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I was interested in the cinema from an early age and would often go to our local cinema, now long gone. It was called the Grand but didn't quite live up to its name. I remember my first visit was to see the 1953 film The Conquering of Everest. I was one of a bunch of school kids from the infant school, which was next door. I think it was this visit that sowed the seed. the Grand, which I was fond of, closed in 1961 with Carry on Regardless.
My first cinema job was as an assistant projectionist at the Palace Warrington, another that didn't live up to its name. I was only allowed to rewind and operate the lighting. Twice a day I would go down and bring back a jug of tea. The only way to get to the projection area was from a door at the side of the building, which took you, after a long climb, to the gallery, as it had been an old theatre. In the small projection box there was a stove, where the chief, a Mr Joe Slevin, would warm his pies. Joe would also mend TVs in the box. The projectors were Fedi, the arcs Peerless and the sound RCA. Six months after my arrival it became a bingo club. The last film shown was The Camp on Blood Island.
Next, it was to the Classic, Chester, which was equipped with Simplex, RCA sound and Peerless arcs. I had then reached the dizzy heights of third projectionist. From there I went to my third and last cinema, the Mayfair, Aigburth Liverpool. I was there for four years, 1969 -1973. I was a second operator. There were only two of us. I would run the show when the chief was off and he when I was off. We only worked together twice a week. The cinema closed in 1973 with a film that fitted the occasion, The Last Picture Show. It became a Mecca bingo club and was demolished in 1984.
I went on to work for the BBC Film Department, which was based at Ealing Studios, London. I joined as a trainee, even though I had been a second. The money was more, even as a trainee. There was a year's training, going around the different areas. Unlike cinemas we didn't have to change lamps, clean lamp fittings, clean floors or do projector maintenance. All that was taken care of. All we did was show films. These consisted of previewing rushes, synch rushes, cutting copies, answer prints and transmission prints. We also projected in the dubbing theatres. We ran 16, 35 and occasionally 9.5mm.
I started writing around 1992 and first wrote pieces for newspapers. I went on to write for the CTA, Image Technology, Cinema Technology, The Veteran and the British Cinematographer magazine. I also went on to write two books for an American publisher, consisting of interviews with directors of photography and camera operators. Each book has over twenty interviews.
My first interview was with cinematographer Oswald Morris. I saw his name in a directory of members that was sent to me by Image Technology. I remembered the name from my many cinema visits, so having seen his name I was keen to talk to him. Apart from writing on film I wrote over one hundred theatre reviews/previews and interviewed over thirty celebrities, including Jim Bowen, Ken Dodd, Craig Douglas, and explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes.
Finally, I was on holiday in Brighton back in 1963 with my father and we would often go to the cinema. We saw The War Lover with Shirley Ann Field, a Hammer horror directed by Freddie Francis, and Lawrence of Arabia, partly photographed by Nicolas Roeg. Who would have thought back then that many years later I would interview all three? I am still writing a lot and have been working on a book about the history of Chester's cinemas and theatres. This will be published by the CTA.
Images show the Palace Warrington, programme leaflets for the Classic Chester, views of the projection room at the Mayfair, Aigburth Liverpool, and the cover of In Coversation with Cinematographers.
The cinema organ was part of the cinema going experience in many cinemas. Several companies made these wonderful instruments including Compton and Wurlitzer. In the early days it came in for some criticism. A 1928 article by a Mr Arthur Mason, said that organ lovers were shocked by the arrival of the cinema organ and perturbed by the appearance of this interloping newcomer. A book by a Dr George Tootell was published in 1927 called How to Play the Cinema Organ. Tootell was described as a pioneer of that branch of musical art. He was the first British organist to play a general cinema organ.
In 1939 the Daily Mail reported that a Mr Albert Lander from Nottingham played hymns at the Baptist Tabernacle on a Sunday, and fearsome roars into Tiger Rag at the Regent cinema during the week. It was the same organ because the Tabernacle and the Regent shared the same building. On 2 March 1931 Chester's first super cinema the Gaumont Palace, which was originally going to be called Regent, opened its doors. The cinema installed the Compton organ, and during intervals its thunderous sound could be heard. In the opening week the instrument was played by Leslie James, a famous organist who had made several radio broadcasts. The following week Rowland H. Cutler was knocking out the notes. The film was The Vagabond King starring Jeanette MacDonald. Cutler continued playing until Sydney Gustard sat at the console on the 4 May 1931.
Gustard had played in a number of cinemas including the Trocadero and Mayfair Liverpool, which also housed Comptons, and became the regular organist at the Chester cinema; first playing the week Paramount on Parade and Girl of the Golden West was screened. He broadcast and made several records from the building. His recordings were released by HMV and include, The Teddy Bears' Picnic and The Match Parade. Organist Wilfred Wynne sometimes stood in for Gustard. The organ at the Gaumont was advertised as the Mighty Compton. It is alleged that the organ at the Gaumont was destroyed when building work was taking place for conversion to a bowling alley. Gustard, who made hundreds of radio broadcasts left the Chester Gaumont to play at the Plaza Birkenhead, run by Bedford Cinemas (1928) Ltd.
