1964 GOLD DUST TICKETS!!
This lady could not believe her luck as she bought some of the last remaining tickets for the Rolling Stones concert at the ABC Chester.
Hundreds had slept out over night to be the first inline. I remember as a member of the stage/projection staff I was given 4 complimentary tickets.
When war broke out on September 3rd 1939 cinemas were closed, but after a short period it was realised that cinema would offer escapism and comfort from the harsh reality. During air raids starting in 1940, many cinema goers decided to remain in the theatres. On one occasion at the Granada Greenford the audience were entertained by organist Robin Richmond and soprano Edna Troud. At the Forum Ealing a Mr Robert Hamilton kept patrons entertained by playing the organ for nearly four hours.
A number slept on the floor at the back of the auditorium. Others camped down on the settees in the lounge and foyer. At the Q theatre, people were treated to free tea and beer. The Odeon Northfields had a shelter under the cinema, where many patrons went. At the Walpole in Ealing customers sat in the vestibule singing and eating chocolate. Ice cream was in big demand at the Ritz Park Royal. They also sang and listened to records. The local press reported that on one occasion patrons at the Playhouse Greenford didnt want to stay, and the Grand Hanwell closed at the end of the performance. People were advised to go to local shelters.
Cinemas had watchers who reported to the management that an air raid was about to happen. One manager in London said that after being told, he would go on the stage to inform the audience. Most London cinemas had their own air raid shelters, but they were not big enough to house all the patrons. Cinemas would ask their patrons to bring their gas mask. This request was added to their newspaper advertising. If they didn’t have one, admission was usually refused.
A number of cinemas and theatres were bombed during the war, including the Argyle theatre Birkenhead, the Ritz cinema, later Essoldo Birkenhead and the Odeon Kemp Town Brighton. Sadly there were many casualties in these cases. Some cinemas were repaired fairly quickly, others wern’t rebuilt until after the war. It was hoped that the Argyle, that was struck by an incendiary bomb in 1940 would be rebuilt. There was confidence that this would be the case and the licence was renewed, which had been in existence for seventy two years. It was said at the time that the loss had been very great and it might be six months before they could reopen. It never happened.
The Ritz was partly destroyed in 1944 and was rebuilt. A grand reopening took place in January 1947 with a stage show featuring Billy Cotton’s band. The Odeon Kemp Town was bombed on 14th September 1940, killing fifty nine people. During WW2 many projection rooms were manned by women because the men were in the services. Many stayed on after the war. Cinema brought comfort to the masses, who were trying to cope in a situation beyond their control.
David a Ellis©chestercinemas.co.uk
More than a 100 cinema organists were employed by the ABC circuit alone during the heyday of cinema. By 1953 only fifteen had been retained on a permanent contract. Joseph Storer at Chester’s ABC Regal was one of those lucky 15.
Our next presentation will be at the Grosvenor Museum on Saturday 8th June at 1.30pm.
The rich cinema history and the powerful cinema moguls who fought for the best positions of their Picture Palaces within the city- presented by Peter Davies and David A Ellis.
Also on the museum’s BIG screen will be an opportunity to see our latest documentary “THE CINEMAS OF CHESTER”
To book on line click this link- https://www.chestercinemas.co.uk/book/
The ABC Film Review previews “SUMMER HOLIDAY” starring Cliff Richard. The film held the highest admission record for the ABC Chester and probably any other cinema in the city, The first complete weekend (2 days) saw six total capacity performances of 12000 customers.
General Manager- Allan Rosser attempts to bring order to a packed Odeon Chester Saturday morning Boys & Girls Club. c1975. At this period of time it was not unusual for Allan to exceed the stalls capacity of 1080 seats and would open the circle to accommodate the children for the Saturday Morning Club.
SIMON DAVIES remembers- Brilliant!
SANDRA MANN remembers- I remember the Saturday morning club . Could get quite hairy at times .but mostly good fun kids always enjoyed it
ANDREW DAVIES writes- I was there then some were in the auditorium my glory days at the Saturday morning cinema show as it became you got a card for free admission and I remember having a few Saturday morning cinema show pens a little pen with a round top on it.
RICHARD LYSONS recalls- I never went (not sure why) to Saturday morning pictures at the ABC or the Odeon. Perhaps my parents would not let me – or somebody had told us of these sort of scenes ( this would have been a decade earlier…) I went to a Gang Show here in the mid-1960’s and remember a song about the three King Richards “Coeur de Lion, Bordeaux, Dirty Dick” ! The auditorium was packed . Surely better to have the kids at the cinema on a Saturday morning than watching television or (worse) on their computers watching mindless or unsuitable stuff?
