an Eastern scene, which was really wonderful. People who had not the means to travel were enabled to see the beauty spots of the world, and knowledge could be imparted in the most attractive of ways. “I like to be human,” he remarked, “and I have been many times to the pictures; I go where the people go; I hear the people laugh, and I wish they would laugh, more especially when the laughter is innocent.”

The only pity was that with some good pictures there was a mixture of others. He was, however, far from thinking that the mass of the people wanted what is low. Give them the beautiful, and they will rise with it.

Mr A. H. Gillgrass opened the debate, and the following took part in the subsequent discussion: F.G. Skempton, J.B. Seonee, J. T Golothan, W.T. Wood, J. Dobson, and Mrs Sutton.

The Chairman (Mr J.K. Wilkins, MA) remarked the exhibitions given by our local picture houses compared very favourably with those he had seen on the continent. On the motion of Councillor Rogers, seconded by Miss Hacker, a hearty vote of thanks was accorded to the Rev Father Hayes. It was announced that next Tuesday K.C. Bruce, MA, would introduce for discussion “That the modern world moves fast,” and that Mr H. Johns would open the debate.

Cheshire Observer cir:1922    Researched by David A Ellis






In the 1930s and forties cinema was booming, there was no television and the only place to see a film was the cinema. Many many people became involved in the medium and there were many small cinema circuits, as well as the major ones such as Odeon, Gaumont British and ABC. Here are a few of some small cinema circuits, with some of the cinemas they ran.








John Frederick Wood ran several cinemas around the Liverpool area, which included the Mayfair Aigburth Road, the Plaza Birkenhead and the Abbey Wavertree. His company went under the name Bedford Cinemas (1928) Ltd. His grandson the late David Wood took over the running of the Woolton, Liverpool from the Godfrey family, who ran Cheshire County Cinemas. The head office for the Godfrey circuit was the Empress cinema Runcorn. Offices were at the back of the Empress. As well as Cheshire, they ran cinemas in Widnes, which at that time was Lancashire, later becoming Cheshire. Their cinemas included the Plaza Widnes, the Empire Widnes and the Regal, Northwich.




Another small circuit based in Liverpool was Regent Enterprises run by Philip Hamner. Regent Enterprises covered several companies including Byrom Picture Houses. They ran several cinemas, including the Grand Frodsham and the Tivoli Buckley. After closure, both the Grand and Tivoli went over to bingo for a short period. The Grand was demolished but the Tivoli is still standing as a night spot.

In Burnley, Lancashire most cinemas were run by New Empire (Burnley) Ltd. Cinemas included the Empress, Imperial, Pentridge, Grand and Tivoli. Cheshire Picture Halls Ltd ran several around the Birkenhead area, including the Regal Bebington. When I started in the cinema back in 1964 I worked for independent operator Hutchinson’s from Burnley. It was the Palace Warrington, that had once been a theatre. The small circuit ran the Astra cinemas, including the Astra Rhyl, which had been the Odeon. In London there was London and District Cinemas, run by a R B Wainwright. They ran the Capital Epsom, their headquarters, the Plaza, Plumstead, the Pavilion Aylesbury and several others. Another was London and Provincial Cinemas Ltd. Their theatres included the Ritz, Tonbridge and Savoy Folkstone.

The Futurist cinema, Lime Street, Liverpool.

Another Liverpool circuit was the Levy Circuit, based in Bold Street. Managing director was Alfred Levy. The companies went under Liverpool Cinema Feature Film Co Ltd and London Palace (1921) Ltd. Theatres included the Futurist, Lido, Scala, the Claughton picture House and the Futurist Birmingham.

There are far too many circuits to mention here, but most of them have now gone. Others included, the HD Moorhouse circuit, the Monseigneur News Theatres, Matlock Cinemas Ltd, Ben Kay’s Circuit, Hull Cinemas Ltd and the AS Hyde Circuit.

David A Ellis © chestercinemas.co.uk


At the cinema we can escape into a world of make believe for a few hours, helping us to forget our reality. The machines that help us dream are the projectors that throw a beam of light on to a screen. There were many makes of projector, and other equipment designed to take us into another world.


