David A Ellis researched this interesting piece regarding the preparations before the ABC Regal opened on 30th October 1937. A visiting journalist had documented the following ~
When I visited the cinema on Wednesday evening I had to pick my way beneath scaffolding. Workmen were laying the ornamental flooring in the vestibule. The balcony entrance was stacked with filing cabinets, chairs, desks wardrobes and other furnishings so necessary for the comfort of the staff.
On Thursday morning there had been a complete transformation. The carpets throughout the building are thick pile axministers with a design of Palm leaves in red and green – which against the colouring of the walls, gives a pleasing effect. The vestibule, in which there are two pay boxes is a rectangular hall in turquoise blue and cream and the lighting here is provided by seven fittings combining floodlighting and pendant lighting. Each fitting has six chromium flood-lights, which reflect on the gaily decorated fibrous plaques. The floral decorations will be in charge of Messrs Millward.
A wide staircase takes on to the balcony, which commands a magnificent view of the auditorium. The walls are shaded in peach colour stippled with gold. On each side of the stage are large grilles behind which are the pipes for the organ. Besides these there are other grilles, which provide the ventilation for this part of the cinema. The lighting of the auditorium is provided by eight troughs of one colour, and the proscenium grilles are of three colours interchangeable from red to green and blue. Here the lighting, which is controlled at will by the organist can be worked into nine different shades. On the stage the lighting is by floats and battens, again worked in three colours.
Altogether there are over two thousand bulbs. The auditorium lighting is controlled by a dead front dimmer panel from the projection room, and the curtains on the stage can be controlled from three different stations in the projection room and from two down on the stage. The seating is of the tub type with pneumatic arms and shaped backs on a darker peach colour. The Compton organ has three Manuels, and nearly two hundred stops, controlling all the different effects. The acoustics are stated to be excellent. Tests conducted during the week were very satisfactory.
David A Ellis(c)chestercinemas.co.uk
CRITIC FACES THE MUSIC.
Music to accompany the silent movies in Liverpool came in for some criticism back in 1920. It was stated that average orchestras only consist of pianists and strings. In a small number of places small organs and wood wind instruments were added. It was also said that the rates of pay were too high in some cases for the amount of hours actually playing. In nearly every case the fee was exorbitant for the attention shown by the musical director regarding detail in appropriate and sympathetic accompaniment.
J. Morton Hutcheson wrote in the Bioscope dated June 10 1920 “A continuous accompaniment to pictures is almost an unknown quantity in Liverpool, and the same, to my idea, objectionable and inartistic custom of pausing for one or two minutes between the numbers played is very prevalent in cinemas in this district. In one cinema I visited I discovered that in twenty minutes of the star film, which I timed and during which an accompaniment should have been going continuously, there were intervals and pauses amounting to nine minutes. Very nearly half of the time recorded was spent in conversation and ‘re-arranging music, and this could not be excused by saying it was the first run of the film, as the occasion of my visit was Wednesday afternoon.”
Mr Hutcheson goes on to say he would rather have seen it silent rather than have it played where it wasn’t appropriate. He goes on to say that the musicians were excellent, capable performers but adds “It is no good playing a sad, slow, dirge like melody when the screen shows a dance or supper party.”
I wonder if other towns and cities got the silent treatment while running Silents and got the same level of criticism?
David A Ellis(c)chestercinemas.co.uk
ABC Cinemas brought out this souvenir ABC Coronation badge for their ABC Minors Saturday Club in 1953. Needless to say this is now a highly prized item for those lucky enough to have been given one. If any members of this group have a badge from either the ABC or Odeon please contact us as we are about to publish an article on the Chester Cinemas website about the Saturday Morning Cinema Shows at the local cinemas.
I knew of J W Ellis through my grandmother Ellen Whitehead. He lived with an uncle John Tomlinson at a farm in Ewloe Green, together with his brother Joe Ellis. My grandfather Samuel Parsonage Whitehead was the organist at Ewloe Green Presbyterian Chapel and ran a concert party The Green Bob’s, in the Sunday school building. Whether John and Joe were in this I don’t know, but both brothers were good singers and my grandparents had numerous musical evenings at their bungalow in Wood Lane Hawarden, which included my mother Mary Vera. J W Ellis was in the police force but then got a job as a cinema manager with Gaumont British and was certainly based at one time at the Coleseum Burslem, Staffs.
My grandmother’s brothers were all involved in the coal minding and clayware industry and often went to Staffs to stay for a holiday with uncle John Heaton and his wife and children. When there they would go to the Coleseum to see films, and as the cinema had a Compton organ John Ellis would let my grandfather play it.
John Ellis eventually returned to Chester to manage the Odeon (Gaumont British Cinemas having been taken over by Odeon) and I think his wife’s name was Noreen, and they lived in the vicinity of Walpole/ Chichester Street, I think. My grandparents when they visited Chester would often call in at the Odeon to see John Ellis. I do remember he died quite young and my grandparents and parents went to his funeral. Many of the wreaths were displayed in the florists shop over the road in Hunter Street Alderley Hall.
Long before I ventured into the world of cinema, I was intrigued about the cinema screen. How was the black border or masking attached to frame the picture. What was it made of, and what it was attached to,etc. The answers, I soon found out were varied. It might amaze you to find out that projection screens were in use by a number of travelling showmen in the 1600s. In the beginning, a sheet, or a white washed wall would suffice for the early audiences.
