General Manager at Chester Odeon during the early 1970’s was Dave Elliot, who transferred across from Liverpool. A man with many talents, one of which was a thirst for publicity & promotion, He expected and received 100% from any cinema he managed. Vibrant business was always there, as he was never content with anything less than full auditoriums. After leaving Chester he went on to manage important Odeon venues in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, Hammersmith (now The Apollo), to name but a few.
Cinemas in Chester even in the declining years of popularity in the 1970s had to strongly compete for their share of the audience. One very important quality required of a cinema manager was the ability to muster strong public relations, and support from local businesses, press, councillors, transport, publicans, etc., to put his cinema on the local map, to maintain, and expand the business. At the dawn of the 1970s, the Classic cinema, better known as the Tatler, had just closed, leaving the city with only two “super cinemas”. The huge superior two thousand plus seater ABC, and the Odeon situated in the prime position on the Town Hall Square. Both were still original single screen units. During this frenetic era, the Odeon was acknowledged to be the stronger of the two in achieving substantial admissions, regularly selling out it’s 1628 seats capacity. Within the Odeon circuit it’s gross take was envied by even the “key theatres”. It is with this background that when a new manager was to be appointed at this particular Odeon cinema, the regional manager would be inundated with the cream of applicants, all vying with the hope of becoming the successful applicant. So it came to pass that in 1974, with General Manager David Elliot being promoted to the key Odeon theatre in Edinburgh, Allan Rosser was duly appointed General Manager, having moved across from the Odeon Blackburn.
It was clear from the outset that this manager had a driven determination not just to keep the cinema at its present lucrative position within the company but to push the boundaries even further. Allan achieved this quickly by involving all his management and staff to focus on maintaining the Odeon’s dominance in the city’s entertainment. He would regard admissions of under 800 customers a performance as a failure, and was only content when he could boast capacity admissions. No matter what source of competition he faced, his local opponents would give way gracefully (usually through gritted teeth), as they acknowledged that he was in a league of his own.
He was in a world of his own with the re-vamped Super Saturday Shows. I remember that I needed all my technicians on duty to cope with the demands with the complex lighting displays and stage features that Allan demanded. The children loved it, and in return he smashed all box office records for the children’s Saturday morning shows in the history of the building.
The two competing newspapers, The Cheshire Observer, and Chester Chronicle would be top heavy with their front pages dripping with pictures and editorial on the Odeon. Full pages of promotions, competitions offering prizes of holidays, cars and other high value items, even regular visits to Pinewood Studios that Allan would personally supervise. His flair for publicity was extraordinary
Whether it was James Bond’s cars or boats, giant Disney characters in street parades, massive hand painted displays, mermaids trapped on the River Dee, to Lady Godiva trotting around the city clad only with her long golden hair, his ideas seemed endless and achieved both local and national press coverage. Even the dressing of the front of the building for the Queen’s silver jubilee would be turned into a promotional news item.
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 Allan’s assistant Tony Brooks. It was wonderful working there. It was pure fun, wasn’t like work at all”.
Getting floats ready for various parades would involve the staff voluntary starting work to dress them at 6am in the morning. The rewards for the staff was that they, and their families took part in the promotions, and then at the “after event parties” given as acknowledgement for their involvement.
Allan Rosser had to cope with such situations as numerous terrorist bomb alerts, operating a busy cinema with a meagre allowance of electricity each day due to industrial strikes, and when fanatical arsonists attempted to set fire to the building in protest to the screening of “The Last Tango In Paris”. The blaze resulted in the canopy being badly damaged costing many thousands of pounds to repair. It was stated that if not for the fast action of a passing policeman at 2am in the morning, the building would have been gutted.
It was under Allan’s tenure that the Odeon was transformed into a three screen cinema. Mainly because of the substantial amounts of money that the building was taking at the cash desk, the Odeon Board of Directors were persuaded to grant extra money to be spent at Chester which allowed the front circle to be extended down towards the screen, which made a splendid new 802 seat auditorium. Incredibly, the cinema remained open during this major alteration. Originally, in 1936, the builders engaged were a firm called Hamer. The foreman in charge of the tripling, by a strange twist of fate was a John Hamer (no connection). John worked tirelessly, completing most of the partitioning single handed. G F Holdings were the main contractor for the tripling. It was Holdings who fit out the new Cineworld recently at Broughton.