Gaumont Chester’s projection room

One popular British made projector was the Kalee, made in Leeds by Kershaws. They made a range of machines, which included Kalee 8, 11 and 12. They also manufactured carbon arc lamps, including the Vulcan and Regal. Kalee merged with Gaumont and in 1947 produced the popular Kalee 21 machine. This was usually installed on a base known as the elephant’s foot. Gaumont Kalee also produced two arc lamps, the President and Lightmaster, which usually accompanied the 21. They also produced a Kalee 20 version. This was fitted with round spoolboxes. The 21 with square boxes. The gate mechanism on this machine and the 20 could be removed for cleaning. These at the time of release were regarded as state of the art. The framing handle (racking) was at the front of the machine and you had to be careful when framing as your hand could go in front of the lens. The Sound system to accompany this equipment was usually Gaumont Kalee Duosonic sound. Most Gaumont cinemas were equipped with the 21. Before this many were equipped with the Gaumont Eclipse projector. Some installed the Magnus machine. The 21 machine was used for previewing 35mm material at the BBC. It was housed at Ealing previews, Centre House previews and at Television Centre. The BBC was also equipped with 35mm and 16mm Baur equipment.


Ross projector with a Westrex soundhead.
ABC Chester


Ross was another popular machine and was used by the ABC circuit. Some theatres linked the RCA sound system to them and others Western Electric sound. Usually, the carbon light source was provided by Peerless Magnarc. Ross was another machine that the BBC installed. At Maida Vale there were two, which were used while the soundtrack was being recorded on tape for radio broadcasts. There was also a machine at Alexandra Palace, where at the time, the open university were based.


The original BTH projectors at Chester’s Odeon

British Thomson Houston (BTH) based in Rugby were also makers of projectors. The Odeon chain were equipped with these, and in the thirties they installed the type B projector with the BTH type C arc lamp. In 1947 the Single unit projector assembly (SUPA) was installed in many Odeons, and elsewhere. The downside, for some was you couldn’t bolt on a separate sound head or arc lamp, these were part of the unit. It also had a curved gate, which some say affected focusing. The take up for some reason went anti clockwise.


In the 1960s Odeon cinemas switched to the Italian made Cinemecanica projector. There is a range of these machines including the 35mm only Victoria 5, the dual gauge 35/70mm Victoria 8 and the dual gauge Victoria 10.


Other 70mm offerings are the Philips DP70 and 75. The 70 Was the only projector to win an Oscar.

David A Ellis © chestercinemas




Leslie James – The first organist

The cinema organ was once part of the cinema going experience in many cinemas. Several companies made these wonderful instruments including Compton and Wurlitzer. In the early days it came in for some criticism. A 1928 article by a Mr Arthur Mason, said that organ lovers are shocked by the arrival of the cinema organ and are perturbed by the appearance of this interloping newcomer. A book by a Dr George Tootell was published in 1927 called ‘How to Play the Cinema Organ’. Tootell was described as a pioneer of that branch of musical art. He was the first British organist to play a general cinema organ. In 1939, the Daily Mail reported that a Mr Albert Lander from Nottingham played hymns at the Baptist Tabernacle on a Sunday, and fearsome roars into Tiger Rag at the Regent cinema during the week. It was the same organ because the Tabernacle and the Regent shared the same building.

On the 2nd March 1931, Chester’s first super cinema, the Gaumont Palace, which was originally going to be called the Regent, opened its doors. The cinema installed the Compton organ, and during intervals its thunderous sound could be heard. In the opening week the instrument was played by Leslie James, a famous organist, who had made many radio broadcasts.

The following week Roland H. Cutler was knocking out the notes. The feature was ‘The Vagabond King’. Cutler continued playing until Sydney Gustard sat at the console on the 4th May 1931.

Gustard had played in a number of cinemas, including the Trocadero, later Gaumont and Mayfair Liverpool, which also housed a Compton, and became the regular organist at the Chester cinema; first playing the week ‘Paramount on Parade’ and ‘Girl of the Golden West’ was screened. He broadcast and made a number of records from the building. His recordings were released by HMV and include, ‘The Teddy Bear’s Picnic’ and ‘The Match Parade’. Organist Wilfred Wynne sometimes stood in for Gustard. The organ at the Gaumont was advertised as the Mighty Compton.

