A long forgotten panto at the Royalty Theatre.
The building was the first venue to show a projected film in Chester. Often billed as “time allowing” in the programme, film was very much considered a novelty at that time, and not viewed too much as a threat to the theatre business.
The late Freddie Francis was a first class cinematographer and director. He started his film career as a clapper boy on the film The Marriage of Corbal. He went on to be a camera operator before becoming a director of photography (dop) on a number of top class films. He told me he was in the Army Kinematograph Service Film Unit during WW2 shooting 35mm film for them. He added that is where I really started operating and becoming a dop.
His first feature film as a director of photography was A Hill In Korea. He went on to photograph Sons And Lovers directed by legendary cinematographer Jack Cardiff. Other offerings included Room At The Top and Saturday Night And Sunday Morning starring Shirley Anne Field. Jack Clayton directed Room At The Top. Francis told me he would often watch Clayton, who was a good friend, editing the picture. Field, who I interviewed for a newspaper article was a good friend of Freddie and his wife and spoke highly of them.
Asked where his favourite location was Francis said: “Anywhere, I just loved making movies.” One of Frances’s favourite directors was the American Robert Mulligan. He worked with Mulligan on Man In The Moon and Clara’s Heart starring Whoopee Goldberg.
Francis broke away from cinematography and directed his first feature Two And Two Make Six (1961). He went on to direct several British Hammer horror films at Bray studios. His first horror offering was Paranoiac (1963). It took around six weeks to shoot a Hammer film. He told me they usually worked from eight am until six pm Monday – Friday. He also directed pictures for Amicus and Tigon
He also directed film for television, working on several episodes of The Saint and Man In A Suitcase. He told me he didn’t care too much for television work – only really feeling at home on a feature film set.
After directing several films he went back to cinematography. He worked on the re-make of Cape Fear. The original version was released in 1962 and the re-make in 1991. Martin Scorsese directed it; Freddie says he and Scorsese got on extremely well.
Francis won Oscars for Sons And Lovers (1960) and Glory (1989). His last film was The Straight Story (1999). He passed away on 17 March 2007 aged 89.
David A Ellischestercinemas.co.uk
The late Pamela Jones, one of the cinema staff during the busy and hectic 1970’s at the ODEON. Seen here in the circle foyer with the Little John character from the Walt Disney film “Robin Hood”, Pam worked as usherette, cashier & in kiosk sales, being popular with staff and customers alike, and will always be remembered for her smile.
If you enjoyed an evening at the cinema in it’s heyday, chances are that one of these three gentlemen would have been projecting the film for you, and skillfully giving the very best presentation. Pictured outside the Odeon after having a full tour of the building are from L-R. STAN CLARKE (ex. Regal Northwich), GORDON POTTER (ex. Odeon Chester), and VIN DUNNING (ex.Gaumont & Music Hall, Chester).
A MUSICAL BLAST FROM THE PAST!
Peter Davies writes~ Roger Shone has uncovered this local press advert for “Puss In Boots” which was staged for six days from Monday 12th January 1970 at the ABC.
I worked on that show,and remember that there was just one days rehearsal on the Sunday. Ticket sales were good as people remembered Guy Mitchell, and his records from the 50s~~”My Heart Cries for You” (1950) “The Roving Kind” (1951) “My Truly, Truly Fair” (1951) “Sparrow In The Treetop” (1951) “Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania” (1952) “She Wears Red Feathers” (1953) “Belle, Belle, My Liberty Belle” (1951) “Feet Up (Pat Him On The Po-po)” (1952)”Singing The Blues”(1956). He was a major recording star from the USA, selling well over 44 million records world wide.
“Puss In Boots” was a large production with a full orchestra, and for the technicians it was a welcomed change from the pop shows that were still playing at very regular intervals. Guy Mitchell was a great person both on and off stage. Unfortunately, his voice was beginning to falter, so he relied heavily on his backing singers. The audience loved it all, but it was the one and only pantomime for the ABC.