He started there on 8 March 1937. He took the place of Lewis Oddy, who sadly passed away at a young age. Another fine organist was Frank Gordon who took over from Gustard at the Plaza in 1938 and played at other cinemas run by the company, including the Mayfair Aigburth, Liverpool. He went on to work at the Ritz, later Essoldo, Birkenhead in 1951. He also did many radio broadcasts.
On 30 October 1937 the ABC Regal opened. They also installed the Compton, described in publicity as the Wonder Compton. At the console was Wilfrid Southworth. Southworth played several selections, including a series of parodies. The Compton at the cinema could produce nine colour changes. Southworth was a composer and lyric writer and orchestrated music for various BBC programmes. He sadly died in a swimming accident.
Another organist to tinkle on the keyboard was Norman Shann. Shann had trained as a cinema organist in the 1930s under a Mr Harry Croudson at the Ritz cinema Leeds. The Compton from the Regal was shipped to Australia and is still in use.
At the Odeon Leicester Square in 1956 Mr John Howlett, a member of the Cinema Organ Society, gave a demonstration recital on their five manuel Compton. It is reported that his performance was much appreciated, and he was followed by a Mr Reginald New at the console. Many cinemas stopped using the organ by the sixties and either covered them with a sheet or had them removed. Those that retained them would blow the cobwebs out now and then, but most of the time it was the non-sync (record machine) that provided intermission music.
Before the audience settle comfortably in their seat to watch the latest cinematic offering a lot of work by a great many people has taken place. A film can cost millions to make and an army of people to bring it to the screen. One job that creates atmosphere and emotion is that of the film composer. A film composer’s job is not an easy one. He or she must convince the director that their score is the right one for the film, that best fits the action and sometimes becomes memorable. Some scores help to sell the film and can make a film that is not great, stand out. High Noon was a film that wasn't special as far as the story goes, but the theme tune became memorable and helped the movie become a success.
Other westerns where the score stood out include The Good the Bad and the Ugly and The Magnificent Seven. Spielberg's ET and Star Wars are also scores that added greatly to the films. The scores from many others also became memorable including Gone with the Wind, Lawrence of Arabia, The Third Man and Dr Zhivago.
There are many successful composers, including John Williams and Carl Davies. Other notables include Alfred Newman, Hans Zimmer, Sammy Fain and George Fenton.
Recently I spoke to several composers about their work and how they approached it. I spoke to Sam Watts. He has worked on several productions including the TV series Planet Earth. I asked if he composed quickly and did he spend a lot of time getting it right. He said it all depended on the schedule. Sometimes the composer is allowed more time on some than others. He said he always tried to get it right but sometimes due to time you only have time to get it good enough.
Many film score composers also orchestrate their music and sometimes conduct or sit in on recording sessions. Watts said he always sat in on the sessions and adds it is one of the best bits of the job. He said there is nothing like musicians breathing life into your score.
John Koutselinis has recently scored for a film called The Great Alaskan Race. He also composed for Peter O’Toole's last film Decline of an Empire. He said it is a must to supervise the recording. Usually a session supervisor sits in which is good, as they offer great help at the recording session. He says that changes regarding a composition can be made at the last minute. It is the nature of the business.
Another film composer I spoke to was Mike Hall an American who has composed for several films, which include the horror genre. He said he puts ideas down on a digital recorder before he forgets them. He says inspiration strikes when you least expect it. Asked about how he went about composing for a film he said, sometimes he got musical ideas by reading the script and sometimes he gets to see scenes or the full edit. Other times he gets ideas by talking to the director. Sometimes he composes without seeing the film. Mike says he likes to write in different styles.
There is a wide variation in what composers are paid. Big money is made by the ones at the top of the tree.
In the silent days before 1910, the projectionist was in the auditorium with the patrons. The projector would be in the aisle and the operator would operate the projector by turning a handle. The film would usually fall into a basket. The film was nitrate base so could easily go up in flames. This happened on numerous occasions.
In 1910, it became law that projection equipment had to be housed in a separate area from the audience. Therefore, cinemas had to construct projection rooms containing fireproof shutters. In addition, there had to be a bucket of water, a bucket of sand and an asbestos blanket, as fire precautions. The projection room had to be separate from the rewind area. Only film to be put on the projectors was allowed in the projection box. This practice remained until the introduction of safety base in the fifties. Then it was allowed to rewind film in the projection box.
