Mrs Oscar Deutsch, Lillian, was the interior designer for most of the original Odeon builds. She took great interest in the colour schemes, curtains, carpets and furniture. The distinctive Pel sofas, ashtrays, etc, were chosen by her.
According to her son, Ronnie, “she had a good eye for colours, particularly gold”, hence the expression~ “Gilded by Lily”. Rich velvet materials, luxurious deep pile carpets were the order of the day for Odeon. Just as the distinctive exteriors played a role in establishing the Odeon brand, so too were the stunning art deco interiors. Each cinema being individually “Gilded by Lily”. As “The charming and capable wife of the Governing Director” it would be her input that would be prominent in the final decisions taken.
Movie-going had become the national pastime, with close to a billion admissions annually in the UK. With the astonishing expansion of the new Odeon builds between 1930 to 1939, she was to be an important, and integral part of the success of Odeon. It is clear from the featured page of the Chester Odeon’s opening brochure, the high regard that was placed on her by her husband and his companies.
Widowed at an early age in 1941, she withdrew from her involvement in Odeon, selling her remaining shares to J Arthur Rank who was by then the majority shareholder. She was supported by her two sons, Ronnie and David.
Ronnie, who is now well into his nineties had little interest in films, unlike his late brother David Deutsch, who became a film producer in his own right, notably remembered for co-producing The Day Of The Jackal.
Lily never remarried and lived until she was ninety six.
The early days of the moving image was the time when many far seeing entrepreneurs jumped on to the new lucrative bandwagon, building and opening cinemas everywhere. The world of cinema was a form of escapism, focusing the mind on the screen images for a few hours. Chester had nine cinemas, not all running at the same time. Fairground owner Pat Collins, who was from Boughton in Chester, opened Collins’ Cinema Deluxe’ in 1921, and was planning to open another cinema in the city, which didn’t materialise. His first cinema show in Chester was at his funfair. The show was called Wonderland and it came to Chester in 1909. Collins exited the Brook Street cinema in 1926 and it became the Majestic under new ownership. The cinema closed in September 1956 and became the Majestic Ballroom in 1957, followed by bingo in 1965.It closed as a place of entertainment after the auditorium section was demolished for road widening.
Another would be cinema that didn’t see the light of day was ‘The Scala’, advertised in 1921. Shares were on offer for this at five shillings (25p) each, and the building was to be situated near the Eastgate Bridge. An article from 1921 says the site is an ideal one being recently occupied by the buildings of the Hop Pole Hotel and other business premises. The architect was going to be the famous Alfred Ernest Shennon, from Dale Street Liverpool. He was also a director of the company, called ‘Scala Super Cinema (Chester) Ltd’. He had designed a number of cinemas and went on to design many 1930s super cinemas. The auditorium was to house fifteen hundred, four hundred of those in the balcony. An organ was going to be installed. A report says: “The organ will augment the musical endeavours of a full orchestra.” For some reason the project failed to get off the ground.
In 1923 another cinema project had been given the green light. The building was to be situated on Hoole Road at the corner of Lightfoot Street. It was to house eight hundred and sixty four patrons, two hundred and forty seats in the balcony. It would be brick with stone or terracotta facings. The cinema was to be sixty-eight feet long and fifty-five feet wide. There was to be shops either side. A Mr W.F. Youd on behalf of a Mr Charles Grandage made application for the cinema. Again, another cinema that failed to come to fruition.
Finally, a cinema was built in Boughton.Cinema enthusiast Roger Shone tells me a licence was applied for before the building was finished so a licence was refused. Obtaining materials to finish it may have proved difficult after the refusal due to the outbreak of WW2.Another source says that the building was to open in September 1939 but was leased for the duration of the war as a store. The late Brian Hornsey in his booklet Ninety Years of Cinema in Chester says: “In January 1939 plans were placed before the Improvement Committee of the Council by a Mr Moorcroft, builder for the proposed erection of a cinema theatre. A. Ernest Shennon was to be the architect. A Moore and Dutton requested a licence and this was deferred. At a Watch Committee meeting on the 27th April it was ruled that they had no power to grant a cinematograph licence for premises not in existence. That is all that is recorded. It was built and looks like it was requisitioned on or just before the outbreak of war. Roger Shone recalls speaking to someone who went to the building for food coupons.” If anyone can enlighten me more on this, I would be happy to hear from him or her. The building on Christleton Road, which according to Roger Shone was going to be called The Electric Palace, has been a number of things over the years, including a Blockbusters video store and auctioneers.
David A Ellis
The late notable cinematographer Oswald Norman Morris was born on 22nd November 1915 in Ruislip. Morris started his career as a clapper boy at Wembley Studios in 1932, making quota quickies, which were made in a week to meet the British quota. He was offered an unpaid job and the first film he worked on was Born Lucky, directed by Michael Powell. Unfortunately this film is now missing believed lost.