By the 1910s, purpose-built cinemas appeared to meet ever-increasing demand of film-goers, so screen size started to increase. The standard screen in most cinemas was approximately ten to fifteen feet wide, with screens up to 24 by 18 feet installed in larger theatres. Information about the material these early screens were made of is far harder to come by. Indeed, for much of the history of projected images, the wall or screen that displays the projections seems to have very little attention given. It is odd that comparatively little detail has been paid to projection screens. Not only does this seem to be an intriguing part of projection history, but the type and quality of the screen so clearly affects a film viewing experience in a number of ways. The clarity, brightness, colour and contrast of the image are all crucially important to many spectators – whether or not they are consciously aware of it – as is the absence of distracting imperfections such as visible seams or marks on a screen’s surface. The screens were replaced with more substantial material, similar to woven canvas which could be pulled extremely tight to give a taught smooth surface. In the late 1920s, ‘’cloth’ screens were fashioned from a cotton muslin type material which was webbed, eyeleted and stretched across wooden frames on the front wall of the auditorium,’ but these yellowed quickly due primarily to the amount of smoking that regularly took place in auditoria. Businesses such as Harkness Screens, though, managed to capitalise on this situation, and enterprising individuals like Tom Harkness developed business relationships with laundries that could wash the screens, and sold cinemas with the idea of having multiple screens so that they could have one laundered while another was in use.
This sort of marketing created repeat business, of course – as did the shrinking usually engendered by repeated washes, where old, shrunken screens could be sold on to smaller theatres and re-used again! In the 1940s, plastics started being used to make cinema screens in the United States, in an attempt to combat some of these problems. This practice soon spread to Europe, although the new material of course gave rise to new problems and challenges – not least of which was managing to make invisible seams. Plastic screens became the norm during the 1940s.The surface was either white or grey. It was discovered too that there were advantages if the screen was sprayed silver, which reflected the light off the surface towards the audience giving a brighter, sharper image. As sound came in, the screen tended to muffle the sound. When screens started to be made from plastic, they were perforated to allow the sound to pass through. A detailed piece on screens up to the present day will appear on the website “Cinema Facts” page soon.
The three videos below give an idea on how cinema screens have progressed through the years, and how they are installed.
A SOUND INVESTMENT
The Western Electric sound system was a favourite with many exhibitors in the cinema world. It was based at Bush House in London, which became home of the BBC world service. Western Electric was part of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company and was founded in 1869 and served as the primary supplier and purchasing agent to the Bell system.
It was a very large organisation, and apart from reproduction equipment for cinemas, played a big part in the recording side, it’s name often displayed on film credits. In 1928 they only had 400 cinema installations, leased through Electrical Research Products Inc. Prices at that time ranged from £1000 to £3000 for a fifteen year rental. They stated at the time that Western Electric will not promise results if their film is used on rival projectors, or if rival film is used on their machines. Regarding advertising their products, it was said: Checking upon its advertising schedule during 1929, Western Electric announce that it took more advertising space in the film trade papers of both America and Great Britain than any other manufacturer of talking picture equipment.
Servicing was was done on a regular basis until 1931. The service engineer carried out an equipment inspection each fortnight, and every six months the technical and acoustical inspector carried out more exhaustive checks. It was stated that exhibitors attached great importance to the six month service, which were thorough, and guaranteed uninterrupted running.
By January 1931 the company had decided to switch from fortnightly visits to monthly. It was stated that the suggestion that Western Electric intends to service its theatres but once a month as an experiment is rather a violent change to spring on the exhibitor, and to give a definite opinion as to whether it will work satisfactorily in the majority of cases, is hard to foretell. It certainly adds a feather to the cap of the projectionist when the gap in between servicing can be widened by fifty per cent. It is getting near the day when we shall require service no more and only a trouble call department will ever be required. Then if the exhibitor will pass over to the projectionist half of what he saves in service charges, what a happy New year 1931 will be for all of us.
1931 Was also the year that the company brought out noiseless reproduction at no extra cost to the cinema owner. Advertising stated that they were investing thousands in the system. In March 1931 a new type A was announced costing £785. Managing director ES Gregg said, “The new equipment is an attachment system for use in connection with Simplex projector heads and pedestals, and designed to operate from an AC 50 cycle power supply.
Western Electric said, “The service charge for the new equipment will be £3.10 per week. The new equipment will be known as the 3 A type, and only a limited number of dates for May installations are available. The first opening dates available are for May 4th.” Later, equipment was available to fit other machines.
There was an announcement in April 1931 that Gaumont British were installing the system in its key theatres. By January 1931 a total of 1200 British cinemas were equipped with the unit, including the Phoenix London, Savoy, Folkestone and the Palladium, Paisley. The 1500th British theatre to be fitted was the Ritz Edgeware. The occasion was celebrated by a special luncheon given by the directors of WE at the Savoy hotel.
Western Electric was a highly successful company dealing in cinema sound systems including the highly praised Mirrophonic system. Many cinemas decided state what sound system they were using in their publicity. Chester’s ABC Regal used the system. Other leading manufacturers included RCA, installed at the Classic Chester and British Acoustic in use at the Gaumont, Chester. Western Electric ceased on 7th February 1996.
David A Ellis(c)chestercinemas.co.uk