Another strict rule was no smoking, and signs would be placed in the projection and rewind rooms. Staff in a projection room in the early days would be three, four, or more people a shift. There would be one man turning the handle between sixteen and eighteen frames per second, another would be attending to the carbons, having to constantly feed them, as there was no automatic feed. Another would be taking care of rewinding. Two would be required for a changeover. One turning and one minding the carbons. In 1911, projectors became motorised, eliminating the need to hand crank, though it was still possible to hand crank if desired. Some distributors stated the speed which they wanted their film screened. Some projectors had frames per second meters on them such as the Kalee 11. In 1927 the first part talkie/silent film, The Jazz Singer, with sound on disc was shot at 24 frames per second (fps). 24 fps became the speed for sound films with optical sound tracks. Film ran through the projector at 18 inches per second, 90 feet per minute. Projection work could be a little on the unhealthy side due to carbon dust being inhaled when cleaning arcs, carbon fumes being breathed in before extraction was fitted, possible exposure to asbestos, which was used on cables connected to the equipment, and the dangers of some early machinery with a front flicker shutter that wasn't encased, and could do damage if contact was made. There were also cleaning fluids that were suspect where health was concerned and the dangers of rewinding poor prints that could make a nasty cut to your fingers.
In the nitrate days, films were shipped in 1000ft foot rolls giving eleven minutes running time. The projectionist, using film cement, would often join these into 2000ft rolls. Tape joiners were a long time away in the future. When safety base film came along in the 1950s films were sent in 2000ft rolls. Projection rooms varied in size, some having limited movement. In 1932, The Bioscope magazine reported on the opening of the Dominion Hounslow, stating that it has one of the largest projection rooms in London. It was equipped with Walturdaw and Western Electric sound.
There were several makes of projector including Kalee, Simplex, Kamm, John Bull, Empire and BTH, made in Rugby. Kershaws made Kalee machines in Leeds, and the International Projector Corporation made Simplex in New York. Exhibitors found themselves paying out huge sums to install sound. You could buy the disc and optical system or just the optical system. In 1929, a Cinephone disc and optical system cost between £1500 and £1950. Easy terms were usually on offer.
The cinema has come a long way from those early days. We have seen wide screens, 3D, 70mm, safety base film, polyester film stock, non-rewind systems (cake-stand) and towers, eliminating changeovers, magnetic sound tracks, Dolby Stereo, xenon lamps, Dolby Digital and now digital projection. Most cinemas have removed their 35mm equipment which has been mostly skipped. Fortunately the Projected Picture Trust has saved equipment and has examples of most machines at their headquarters in Halifax
The American Simplex projectors, made in New York by the International Projection company, were installed in a number of super cinemas including the Paramount and Roxy in New York. They were also distributed worldwide. The New York Paramount had three machines and Hall and Connolly continuous feed high intensity lamps. It was reported that beneath the pedestal of each projector was a recessed, coveted pocket and outlet box from which the asbestos covered lamp leads are led up through the centre of each pedestal to the switch box and lamp. The entire conduit being concealed gave the room an unusually neat and dignified appearance.
In 1923, the machines were installed at the London Palladium. The Holborn Empire was also equipped with them. In 1930 at The Carlton in Essex Road London, they were installed with Peerless high intensity arcs and Thide electric changeovers. The Carlton also installed Brenograph effects projector.
In 1928 at the Broadway Stratford, four Simplex machines were installed with Ashcraft high intensity arcs. At the Astoria old Kent Road, London there were, back in 1930, Western Electric sound and Hall and Connolly high intensity arcs which partnered the Simplex, installed by J Frank Brockliss.
A report in the Bioscope magazine dated 11 December 1929 says: “Owing to the pressure of Continental orders, J Frank Brockliss Ltd, decided to enlarge their organisation in France. A completed stock of Simplex projectors, spare parts and similar projection equipment, such as the company handle in London, will be held in stock in Paris. In this manner, excellent service is assured to the many Continental users of Simplex projectors, over one hundred of which, have been installed during the past twelve months.”
Another Bioscope report from 2 June 1921 says: ”In spite of depressing trade reports generally, the Imperial Film Company Ltd, state that Simplex projectors are selling briskly. Between May 15 and the end of the month, no less than nine machines were installed in London and the South alone; three at the Coronation Theatre Manor Park; two at the Prince's Pavilion, Walthamstow; two at the Rivoli Whitechapel and two at the Savoy Picture House Plymouth. Since the Imperial Film Company Ltd started distributing the Simplex projector in Great Britain, some eighteen months ago, they have sold several hundred machines.”
In March 1931, the Select cinema Redditch installed new G Model RCA sound equipment with Simplex machines and little known Hahn Goertz carbon arcs.
Ealing Studios in the 1930s were making feature films with stars such as Gracie Fields and George Formby and later went on to produce memorable comedies produced by Michael Balcon with many photographed by Douglas Slocombe, who finally worked with Steven Spielberg on three Indiana Jones movies. Ealing sold the studio to the BBC and in 1956 it became home to the BBC film department, the plaque on the front stating BBC Television Film Studios.