Robert Sydney Gustard         1893-1977

Gustard, who made hundreds of radio broadcasts, left the Chester cinema to play at the Plaza, Birkenhead, run by Bedford Cinemas (1928) Ltd. He started there on the 8th March 1937. He took the place of Lewis Oddy, who sadly passed away at a young age.



David A Elliscopyright whitechestercinemas.co.uk


Check out other articles on the Gaumont’s Compton organ by clicking on this line 


Recording engineer, mixer and producer Wes Maebe has worked in a number of studios around the world. He is based at RAK studios in London. He has worked with some of the biggest names in the business, including Carly Simon, Cat Stevens, Celine Dion and Beverly Knight. He has mastered over one hundred albums and is a member of the Music Producers Guild. He also reviews for Mix magazine. He was born in Duffel Belgium in 1977.

David A Ellis-

Were you interested in music from an early age and what type of music were you drawn to?

Wes Maebe-

Before I was born my mom was a prima ballerina at the Belgian National Ballet and my dad was a technician and representative for Studer, Revox and EMT. So music has always had a large place in our family. Mom’s influence is one hundred percent classical music and from dad I got Pink Floyd, CCR, Deep Purple, Gilbert Becaud, Jacques Brel and Johan Verminnen.

David A Ellis-

Why did you decide working in a recording studio was for you and how old were you when you decided on this?

Wes Maebe-

It was my dad who introduced me to the industry. I had been playing guitar for a while and a roadie for local bands, but the world of sound was unknown to me. Dad took me to see Herman Willems, the head of the Audio Engineering Society Europe. We had a long chat and he told me that if I wanted to learn about all this I needed to go to London. He gave me a list of colleges to check out and that is what I did.

David A Ellis-

Were you always playing with electronic gear and tape recorders as a child?

Wes Maebe-

No, I didn’t. Because of my dad’s job we always had amazing playback systems in the house, so I was always surrounded by great audio gear. When we talked about me possibly pursuing a career in audio my dad handed me a Revox G36 quarter inch machine that had been water damaged. He told me that if I was serious about this I should take it apart, clean it, replace the dead components and if it worked I would be ready to go. Well, it worked.

David A Ellis- 

Did you train to be an engineer after leaving school and how old were you when you left school?

Wes Maebe-

I did. In Belgium you have to go to school until the age of eighteen. I went to University for two years and then went to London to study engineering at college, followed by University in Germany.

David A Ellis- 

Did you work with analogue equipment and how long does it take to train as an engineer?

Wes Maebe-

Oh yes, I was trained on analogue and still work with as much analogue equipment as possible. As to how long it takes to train, it never stops. You always learn new things everyday. You learn the theoretical basics pretty quickly. However putting the knowledge into practice in the real world is another matter.

David A Ellis-

Where did you first work after training and who did you first record as a qualified engineer?

Wes Maebe-

My first proper recording sessions were with my mentor Mike Skeet. I would say the first name worthy artist I recorded on those sessions was Alfred Brendel at the Wigmore Hall in London first professional recording studio I worked in was Galaxy in Belgium.

David A Ellis- 

Do many studios still use 24 track analogue, using tape as well as digital equipment?

Wes Maebe-

I would say that most professional studios that originally had a tape machine will still have it. Whether it is in use or not is a different matter. I think more and more people are realising the affect analogue tape has on sound, so there is a bit of a resurgence and machines are getting dusted off. You see a lot of hybrid situations now where the basics will get tracked on tape and then transferred into the digital domain. Additional overdubs will then be done digitally and sometimes the whole mix will then be laid back to analogue tape.

David A Ellis- 

Do you prefer mixing, recording or both equally?

Wes Maebe-

I like both equally. They occupy a different head space. Recording requires you to capture the sounds as accurately as possible, giving the mix engineer the best tools to work with. When you are mixing you are more like a sculptor or painter putting all those components together to create something that is bigger than just the sum of the individual parts.

David A Ellis-

After mixing, are the tracks transferred to a single hard drive?

Wes Maebe-

A project tends to sit on a hard drive from recording all the way to the release. For example you record in studio A.You then take that project drive to studio B to mix. The end product of the mix is a stereo file which will then be delivered to the mastering house. From there the stereo master will be delivered to digital aggregators to be uploaded to digital platforms like itunes, Amazon, Tidal etc. It might also be delivered to a pressing plant for CD manufacture and of course it very well may be cut to vinyl. All this goes for multi-channel formats as well of course. Not just for stereo.