Now with three screens, Allan cranked up the PR pressure even more. He managed to get 100% PLUS from all of the staff to work with him. Many recalled that it was an exceptionally busy time packed with laughter, and good memories. Behind his light hearted manner lay a steely determination for success, The cinema thrived under his style of management.
By nature Allan Rosser was a practical joker, you were always on guard as to what was coming next. I remember our head usherette; Joyce Hodgkinson leaving work at 9.30pm after a full days shift. As she trudged her long walk home to Handbridge, Joyce struggled with her shopping bag, she told me that she could not understand why her shopping seemed so heavy. At home all was revealed when she unloaded her bag to find there were three stow away house bricks placed there by courtesy of Alan Rosser!
Many colleagues who worked with him state that the Odeon was a fun place to work because of Allan. However, the serious side of heading the management team was the smoothness of the operation that was achieved, and attributed to him, and by placing Chester Odeon in a very secure financial position
Allan Rosser was promoted to The Drake (Odeon), Plymouth in 1985, leaving behind many friends, and Chester Odeon with a firm base that carried it forward for a further twenty one years.
With all good wishes to Elizabeth and Allan who are enjoying retirement with their family in Devon.
Cinema managers come and go in the course of a cinema’s lifetime. Certainly that was the case at Chester Odeon, which boasted an array of managers whose tenure tended to be short. Mabel Douglas was the exception, and perhaps the most recognized and remembered by customers and staff, with over three decades at the Odeon alone, she became its longest serving manager.
Mabel started work at the Gaumont cinema in Brook Street. Progressing into management as theatre secretary to the manager Kenneth Edmondson. Under the umbrella of the CMA, the Gaumont was one of four Chester cinemas owned and controlled by The Rank Organisation. In the 1950s and 60s, cinemas were losing ground to competition, and had many other challenging problems. When the Gaumont closed in 1961, along with Mr. Edmondson, Mabel moved across to the Odeon as a manager. The standard set by The Rank Organisation for the employment of management was to be of a certain calibre, and Mabel Douglas was a manager well within this requirement. A high standard of education to enter management was then essential, as this was way before computers, or calculators. Managers were to be of “a certain type”. Professionalism, smartness, speech, courtesy, and deep respect for customers and staff was the company’s remit. They in turn were treated with both loyalty and respect from their colleagues.
Mabel was appointed to various cinemas, including the magnificent Gaumont Manchester, Preston’s Odeon cinema and Top Rank Ballroom. Eventually she gained considerable middle management experience when she worked at Rank’s North West Regional Office, and from time to time at Head Office.
In 1972, Mabel returned home to Chester Odeon by the invitation of David Elliot, with whom she had worked with at Regional Office. He knew fully that she was the quality duty manager with the self-motivation that was essential to manage Chester Odeon, which at that time was one of the highest grossing cinemas of that size Rank operated in the North West.
Far removed from a name dropper by nature, she knew, and was known by everyone in the vast organisation from Rank’s chairman, right down the chain of command. Apart from heads of staff, cinema management consisted of a general manger, supported by one or two assistant managers. The Rank Organisation maintained exacting standards, and kept strict and stringent control on all their many operations. Mabel with her exacting standards of dotting “I’s”, and crossing”t’s” was renown.
In her role she was polite and friendly; she would not tolerate fools lightly, but was well known for her generous and kind nature. Not many knew the Christian name of “the boss”, so Mabel was always addressed as Miss Douglas. An expected line was drawn on socializing with staff by the company. When Mabel was in the entrance foyer, you knew beyond doubt that she was the manager. Typical of that era, she would be immaculate in appearance and smartly dressed, usually in black, and easy to admit a glamorous lady. Usually from six o’clock until the final film went on, she would be seen in the main entrance foyer welcoming patrons, and supervising the business and dealing with the enormous queues with impeccable efficiency .
She personally recruited the staff, and took full responsibility for her choice. Needless to say, she had a discerning eye for the quality applicant. She was careful to strike the correct balance with ages, etc.
She retired in the late 1990s, her health was declining, not that anyone other than those close to her knew. Unfortunately, her retirement was not a long one as she died suddenly in the Easter of 1999. A huge loss to her family and friends,the cinema business, and to her many cinema exhibition friends, who once had the pleasure of working with her.