From here dozens of film crews would be despatched to shoot in locations in the UK and abroad as well as on Ealing's famous stages. As well as the stages the studio housed cutting rooms, film despatch, dubbing theatre, projection area, sound transfer area, offices and a canteen. Crews would be sent out, with some of them using a car called a camera car where the camera and sound equipment would be piled into the boot to be driven to a location.
I worked at the studio in the early 1970s and at that time 16mm Arriflex equipment was usually used for shoots linked with the Nagra quarter inch tape machine. After the shoot rushes would be processed, one of the labs being Kays. These were sent to Ealing and other BBC areas for checking. This would be done by one of the Film Operation Managers (FOM). He would check for exposure and possible scratching.
At Ealing the projection area was a long room housing a number of projectors, which were Baur apart from 35mm, which were Kalee 21. By each machine there was an air line that allowed any hairs or dust to be blown out of the projection gate. The FOM often asked for the picture to be framed to show the frame line so it could be established if it was a hair in the projector or one that had been in the camera.
Rushes would arrive in small rolls wrapped in white bags. Split spools were used so film could be shown without having to wind it first on to a spool. The quarter inch tape would be sent to the transfer suite where it would be copied onto 16mm magnetic. The editor would go on to put sound rushes together. This would consist of the different takes. After the final takes had been put together a cutting copy was produced. This contained the editors joins.
The sound was separate on 16mm magnetic, and at this stage would contain some white spacing. The final mix had yet to be done. Apart from what was recorded in the studio or field, there were other tracks to be mixed such as effects added after filming. Several tracks would sometimes need to be projected, and the projection room housed several sound bays which could be patched into any theatre.
At Ealing there was a dubbing theatre called dubbing theatre B. It housed two Baur 16mm projectors, which could go forwards and backwards at high speed. This was known as rock and roll. The theatre was separate to the projection area. The projectors like the ones in the projection area were double band. Also in the dubbing theatre were 16mm sound bays.
The dubbing mixer had complete control, starting and stopping the equipment until he was happy with the mix. All the tracks at this time would be mixed into mono onto a 16mm magnetic roll. There were some stereo mixes but this wasn't a general thing then.
Unlike Ealing, the dubbing theatres at Television Centre were in the projection area, based in the East Tower of the site. Films were shipped by the Film Despatch department, cans taped up with white gaffer tape. The film department no longer exists and now TV like the cinema works with digital files. What will come after digital? It is hard to imagine there can be anything else, but then the same used to be said of film.
Patrick Collins, known as Pat Collins, was regarded as the King of showmen, having run a successful fairground and cinema business. Collins was born in Chester on 12 May 1859 and attended St Werberg's RC school. Later, he presented the pulpit to the church and made many gifts there. He moved to the Midlands and became a Liberal councillor in 1918 and a Liberal MP for Walsall from 1922 to 1924. In 1920 he became president of the Showman's Guild until 1929. He was an alderman in 1930 and became mayor of Walsall in 1938. In 1939 he was made a Freeman of the borough of Walsall.
As a ten-year-old boy, Collins, who was one of five children, travelled the shows with his father John Collins, an agricultural labourer. At twenty-one he operated his first children's roundabout, which was hand operated. Collins, who had great affection for his hometown would visit Chester at least once during race week. He went on to run fairs all over the UK, including a seasonal one at Barry Island in South Wales. Pat Collins Ltd was formed in1899. Every year the Pat Collins fair puts in an appearance on the Roodee, during the May races. The fair, which is still known as Pat Collins' fair, is run by Anthony Harris. He took full control and sole ownership in 1983.
Collins married his first wife Flora Ross in 1880, when she was just 17. They had one son. Flora passed away in 1933 aged 69. She was the daughter of a watchmaker from Wrexham. Collins ran several cinemas, including five in Walsall, the Olympia Picture Palace Darlaston, the Grosvenor, Bloxwich, later taken over by Oscar Deutsch, under the title The Picture House (Bloxwich) Ltd and Pat Collins Cinema deluxe in Brook Street Chester from 1921 until 1926. It is said his involvement in the cinema business appears to be that of an investor and proprietor. He never got involved with the Cinema Veteran's Association.
In 1920 the staff of the Olympia had their annual Sunday trip out and though Collins couldn't attend he wrote out a cheque for a substantial amount towards it. He was generous in so many areas. His son Pat Collins junior was also involved in cinema and at one point ran the New Brighton Tivoli and Palace. Collins first presented moving images in 1899/1900 when he took over the Wall and Hammersley ghost show. Collins went on to present Wonderland 1 and 2, built by Orton and Spooners of Burton upon Trent. These ran until 1914.
Collins re-married in 1935 at the age of 75 to a Miss Clara Mullett, aged 54, who was his secretary. Collins died on the 9 December 1943.There were more than two hundred friends, who filled St Patrick's Catholic Church at Bloxwich. Six years before his death he was offered a knighthood but refused it. It was in recognition of his great benefaction to Birmingham and other hospitals. It was said by Walsall town council: "We have said goodbye to the man with the golden heart." They recorded their grateful appreciation of the unremitting services alderman Collins rendered the town in twenty-eight years of public life. At the time of his death the business was estimated to be worth £250,000. He left £72,419 in his will.
