Pictures and information regarding the magnificent Gaumont cinema in Brook Street, Chester are as rare as hens teeth. That is why we were so pleased to hear from Barbara and John Paskin. Both worked at the Gaumont in the fifties, John as a projectionist, and Barbara as an usherette. Below is their account of some of the behind the scenes staff, and indeed the working detail which includes stage shows.
John worked at the Gaumont in the 1950’s. Bert Egginnton was the chief projectionist and stage manager, Fred Dickenson. Fred Morgan, John Paskin, Bill Roxburgh, Vincent Stonely, were all projectionists. John also worked at the Odeon and the Music Hall as a relief projectionist. On Monday mornings the feature films arrived from Greek Street in London, most were one and a half or two hours long.10 to 12 spools had to be carried up to the projection box to be joint checked and wound on to their our own reels. The cinemas would also share the same Newsreel film, which had to be fast wound and delivered on foot to each cinema. One copy between the Odeon and Music Hall, one between Gaumont and Majestic.
The Gaumont was fully equipped for stage shows, with flies, etc. One show was ‘ Rose Marie on Ice’. My sister Marion who also worked there, went out with one of the Mounties from the show. The projectionists were consigned to the electrics and spot lights from the projection box, and the side lighting from the wings, using coloured gelatines. Rock concerts were very popular. Gene Vincent, Billy Fury, Cliff Richard, and Eddie Cochran, all appeared at the Gaumont. Gene Vincent came jumping on to the stage, not knowing the sound was not coming through, when he realised, he stormed off furious, then came back to loud applause.
Carl Rosa Opera Company appeared for a week and were very popular, La Boheme being one of the favourites. A British Legion ‘Festival of Remembrance’ was held with Chester Male Voice choir, with Fred Warren musical director. We also had a big Conference, where all we had to do was stand by the doors looking smart, we were all given a pound each, a fortune in those days.
My first film as an usherette was ‘ Three Ring Circus’ with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Some of the stars popular at the time were Dale Roberson, Richard Widmark, Anthony Perkins, Debbie Reynolds, Doris Day, Sophia Loren, Ava Gardner, Rock Hudson, Dirk Bogarde.
The General Manager at that time was Mr Kenneth Edmondson, Mr R.Jones- assistant manager, Miss Mabel Douglas- secretary, Miss E Edge-staff supervisor, Miss Baskerville cashier, Miss Marian Aldridge in charge of refreshments, cigarettes, drinks etc. Usherettes were, Gladys Dickenson(Fred’s wife) Marion Davies, Barbara Davies, Nancy Moran, Helen Hughes, Dorothy Whitlow, Eileen Picken, Mrs. N Edwards, Mrs Davis, Jessie Franchetti, Mrs. Wooley. Ernie Osgood, Alex Reece and Walter, and Mr Jefferies were the commissionaires. Miss Edge used to organise a small scale inspection of ‘her girls’ before the screenings, to see if we had the proper uniform, a blue wrap over dress with a white bib front tucked in,
Showing the film ‘Rock Around The Clock’ was proving to be a challenge in some cinemas with dancing in the aisles causing mayhem. When it was shown in Chester we were waiting for some trouble with the local ‘Teddy Boys’. On the first night Mr Edmondson called us all into the office, “If anyone starts dancing in the aisles show them to the exit immediately”. Luckily all we got was about 15 choc ices stolen from the trays of the sellers, and the Teds dashing off with them. We were relieved when the film was over though.
We had some good Christmas parties, sometimes in the lovely Restaurant and a huge Christmas tree in the foyer. The Gaumont was a good place to work, Mr Edmondson was a very fair and good boss to work for. The place itself was a pleasure to be in, I was sorry to see it go, although I had left years before it did.
Barbara & John Paskin
This splendid portrait of the immaculate commissionaire, THOMAS PRIDDIN, at the Gaumont cinema in Brook Street Chester.
From an era of cinema going when it was of the utmost importance to have staff of a certain caliber to welcome the thousands of patrons who would flood through the doors of this “super- 2000 seat-cinema”. Thomas’s responsibilities would be many during the heyday of cinema in Chester. His granddaughter Paulette Walters, thinks that he was there during the 1940s and we very much appreciated her permission to reproduce this picture of Thomas.
A few years ago Gladys Barnes from Blacon related to me her fond memories of working at the Gaumont restaurant, which was part of the Gaumont cinema, now bingo in Brook Street. The restaurant was called the ‘Oak’, and was open to everyone.
Gladys started working there in 1941 at the age of seventeen. Her weekly wage came to seventeen shillings and sixpence. (eighty-seven and a half pence). When Gladys first went there, the restaurant was open from 10am – 9pm, later closing at 8pm. A three-course meal could be had for one shilling and sixpence (seven and a half pence). When the price was put up to two shillings, people complained, so a small coffee was added.
On 4 April 1960 there was a charity film performance for the NSPCC, organised by the Duchess of Westminster. The film chosen was ‘Conspiracy of Hearts’. The star Sylvia Syms made a personal stage appearance. Before the film commenced, there was a short stage show. Reginald Dixon, the famous Blackpool Tower organist played to the full house. The Duchess wrote Gladys a thank you note on a card, which she has kept.
Gladys was in the restaurant cash desk for thirteen years, and eventually became assistant manageress.
In the kitchen, a Mrs Sumpter and a Mrs Pinchers carried out the cooking. After the war a Mr Cotgreave, known as chef Cotgreave returned to the Gaumont. Unlike today, tea, which was silver service, would be served to the cinema patrons. ‘Sugar was in cubes, not the packet type you get today,’said Gladys.
When Gladys first went to the cinema, the manageress was a Mrs Pointon and her assistant a Mrs Morton. A good word put in by Gladys’s sister Eileen Coventry, got Gladys the job. She says, many people worked there over the years, and remembers a Nancy Lloyd and Betty Malee as waitresses.
As for food, Gladys recalls the delicious cream cakes that were on offer. Gladys tells me that she seved tea to several stars that performed at the cinema, including: Adam Faith, Billy Fury and Cliff Richard, who sang to her. ‘I have often thought about writing to him to see if he remembers,’ she said.
The restaurant closed at the time of the cinema’s closure in December 1961, with Bill Clarke as the last chef. Gladys continued until early 1962. She says she loved every minute of it and feels that the restaurant should never have closed.
DAVID A ELLISchestercinemas.co.uk
Vin Dunning was one such person, in fact he was more than likely to be one of the projectionists showing the film on my many cinema visits. Vin worked at the Gaumont before moving across to the Music Hall as second projectionist. There he had to adjust to the confines of a very small projection room, because of this he had contemplated returning to the Gaumont, but remained at the Music Hall. He was gifted with skills of the cinematography business, together with the necessary expertise in the operation and maintenance of precision machinery. He was well versed in all aspects of photography, thus becoming manager at Will R Rose Cameras & photo-finishers in Bridge Street after leaving the cinema business.
With all his knowledge of traditional cinema projection, he embraced the new digital cinema technology with an ease of understanding that is exceptional for his generation. He remained interested, and positive with his progressive thinking towards today’s cinema business, and could converse at all levels of technical understanding. Vin was an amiable, mild mannered man. A well respected friend and colleague to many Chester cinema employees, always keeping in touch with his former associates.
Sadly Vin Dunning is no longer with us, but it was more that a pleasure to have had the good fortune of knowing him.