David A Ellis-

Do you find recording digitally much different from analogue?

Wes Maebe-

They are different animals, but don’t forget that analogue is still a large part of recording digitally. The instrument, the microphone, the pre amp, the monitoring and your ears are still analogue. It’s just the recording medium that is digital, so in order to record you still need to know how these components work. When you record fully analogue to tape, yes it is different in that you need to keep a much closer eye on your recording levels to tape. Sometimes over loading your recording to tape can produce a pleasing sound because of the tape compression. Digitally you cannot record too hot because digital distortion is simply horrendous. I would say recording into the digital domain is a little easier because once you have a decent level set you are good to go. In the analogue world you need to to keep an ear on signal to noise ratio and make on the spot decisions on how hot you will record to get the desired sound out of an instrument.

David A Ellis- 

How do you decide which settings are suitable for a recording?

Wes Maebe-

In an ideal situation you have the opportunity to sit down with the artist and producer and get a feel for the material. That will impact your decision on which studio you use. The studio will dictate the room, the microphone selection, the outboard equipment available and the console, which also impacts on the sound of the final product. It will give you a good idea how to mic certain instruments. You will always have a sort of starting point set up in mind, but the room and the instrument will always have an influence on those choices.

David A Ellis-

Have you any favourite studios you have worked in?

Wes Maebe-

They are, RAK Studios in London, British Grove Studios, London, Fantasy in Berkley USA, Park Studios in Stockholm and Galaxy Belgium.

David A Ellis-

As an engineer do you set up all the mics or does an assistant do that?

Wes Maebe-

I tend to set up everything. Having said that I do love teaching, so I will always involve the assistant when we are putting stuff up. Some assistants know exactly what I want, so they know microphone choices and positions, which makes the set up time shorter because we can both be doing different set up jobs. I do love being at the session far too early, before everyone else shows up, just to relax and get in the vibe. So I will generally be setting up microphones and creating a bit of vibe in the room with lights before any of the musicians make an appearance.

David A Ellis- 

How many sessions do you usually do in a day?

Wes Maebe-

Our time is usually defined as a ten hour chunk. So when someone books the studio it is for a day or more. We might record drums, bass and guitars in the morning for a song and then the string players come in to lay down their part and then we will move on to keyboards, lead vocals. Quite a lot can get crammed into a day. If it is advert stuff, for example, you could easily do several in a day.

David A Ellis-

Have you ever wanted to be on the other side of the glass performing?

Wes Maebe-

Sure, and I have. Not necessarily for me to have my own band, but I end up doing a lot of backing vocals, percussion, extra guitars on other people’s records, and that is great fun.

David A Ellis-

Finally, do you have any hobbies?

Wes Maebe-

I don’t have time for hobbies. My job is my hobby and the other way around. I love playing my guitar and I love cooking.



David A Ellis © chestercinemas.co.uk


Guy Michelmore

Film composer Guy Michelmore, born in 1957 is the son of the late Cliff Michelmore a legendary TV presenter for the BBC and Jean Metcalfe a radio presenter, who hosted a show called Two way family favourites.

Cliff Michelmore & Jean Metcalfe

Guy went to Oxford University and went on to become a TV presenter himself, before the world of composing beckoned, working at the BBC and Anglia television.

Recently, I interviewed Guy about his work in the world of music.

Guy mainly composes for animation, but has also done documentary work.

First of all I asked him what music he was drawn to as a child. “Pretty much anything,” he said. “My mum was a radio DJ, so there were lots of records around to choose from.”

Guy started to play instruments from around ten and says he learned to play a lot of them badly. “I was particularly fond of the mouth organ and ended up taking some lessons with the great Larry Adler. He was the first person I had ever met who wrote music for a living, and seeing what a professional composer looked like opened a few doors, I think,”

Asked how he had his break as a composer, he said, “When I was at Anglia TV the film crew were a particularly enterprising bunch, who used to use the company’s equipment to make corporate videos. They knew that I wrote music and asked if I could write a minute of music for a video, which I did. Later, the sound recordist asked me to write some music for a travel film. Then I went on to a wildlife film and I was up and running. “

Guy says inspiration comes easily to him but adds that doesn’t mean the ideas are very good. “I think ten years of writing animation music has taught me to be very fast and not to worry about the blank sheet of paper,” he said.