One of the earliest projectors to serve the amusement needs of cinemagoers was the Power’s, which was introduced to the UK around 1909 by the Walturdaw Co Ltd which had premises in London, Birmingham, Liverpool and Cardiff. In October 1911 466 projectors were sold by the company. This was the Cameragraph number six.
The company was American and run by Nicholas Power. A report in the Bioscope from 1919 says the size of the factory had been increased and had sold 1700 machines to overseas buyers alone. It stated that many British Cinemas had installed them.
In 1927 it was reported that the company had been evolving a new gate for the machine to counteract excessive heat on the gate through the increase in the use of high intensity and mirror arcs. The report went on to say that the new gate had been perfected and would be available to fit on existing machines, at least in America and, in due course, the UK. The new gate had several new features, which included air spaces between film pads and pad holders. There was an eye shield to protect the operator's eyes from the glare spot. Also, there were heat insulators ensuring fingers were not burnt. A protector was used for the lower loop under the gate.
It was a complete assembly composing of three separate plates. One was a heavy grid iron plate facing the light source. Another carried the gate latch, the upper film shield and idler roller and the steel plate which carried the tension shoes and springs. In between the plates were air spaces to allow cooling.
Bakelite was used to insulate the plates. The gate latch was also insulated in a similar way. This improvement meant that the hands of the operator were protected from hot metal. The eye shield was a square tube with the two sides filled with ruby glass, which was just hooked on to a rod immediately above the automatic fire shutter and could be instantly attached or removed. The fire shutter had also been re-designed so that it raised and lowered perfectly at all times from a rate of fifty film feet per minute upwards, and there was no danger of it becoming bound in the bearings.
One of their machines was called the Power's number six and like most manufacturers they claimed it would deliver the best projection. One advert stated: "Its tremendous throw gives it preference over any other projector on the market." Another ad stated: "A good production with a famous star, well-advertised, a comfortable house and efficient orchestra are worth nothing unless your projection is of the best. To obtain this, all you require is the Power's No 6 Projector." By 1928 Power's 6B projector installations included the Paramount in Paris and the Carlton theatre, London.
Moving pictures have been around since 1896. Since then an amazing amount of footage has rolled through the cameras, producing some great movies, both silent and sound. Sadly, much of the footage has been destroyed in some way, or lost, possibly tucked away in someone's attic or shed. One of the main reasons why nearly eighty per cent of silent output is no more is because the film stock was nitrate and has disintegrated. Some films were badly stored in not ideal conditions. Some films were destroyed by the film companies to make space on the shelves for new ones. Their attitude was that the film has been out there and now has no more commercial value. This happened in the 1950s and '60s by TV companies. A tape would be wiped to make room for something else. Also, storage was another problem. There are several programmes where there were a great number of episodes but are now reduced to just one or two. Two examples include BBC shows Juke Box Jury and Six Five Special, where only a handful have survived.
Sometimes a sixteen-millimetre copy taken from video turns up. Examples are early pop shows, which were shot on video, now screened on sixteen millimetre, complete with scratches. In these cases, the original video has been destroyed. The surviving prints carried an optical soundtrack and were prints that were sent to overseas markets. In the feature film world, some stills and cast/crew lists survive, even if the film itself hasn't. Some films have been destroyed in studio fires. Universal had a fire back in 1924. Fox suffered one in 1937 and MGM had one in 1965. Martin Scorsese's Film Foundation claims that half of all the American movies made before 1950, and ninety percent before 1929 are gone forever. The Library of Congress state that seventy-five per cent of all silent films are now lost.
On the BFI’s most wanted list are the silent films A Study in Scarlet (1914), Hitchcock's The Mountain Eagle (1926) and The Last Post (1929). Sound films include Squadron Leader X (1943) Linda (1960), directed by Don Sharp. Other films on the missing list include Educated Evans starring Max Miller and Bless 'Em All with the late singer Max Bygraves. Some films are incomplete. Sometimes films are cut for various reasons, including censorship. The cut footage is usually kept but sometimes it goes missing. The Stanley Kramer film It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World was premiered at 192 minutes but cut to 162 for general release. In the '80s twenty minutes of the cut footage was found in a warehouse that was due for demolition. The remaining lost road show footage was found in 2013 as part of restoration. Most of the scenes were complete, the remainder were missing sound or visuals, as they were derived from the original road show prints. Apparently, the original elements disappeared a long time ago.