Nigel, who was born in Kettering in 1940, has always been interested in the cinema. His family moved to Surrey and after leaving school he went to work in a radio shop in Walton on Thames. One Wednesday, during half day closing, he went to see a film at the ABC Regal Walton on Thames. A slide was projected, advertising for a trainee projectionist. Nigel applied and got the job. Equipment at the ABC consisted of Simplex projectors, Peerless arcs and RCA sound. Nigel made the tea, cleaned the box, painted and rewound film. He wasn’t allowed to touch a projector for around six months. As he was only fifteen he had to produce a letter from his mother, allowing him to see ‘X’ films.
Nigel went through the ranks. At the Regal he went from trainee to fourth and finally third. In 1960 he moved over to the Walton on Thames Odeon as second, working on BTH SUPA MK 2 projectors. At twenty- one he was made chief projectionist.
Nigel stayed at the Odeon for four years. From there he became a relief chief, based at the Odeon Wimbledon. He covered the Surrey and Hampshire areas and in the summer of 1964 he spent some time at the Odeon, Deal, Kent.
He then went back to Wimbledon and also carried on relief work. For around seven years he operated at the Odeon Surbiton. From there it was to the Odeon King’s Road, Chelsea, which had been a Gaumont Palace. Six months after joining the team at Chelsea, the cinema closed. He then did some work for the zone engineer at several places, including the New Victoria, where amongst other things he operated the lighting board when the Black and White Minstrel show was there. A show that wouldn’t be staged today.
During that time he was going back to Chelsea, which after re-development, he would re-open. He also did a spell of operating at the Odeon, Shepherd’s Bush. He went back to the Odeon Wimbledon, because it was the first Odeon in London to be tripled, and as this was the way forward, he went for the experience.
Nigel re-opened the new Odeon Chelsea and remained there until 1976. He then went to the Odeon Kensington, which was the first Odeon in the West End area to be tripled. During the time Nigel was there, a fourth screen was added. It went on to house six.
Being in the West End area, Nigel would go to the Odeon, Leicester Square and help out on royal premiers. He also helped Sir Sydney Samuelson run stage shows when the royal premiers were on.
In 1983 he was asked if he would like to go to Leicester Square as chief engineer. Nigel said he would give it a try and stayed until retirement.
At the time of his retirement, Nigel worked with George Mole, Gordon Elliot, Glenn Wild and Michael Swarbrick. George was chief technician, Nigel’s number two; and the others were senior technicians. After Nigel’s retirement Mark Nice became chief. They worked on a day on, day off basis. Apart from the Odeon, they had to operate a five screen mini complex next door, known as the Mezzanine cinemas.
There were three Cinemeccanica Victoria eight projectors at the Odeon, plus a digital projector. When they ran a digital copy they ran a 35mm back up copy, which they never resorted to. On royal premiers they always ran a back up. Before a screening took place, Nigel and his team always had a rehearsal. This applied to all films. The Vic 8s had long spool capability and a non – rewind (cakestand) system was also employed. Today films are shown digitally.
When film was screened the four K xenons ran at around 140 amps. The xenons and picture gates were air-cooled. A jet of air was blown on to the back plate.
At the 1990 royal premier, Nigel was introduced to the Queen. In 1997 he was made a Fellow of the BKSTS and in 2004 he was awarded the Frank Littlejohn award for an outstanding contribution to the art and craft of cinema projection. Sir Sydney Samuelson presented this to him at Pinewood studios. Sir Sydney said: ‘Nigel has become a legend because of his very long career in cinema projection, culminating in his position as ‘Chief’ at the Odeon Leicester Square.’ In 1990, Nigel began to help Dion Hanson at MIFID in Milan. Nigel is one of two; I think that has received an MBE for sterling efforts in the world of film projection, sadly now gone.
David A Ellis
Music Hall manager, William Mulvey is pictured seated centre with his staff. Projectionist, Vin Dunning is on the left of the centre row.
Often when I visited the cinema, like many other children my attention would be drawn to the piercing light beam projecting high above. It was more evident then as smoking was allowed in cinemas, so the smoke laced air helped provided spectacular dancing patterns as the picture moved. Much to my parents annoyance, I would spend a lot of my time, head turned around watching this display, rather than watching the film that they had just forked out the equivalent of 7 pence for my seat. My interest of course was what went on over the other-side of the beam, and how these talented people worked in this little known area operating the equipment.
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 had previously 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.
Chester Odeon manager- CHRIS DRACOTT pictured with Petula Clark when she visited the Liverpool Odeon which Chris managed before moving to Chester in the late 1960s.