I asked him if there was a different approach when scoring animation compared to live action. “Yes,” he said. “In animation the music has to do with a lot more heavy lifting, filling in for the subtlety you might get from a human’s performance. In top end animations like Pixar that doesn’t really apply, but most animation needs the music to support the narrative. Also, audiences are used to music in animation fulfilling a different role to live action.”

Does he like working on different genres?  “Yes, very much. Most of my work has been animation and wildlife documentaries, but I have done some indie feature films, and now the occasional game, which is enormous fun.”

Asked how he got the opportunity to work on Marvel projects, he said, “I pitched for and won an animation show called ‘Tutenstein’ for NBC. The animation director on that went on to work on the first Marvel animation movies. Working on them was great. It was a very exciting time and there was a wonderful creative team. I would fly back and forth from the UK to LA several times a year to stay in the loop. Memorable moments and some music I am very proud of.”

Why did he lean more towards animation? “The bottom dropped out of the world of wildlife documentaries and suddenly a golden opportunity to pitch for a big animation show came along exactly at the right moment.”

Asked about advice he would give to new composers, he said, “It’s all about the music. Never stop working on getting better. Find a voice, without really distinctive music you will get lost. Don’t believe people who say it’s all about who you know. Everyone starts out knowing no one, so get out there and make some friends. “

Finally, I asked what his future plans are. “Just ramping up for a US wildlife film and then a really exciting animation series next year.”

David A Ellis © chestercinemas.co.uk


Phil Da Costa, who lives in London is a former actor turned recording engineer, producer and songwriter.

As a child Phil appeared in a number of commercials, TV shows and films.

Click on the above frame to view the Cadbury advert that featured Phil.

He was in the 1970 version of ‘Scrooge’, photographed by cinematographer Oswald Morris. He also appeared in the film ‘Scum’ with Ray Winstone. His TV output includes the long running series Z cars.

Click on the above frame to view Phil in the 1970 version of ‘Scrooge’

Phil decided acting was no longer for him and after watching his brother at work in a studio decided that was the path he wanted to take. He has worked with some of the biggest names in the recording world, including ‘Take That’, Tom Jones and Shirley Bassey.

Phil has worked in many studios, including ones long gone. One of them is the well-known Abbey Road Studios, made famous by the Beatles connection. He now has his own production company called, CrazyjoeCola Music productions He also runs his own production/mixing studio.

Apart from engineering Phil is a prolific songwriter and has composed songs for Bob the Builder and produced, as well as co writing the title song for the Fireman Sam movie ‘Set for Action’. Asked what instruments he plays he said his main instrument is the guitar but he also dabbles with the keyboard.

Phil Da Costa pictured on the right.

Recently he produced and co-wrote ‘Battle for Glory’, the official PUBG Video Game Global Championship theme song, which has had ten million YouTube hits. He recently won with his co-writers an award for Best Song in a Video Game in China. The song is called ‘Flight Conductor.

Phil has won several awards for his achievements.

David A Ellis © chestercinemas.co.uk


The late Carl Davis CBE was a venerable composer. He was born on 28th October 1936 and brought up in New York City. After moving to the United Kingdom in 1960, he proved to be a prolific composer for fare including TV, ballet, theatre and film. He has also written a number of symphonic concert scores.

Davis was well known for composing new music for countless silent film classics, including the restored version of ‘Napoleon’, which runs for over five hours and was first screened with a live orchestra on 30th November 1980 at the Empire cinema, Leicester Square, London.

Davis’ output includes, ‘The World at War’, ‘The French Lieutenants Woman’, ‘Goodnight Mr Tom’ and ‘Champion’.

Asked how he got into composing, Davis said, “I began having music lessons at the age of seven and as soon as I fully understood the vocabulary or language of music I started to compose. By seven and a half I was riveted by the process. My big thrill was being able to write music down. I had a little notebook where I would jot down all the essentials of music.”