Scenes that were cut from The Good the Bad and the Ugly are now believed to be lost. Bedknobs and Broomsticks was shortened after its premier from two and a half hours to 119 minutes. In 1996 it was decided to restore it to its original length. Most of the cut scenes were found. However, most of the dialogue tracks for the scenes could not be recovered, so where possible, the scenes were dubbed by the original actors. Footage of the song A Step in the Right Direction hasn't been found. Some lost films and TV episodes have been found. Some TV material is saved because someone made a video recording of it.
The late Bob Monkhouse recorded a lot of material. Because of people like Bob, a lot of material has been saved, which would have been lost forever. There are several Dr Who episodes that have been saved from home recordings. The comedy Steptoe and Son is another example of home recording saving the day. There is still a lot of old material on nitrate stock, which needs transferring to safety stock. The trouble is by the time it is decided to transfer and archive it, the damage is done.
With digital technology, a lot of films can be restored to their original quality. A lot of Eastman colour prints and negatives have faded over the years, but the digital process can restore elements that have suffered the passing of time. A film doesn't have to be very old to need treatment. The film Lawrence of Arabia (1962) had a full restoration job done on it. Let us hope many more films are preserved for generations to come.
The building, which was to become the Alhambra, opened to the public on 18 March 1854 as the Royal Panopicon Science and Art. Designed by a Mr T. Hayter Lewis, it lasted just two years. On 3 April 1858 the doors swung open to let in the first theatre patrons and it was known as the Alhambra Palace. The proprietor was a Mr E T Smith. Hayter Lewis was also responsible for the conversion. In 1860 Smith ran it as the Alhambra Music Hall and on the ground floor tables were installed as food and drink were served.
Ownership changed in 1864 when it was ruin by a Mr Frederick Strange. In 1866 some alterations took place. In 1871 more work was undertaken and it became the Royal Alhambra Palace Theatre of Varieties. The new look Alhambra offered ballet, opera, pantomime and farce. Alterations included New Brussels carpet throughout the auditorium, new gas devices, rows of orchestra stalls and private boxes. Entrances were also improved. Come 1881 alterations once again took place under architects Perry and Reed. The opening took place on 3 December 1881 with a production called The Black Crook.
On 6 December 1882, at just after one in the morning, the theatre was on fire. It was said that it started in the balcony area. Several firemen were injured tackling the blaze and it was reported that a Thomas George Ashford died from injuries in Charing Cross hospital. A great crowd gathered but several police constables kept them back. There were twenty six steam fire engines in attendance. Apart from the theatre a Turkish bath was burned out. Damage came to a staggering £150,000.
Following the fire, reconstruction work took place and it was decided to build it along the lines of the old one. Building work took twenty nine weeks and was designed by Perry and Reed. The theatre rose from the ashes and reopened on 3 December 1883 with a production called The Golden Ring. More alterations took place in 1888 by Edward Clark and in 1892 more changes took place. A Mr W M Brutton came on board in 1897 and designed an extension at the rear to give a second entrance on Charring Cross Road.
Further improvements were made by prolific theatre architect Frank Matcham in 1912. Films were first screened there by Robert W Paul on 25 March 1896. By the 1930s cinema was booming and it was decided that the site would be used to house a cinema. So the grand looking Alhambra became a victim of the wrecking ball.
The Alhambra theatre in London's Leicester Square was demolished to make way for what was to become Odeon's flagship cinema. The Odeon cost a staggering £750,000 to build and was completed in only seven months, opening on the 2 November 1937 with the film The Prisoner of Zenda. Prices weren't cheap. They were, £10, £5, £3, £2, £1, ten shillings and five shillings. Proceeds from the first performance went to the British Empire Cancer Campaign and the Scottish National Trust. Those in attendance included the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, Oscar Deutsch Lord and Lady Hailsham, film actor Raymond Massey and Lady Hope Hawkins, widow of the author of The Prisoner of Zenda Anthony Hope Hawkins.
Projection equipment at the Odeon included BTH and Cinemeccanica. For many years PPT member Nigel Wolland MBE was the chief projectionist and on retirement was replaced by Mark Nice.
When 35mm film was introduced in the 1800s it had a nitrate base that needed to be handled with great care. If not, there was a strong possibility that a fire could take place as the base was highly flammable. No smoking in the projection room was a strict requirement. It was because of film bursting into flames that separate projection rooms became a requirement from 1910. Before this equipment was placed in the same area as the audience. A separate rewind area was also a requirement. Only film that was to be projected was allowed in the box.