Friends & colleagues of Nick Egginton were stunned by the news that he had died at the young age of 64 – (December 16th 2012). Many will remember him at Chester Odeon in the early 1970s, when he was assistant to the general manager, Chris Draycott. I certainly remember him as he interviewed, and employed me as a projectionist in February of 1971. His father Bert, was the chief projectionist/stage manager at the Gaumont theatre in the City of Chester, where Nick grew up.
It was while working in cinemas that Nick met his wife to be, Sue. Film lover Nick started working for the Odeon chain as a trainee manager aged 16, in Southall, London. Sue and Nick worked together at the Odeon in Manchester during 1969 and began dating as the film Oliver! premiered. Two years later they married.
After Manchester, and Chester, at the age of only 23 he became general manager of the Odeon Ashton-under-Lyme in his native north west, before he moved on to six other cinemas. He assisted general manager Allan Rosser’s team on the opening day of Chester Odeon’s triple screen Film Centre on Saturday 10th April 1976.
Nick arrived in Cheltenham with Sue and daughter Niki in 1984 to take on the Winchcombe Street Odeon. In his 22 years at the helm he oversaw expansions, extra screens installed, renovations and finally its closure in November 2006. For Nick the cinema really was part of the family.His wife of 41 years, Sue, said: “He was a very popular, caring and loving man, who tended to look after everyone around him and really enjoyed life. We all just loved him to bits”
MARK JENKINS. joined Odeon 1984. He became technical manager in 1991. Later he was appointed as technical manager at the Cameo Glasgow. Mark decided to move into camera work and editing. He won several awards for his film editing and technical skills. Although now living in the remote Scottish Isles, he is still very much into media business. He became the youngest technical manager appointed at Chester’s ODEON.
Transferring from the Odeon Liverpool to Chester’s Odeon in 1977 was Senior Projectionist..Stephen Wynstanley. He was a popular member of the team & stayed at the Odeon for several years before advancing as an electrical engineer.
for details of other projection staff~ go to Technical page
Some cinema staff became as instantly recognizable as the buildings that they worked in. Odeon’s Joyce Hodgkinson was one such lady.
After working for Marks & Spencers, Joyce moved across to the Odeon where she became a most respected and treasured member of staff, also one of the longest serving. She was there in the cinema’s heyday, and was witness to some dramatic changes to both the business and the building. She is pictured with general manager, John Ellis, taken in the 1950s.
A familiar face to generations of Odeon customers. Ester Cooper was the kiosk assistant in the entrance hall. She was affectionately known as Coop to all her colleagues. She began her Chester cinema career in 1937 from the opening day at the ABC Regal, moving across to the Odeon in the early 1940s.
Commissionaire Joe Villanti was employed at the Odeon from the mid seventies. His wife Pauline, a cashier, worked alongside him in the entrance hall. Joe moved across to the Chester International Hotel (Crowne Plaza) as a porter when it first opened.
Two young people who met and married while working at Chester’s Odeon were cashier Kathleen & Gordon Potter. Kath was a cashier, while Gordon worked in the projection room. Who else do you know who met and married while working at any of Chester’s Cinemas??
ODEON projectionist, Ray Davies & his bride Maureen (Mo) Smith on their wedding day. Like many staff at the Odeon they met while working at the cinema and later married. Their daughter Debbie Martin said that Ray also worked at the Gaumont. Maureen was an usherette at the Odeon
When Prynea Rumsey joined the Odeon staff in the sixties little did she realize that way up high beyond the projection beam was her future husband-to-be, Terry Gregory, who was one of the projection team which included the original chief projectionist Ernest Hall, and Gordon Potter the second operator. Their wedding took place on Saturday 14th June 1969, a warm sunny day at Saint Mark’s Church in Saltney. Gordon Potter was the Best Man. Rumour had it that the vicar had enjoyed a few sherries before the service. Whether that was a joke , who knows? However, Prynea tells us that the vicar’s name was Frankie Howard!
“A Good time was had by all” says Prynea, who enjoys her retirement with Terry in Chester, and is a member of Chester Cinemas Facebook group.
Did you or a relative work at Chester’s Odeon? If you have recollections of visiting the cinema, then we will be pleased to hear from you via our contact page