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
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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.
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.
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
A VISIT TO CHESTER ODEON SHORTLY BEFORE IT CLOSED IN 2007
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FATHER HAYES AND THE CINEMA ~ An Appreciation.
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.
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.
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 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.
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
The GATEWAY THEATRE, Chester
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.
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 Ellischestercinemas.co.uk