Safety base film arrived in the 1950s and some cinemas then did the rewinding in the projection room using the old rewind area for other things. Though the film was a safety base, no smoking rules still applied. In the silent days the full frame was used. In other words, the area taken up by the soundtrack that came later, was part of the image. This ratio was known as 1.33:1. When sound arrived because of the soundtrack, a plate masking the soundtrack area had to be used. This meant there had to other adjustments so the picture could still be projected on to the same screen. This involved cropping slightly and using another lens. The film makers did not like their images being cropped so in 1932 The Academy ratio, 1.37:1 was introduced. This was near the 1.33:1 ratio. Slight change to the frame area was required. In the 1950s wide screen was introduced. There were several wide screen ratios. Many filmmakers, knowing part of their images would be cropped, were happy to shoot with objects in shot that would be cropped later, including microphones. There was 1.85:1, 1.75:1. 1.66:1. 1.66:1 consisted of thick frame lines. Disney shot several productions in this ratio. This ratio left little room for framing (racking). Wide screen gave the impression that the picture was bigger than Academy (1.37:1), which it was not. You could show an academy ratio film in wide screen, using wide screen plates and lenses but some of the image would be cropped, for examples titles missing. Otherwise it looks like any other wide screen presentation. So, there is more picture area with academy than a 1.66:1 wide screen image.
In 1953 CinemaScope arrived. This used the anamorphic system. It was shot with an anamorphic lens squeezing the image and shown with one expanding the image and gave a ratio of 2.55:1. In the early days of scope there would be annoying lines that would appear as a flash at the top of the screen when there was a cut to another scene. These were joins made by the negative cutter, which could not be cropped as there was no margin for it. Early anamorphic systems distorted the image slightly. With CinemaScope came four track magnetic sound. Later, the picture width was reduced to give a ratio of 2.35:1 so that an optical track could be included although this was half the width of a normal optical track. The mag head was placed above the projector head unlike the optical, which was below. The operator had to be careful that the tracks were not magnetized. Films with magnetic tracks had smaller sprocket holes, known as Fox Hole. The projectionist had to make sure the sprockets had been changed for this.
Scope required a backing lens and an anamorphic. Some cinemas had a separate backing and anamorphic lens, others had them combined. If you mistakenly left the wide screen lens in and put the anamorphic in front of this there would be an exceptionally large image that would spread beyond the screen area, some projected on the front exit doors. A CinemaScope image was a stretched image that covered, apart from the soundtrack area the whole frame with thin frame lines. The anamorphic unstretched the image to make it look normal. Apart from a change of lens the masking plate or aperture plate also had to be changed. This meant a larger aperture was required. With four track magnetic, speakers were placed at the right, centre and left of the screen. There were also speakers on the side walls which played the effects track. 70mm film also carried magnetic tracks but there were six, giving even more realistic sounds. Cinerama had seven tracks played using a separate reel carrying the tracks.
Years before Walt Disney had produced Fantasia, carrying four optical tracks on a separate reel. Another format in the fight against television's affect was third dimension (3D). Two 35mm projectors ran together both carrying 5000ft of film. These films required an intermission as only fifty minutes could be screened in one go. Some cinemas found it a problem because of the length of time carbons would burn. Cinema engineer Jim Shultz said the best for this was the Peerless carbon arc. Glasses were required to view but some found them a strain and the novelty soon wore off.
In the 1970s Dolby Stereo came along. This was not magnetic but an optical track carrying information for four channels. Later, Dolby Digital came on board, the sound head being above the projector head. DTS was another system. A compact disc would keep sync with the film. There was time code that meant even if a join were made sync would be kept, unlike the sound on disc days of early sound where a blank piece of film would have to be inserted. Exciter lamps with white light were used for optical sound until the red reader came along. Some say that the red reader does not produce sound as well using the old tracks that were designed for the white reader.
Following on from safety base film there was polyester stock, which was so strong it was possible to for it to pull a machine over. This stock prevented film breaks and the cry of put a shilling in the meter. The cinema went through many changes. From two projectors to long running equipment and format changes, for example Imax with fifteen perforations to a frame and horizontal projection. Years before there was VistaVision, which a few theatres projected horizontally.
All that technology has been cast aside to make way for digital. What will follow digital? A good question. What can follow something like that. I think from now on it will always be digital, but improvements will be continually made.
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, its 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 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 services, 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 was said that 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. Later, systems were produced to link with other makes. "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."
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 advertised their Western Electric sound system in their publicity. Western Electric ceased on 7th February 1996.
Liverpool filmgoers have lost all their purpose-built cinemas apart from the Woolton and the Plaza, Crosby. Many have been the victim of the wrecking ball. Some lie derelict or have been converted to other uses. In the city centre the only building standing is what used to be the ABC Forum, later Cannon, Lime Street. It has been empty since 1998. This was equipped with Ross projectors and RCA sound, originally Western Electric. Later Philips FP20s were installed. The last two to be demolished were the Futurist and Scala, Lime Street.
The Futurist was equipped with Kalee 11 with Ashcraft arcs before 70mm arrived. When 70mm was installed Philips DP70 projectors with Peerless arcs were employed. The Scala had Kalee 20 and xenon lamps at the time of closure. The buildings had been left empty for many years and the Futurist was rapidly decaying and was regarded unsafe. Many years before the Futurist and Scala met their fate a cinema called the Palais Deluxe on Lime Street was knocked down, which was next door to the Forum. This met its end in 1959. It was equipped with BTH projectors and had a very big projection rake.