Oscar Deutsch achieved so much in his short short life. He died of liver cancer five years after the opening of Chester’s Odeon at the age of 48. Prior to his death there were business associations with Kingston upon Hull born and bred, Joseph Arthur Rank, a flour miller, and a powerful business man. With middlemen controlling the distribution pipeline from production to exhibition, Rank had, in the earlier thirties, decided to buy a large part of both the distribution and exhibition systems. He began by forming a partnership with film maker C. M. Woolf to form General Film Distributors, which was incorporated in Rank’s General Cinema Finance Corporation. Having first created a film production company and having made a movie at another studio, Rank began talking to Charles Boot who had recently bought the estate of Heatherden Hall at Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire, for the purpose of turning it into a movie studio that would rival those in Hollywood. In 1935 Pinewood Film Studios went into production. American films occupied 80% of British screen time during the era before World War II. In 1938 he bought into the Odeon Cinemas chain. Rank was able to inject much needed cash into Odeon as it’s portfolio of new cinemas were expanding at a breath taking rate. Together with other cinema circuits, distributors, film studios that were absorbed into the business, creating a formidable force of competition in the heyday of cinema going. In 1941, Oscar Deutsch’s widow sold her shares of Odeon stock to Rank. The same year he took control of Gaumont British, which owned 251 cinemas, and the Lime Grove Studios, (later owned by the BBC) and bought the Paramount Cinemas chain, so that by 1942 Rank owned 619 cinemas.The famous gong man was revamped from the trade mark of General Films Distribution. Now re-shot, with a boxer~ Bombardier Billy Wells as the oiled up gongman, and the name J Arthur Rank superimposed across the gong. During the 1940s, the companies Rank controlled produced some of the finest British films of the period, including: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), Henry V (1944), A Matter of Life and Death (1946), Black Narcissus (1947), and The Red Shoes (1948). J.Artheur Rank was a devout member of the Methodist Church.
Despite being a deeply religious man, he enjoyed attending premieres with the many British stars that were on contract to him. From the 1950s fewer adventurous films were attempted and solidly commercial ventures, largely aimed at the family market, were made instead. These include the popular Norman Wisdom comedies, The various Doctor~ films. However some films of note were produced during this era including: Carve Her Name With Pride (1958), and Victim, (1961) as well as a clutch of prestige topics such as the coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953 and filmed performances by The Royal Ballet. Other interests were acquired (such as the Bush Radio company in 1949) The acquisition of companies continued, led not just by J Arthur Rank, but by John Davis, an accountant with the talent for spotting opportunities to develop the company into one of the most powerful organisations, in fact THE RANK ORGANISATION. Attention was seldom drawn to Rank’s next in command John Davis, who preferred it that way. It was known throughout the industry that John Davis was the driving force.
Without doubt, John Davis was one of the most influential and unpopular figures in the British film industry, who rescued the Rank Organisation from financial chaos in the late ’40s but, in doing so, led film-makers to look elsewhere. Davis certainly had an austere presence and on occasions had a slightly frightening effect on weaker mortals, but he worked very hard: Unfortunately,Rank failed to invest in television when the medium was becoming increasingly popular and cinema audiences were declining. Consequently, the company lost its hold on the film industry, although it continued to invest in the entertainment industry helped by money raised developing and marketing the Rank Xerox photocopying machine. John Davis visited Chester Odeon during 1972, when rumors were circulating that the cinema was to be tripled, with a rare extra budget required to extended the circle towards the screen, which would give the main screen over 800+ seats. Only theatres that had a proven high admission track record were to be considered for this type of addition. Davis later recommended the board to approve the budget, which it did.
Rank retired as Chairman in 1962 and was succeeded by John Davis, who had been Managing Director since 1948. In 1957 J. Arthur Rank was raised to the peerage as Baron Rank, of Sutton Scotney in the County of Southampton. He died in March 1972, aged 83, when the title became extinct. John Davis passed away 27th May 1993.
Odeon Cinemas was sold by The Rank Organisation in the early 1990s to a venture capitalist company- Cinven. It was then sold on again to a similar company- Terra Firma. The freehold sites were sold off in favor of rented units. The business has been rejuvenated with new multiplex builds, and continues to operate under the Odeon badge.