During WW2 Morris became a pilot in the RAF in bomber command and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in 1943. After the war he went to Pinewood and operated on Green for Danger (1946). He operated for the late David Lean on Oliver Twist (1948), which he says was the pinnacle of his operating career. He said Lean quizzed him a lot at the beginning, which was good training. In 1997 Morris was given the OBE for services to cinematography and the film business. Also that year he became a doctor of humanities at Brunel University. His last film was The Dark Crystal, which he shot in 1981. He published his autobiography Huston We Have a Problem in 2006. Morris told me he often watches his movies on DVD, thinking, “Could I have done it better?” His brother, Reginald Herbert Morris was also a cinematographer.
The films were made very simply; they just didn’t have the equipment. Tracking shots took time, so directors were told to try and avoid them as much as possible. There were no elaborate sets and generally we only took one take. The film mainly consisted of dialogue in houses created in the studio. There was very little location work because of the expense and time. The cumbersome equipment was usually just panned and tilted.
The camera I operated on before the war was the Debrie Model T Parvo. After the war I went on to the American Mitchell camera and then went on to three-strip Technicolor. This camera was enormous with a huge blimp.
Before the war they were terrible hours. We started at eight in the morning on the quota quickies, working through until we went for the last train, which was midnight. After the war the hours were reasonable. The hours then were eight in the morning until six thirty at night on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday and eight in the morning until six in the evening on Wednesday and Friday. On Saturday we worked from eight until four.
I was a pilot. I was in bomber command, which was pretty horrible. Later, I was moved to transport command, which was better. After the war I went to Pinewood Studios. Four of us were put under contract as camera operators, which we were all doing before the war. During the war the studio had stored sugar and aircraft.
It was Golden Salamander (1950), directed by Ronald Neame. I’d known him before the war, operating for him at Wembley. He offered me the film, which I took with open arms. The location was Tunisia and I was told I wouldn’t
be seeing the rushes. Being my first film as a director of photography I would have liked to have seen them. I was cabled from London, telling me what they looked like.
Preparation takes time. You have to tour the locations, give budgets for the lights and cameras you want, and talk with the director. Preparation is very important. Usually in my contract there was a deal made for me to be available, say a month before the film started, on a reduced fee, which gave me some spare time.
was the longest film I worked on, it was a monumental film. Musicals always take longer because of the sheer logistics. The music, choreography and dancing took time. Often a musical is split into two units. The choreographer will sometimes be allowed, with the director’s permission to supervise, with a second unit cameraman that I approve, some of the musical numbers, but only the musical numbers that don’t have the principle actors. If the principles are in the musical number, it is absolute law that the director goes out with me and we take over the unit to do these pieces. Having done those we will move back into the studio with the principles and let the choreographer and second unit cameraman go on filming. Even then it takes ages. Oliver must have taken about twenty-six weeks to shoot. Logistically it was a massive project. The song Consider Yourself took around four weeks to shoot. The entire film, except for about four shots, was filmed on the back lot and in the studio at Shepperton.
He was as good as gold, no problem at all. You could sit and talk to him and call him Bogie – we all called him Bogie, even the camera crew. He loved it. The operator would say, “Bogie, can you move a bit to the right or left? Bogie, when you sit down, can you sit a bit slower so I can follow you? It’s a bit sharp.” He loved all that. Bogie always joked about people being made up. On the first day of shooting on Beat the Devil, he came up to me and said, “How do I look?” I said, “Bogie you look fine.” He said, “ I put a little bit of tan on just to give me a bit of colour. You don’t mind that do you?” I said, “No it’s fine.” He and director John Huston liked their tipple in the evening and were great poker players. I kept well out of all that.
He was the most laid back man of all time. He spent most of his time in the production chair, chatting away. He had an aura and quality about him. The actors loved him. He could tame anybody, he really could.
I photographed fifty-eight feature films. The first third of those was a struggle because every film is different. I have got to cope with style, exterior and interior problems. In my day we were switching from black and white to colour, so the first third were a sweat. Things settled down in the middle third because I knew the basic things about lighting. But you have got to do more than that eventually. It’s like advancing toward the enemy, then digging in before the next advance. The last third were the best. By then I felt free to do anything I wanted. I experimented and took chances. That is when things became very exciting.
Oswald Morris passed away on the 17th March 2014 in Fontmell Magna, Dorset.
David A Ellis
If you were a patron of the ABC Regal during the 50s & 60s, chances are you would have been served at the cash desk by Sheila Pickford. Well known for her trademark kiss curl, which can be clearly seen in this sixties photograph. She was a full time cashier, with a position that was clearly just to be in the cash desk. Her style of dress was typical for that time. Cashiers wore their own choice of smart two piece costumes, usually dark in colour with pearls, and a broach to complete their immaculate appearance. Her working hours were long, each day starting at 12noon, with a finish time of 9.30pm.
In the November update~
Meet the man who began his career as a trainee manager at the ABC Chester in the 60s, who then went on to form a massive multi million dollar PR company with offices worldwide handling most of the major film releases.