Davis says he was obsessed with opera and listened to non-stop music programmes in New York. He says it was all about the radio. “Highlight of the week was the Saturday afternoon Metropolitan broadcast, which went from October through to April. I went on to learn scores, and as my playing progressed, because I was an insatiable sight reader, learned how to play and sing opera. My mother played the piano and she had a considerable music collection, which I dug up. So now in my eighties I am still very much involved in music.”

Asked how he came to score for ‘Napoleon’ he said, “Napoleon started way back. In the early 1970s I composed a score for a TV series called ‘The World at War’. This was for producer Jeremy Isaacs. I then discovered he had a special interest in a book called ‘The Parades Gone By’, written by film historian Kevin Brownlow, which is a history of silent films.

“After the World at War series Isaacs wanted me to join Brownlow and Kevin Gill, who was also a producer to do a score for the Hollywood series, an American celebration of the silent film, which was completed and broadcast in 1980.

“My own relationship with silent films in general was not exclusive to anything else. Silent movies seemed to me to be a very important aspect of cinema, historically, but I didn’t see myself in a central role at that point. David and Kevin had the opportunity to celebrate the success of the Hollywood series, which I composed for.”

Thames Television went on to finance Kevin Brownlow’s lifelong project, which was the restoration of the silent classic ‘Napoleon’ 1927. Thames TV also commissioned a score for it, which Davis wrote. “On November 30th 1980 we did one performance live with the Wren orchestra at the Empire cinema, Leicester Square, London, which I conducted. We had three intermissions, including one lasting an hour and a half. Since then, more material has been added and the running time is now five hours and thirty minutes. Playing for over five hours is an enormous task, especially for the players,” said Davis.

Asked about his approach to scoring he said that every project has its own story of where you are in the technical process. He added, “You can start reading the book, then go on to reading the script. That would be an easy one, because everything is there. It is a bit different if it is brand new or contemporary such as theatre or television. You then ask yourself, ‘what am I going to do with this?’ Then there are some projects where they want the music first. So every project has its own history in terms of where you come in on it.”

Asked about his best work for media he said, “The best work is not always a question of the best music. I would say the best work is where the music is working very well with the film, complementing the film. I find it a difficult question to answer. ‘The World at War’ is very good and so is ‘The French Lieutenants Woman, so these (laughs) are my hits. In the past I was very prolific and there is a lot of stuff out there.”

Asked what proved to be the hardest he said he couldn’t answer that because he had had his joys and sorrows throughout. He went on to say he had no special favourite. “I live in the present,” he said. “I am interested in what I am doing now. I have enjoyed all aspects. I am passionate about ballet and have been lucky enough to have written several substantial ballet scores for major companies. That has been very gratifying. I see myself as a composer first and amongst the things I do is film.”

Has he ever had a brilliant idea then forgot it? “It is very odd that people ask me a lot about methodology of how I create a piece of music. I tend to have a short memory and sometimes I do have themes I am hearing in my head. So, I say to myself I will write it down in the morning, and always forget.”

What does he think makes a great film score? “I would say how effective it is in relation to the subject. Does it really tell me what is coming up? Does it speak to me? Music gives the audience information on what kind of film it is. Of course, you can have a red herring, but when you hear the Tara theme from ‘Gone with the Wind’, for example, you immediately think what a fabulous tune. You are helping the film by telling the audience what the story is about.”

Asked what it was like working with Sir Paul McCartney, Davis said, “We had a great time together. We were very concentrated for around two and a half years from the conception of the Liverpool Oratorio to the premiere in 1991. The actual process of working with Paul in the same room at the piano was very exciting. I thought I had got an insight into when he had John Lennon with him. I found him extremely musical and a very giving collaborator.”

Does he worry that something he has done has been done before? “You have to take the point of view that this is the first time these notes have been put together, otherwise it is simply too inhibiting. It is good advice to keep an eye on, but don’t make it your principle consideration. You can always try another way.”

Finally, why did the Liverpool Oratorio project take so long? “We started out with a blank sheet in 1988,” said Davis. “We worked on it in bursts because Paul embarked on a world tour and I also had stuff to do, which involved conducting. So we did some work together, then stopped for a while.

Carl Davis with his actress wife, Jean Boht.

Carl Davis passed away on 3 August 2023. The following month his wife, Jean Boht, passed away on 12th September 2023.


David A Ellis © chestercinemas.co.uk