Liverpool city centre was a cinemagoers paradise. Now there is just the new all-digital Odeon in Liverpool one and the Fact cinema, showing nonmainstream product. The cinemas around the city were, the Palais DeLuxe, the Forum, the Futurist, the Scala, the Tatler, Church Street, which had Ross machines, the Jacey, Clayton Square with BTH, the Trocadero, Camden Street, later called Gaumont, Kalee 21. There was also the Odeon, London Road, which had been the Paramount with Simplex projectors. After the takeover by Odeon Kalee 21s were installed. Later Philips DP70s with Mole Richardson arcs. The first 70mm Todd AO offering being South Pacific in 1958. Finally, Cinemecanica equipment was in use. The Kings London Road, later Essoldo had Kalee 20 and the Majestic, Westar machines with Western Electric sound and Peeress arcs.
There were many more in the suburbs, which included the Mayfair, on Aigburth Road run by Bedford Cinemas (1928) Ltd, opening in 1937 with the Max Miller film Educating Evans, which is now missing. The cinema closed in 1973 to become a Mecca bingo hall. This was another victim of the demolition hammer in 1984. Projection equipment was Kalee 11 with Western Electric sound. They also had four track magnetic. The Palladium, West Derby Road was demolished for road widening that never took place. It was equipped with Kalee 12 machines. The manager at the time of closing was Geoff Manders.
The Woolton cinema, which was owned by Cheshire County Cinemas before being taken over by the late David Wood grandson of John Frederick Wood of Bedford Cinemas (1928) Ltd is still thriving. Another that is kept going by a group of volunteers is the Plaza, Crosby. It has retained much of its original look. It opened and closed the same day in September 1939, due to the outbreak of war. There are two other screens built within the original auditorium.
There were over one hundred cinemas in the Liverpool area, and you did not have to walk too far to come across one. Most cinemas are now built within shopping areas and retail parks, the Odeon Liverpool one, being one of them. In many places being able to walk a short distance in your area to go to the flicks have gone.
Dutch electrical giant Philips have their hand in a lot of pies when it comes to electrical appliances. Apart from TVs, DVD players and inventing the first domestic video cassette recorder in the UK they have been involved in film equipment for the film and TV world. Many Philips projectors have found their way into the projection box. Most ABC cinemas installed them after discarding the Ross machines. A popular machine with ABC come Cannon was the Philips FP20 projector. Other models included the FP four and five. FP standing for Film Projector.
Philips produced the only machine to ever win an Oscar in 1963. The dual 35mm/70mm multi-purpose projector was known as the DP70. DP stands for double projector. This was first manufactured as early as 1954 and eventually became known as the Rolls Royce of 70mm machines. They also made a 75, which wasn't as popular. There were around one thousand five hundred DP70 machines built between 1954 and the late 1960s. Machines were first exported from the Netherlands to America in late 1954. They were first used for the roadshow release of Oklahoma (1955) shown at thirty frames per second and at first, were used exclusively as part of Mike Todd's Todd-A0 system. Oklahoma was shot in two versions allowing theatres to screen a twenty-four frames per second Cinemascope version.
In the early days of scope, a few films were shot in widescreen and scope because not all cinemas could screen scope. Philips machines were at one point distributed by J. Frank Brockliss Ltd, London. In advertising they said, the dimensions of the gate are so computed that a splice enters the gate at slow speed; there is no strain on the splice, and picture jump is eliminated. In the remote event of a film break, the safety cut out immediately stops the projector; if the loops are too long or too short, they can be adjusted while the machine is running. Oil cannot leak on to the film and ruin sound reproduction.
The DP 35/70mm machine made its debut in the UK in 1958 and was installed in several large theatres including the Astoria Brighton, the first installation in England with Philips sound, the Dominion London, Odeon Liverpool, Gaumont Manchester, Metropole Victoria London, Futurist Liverpool the Drake Plymouth and the run of Ben Hur at the Empire Leicester Square, London before the building closed for a new Empire on the same site. Apparently, the same print was used throughout the run.
Some of the above cinemas had a new projection room built to screen the wide-format due to rake problems. They included the Astoria, Dominion and the Empire. Others, including the Odeon, Liverpool, the Futurist, Liverpool and the Gaumont Manchester projected the images from the original box. As well as projection, some installations included Philips sound. Others used Westrex and GB Kalee, which was at the Dominion. The Dominion had water-cooled Mole Richardson 490 arcs running at 130 amps fed by GB Kalee three-phase rectifiers. Do any of our members remember Harold Copus at the Dominion and Percy Gough at the Gaumont Manchester? They were both congratulated by H. L. A Gimberg of Philips in Eindhoven for having completed a thousand runs of South Pacific with the original copies.
London's smallest theatre to have the dual projectors was the Columbia theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue, which had been built on the site of the blitzed Pavilion. The chief in 1959 was a Maurice Parkin, who had previously worked at the Rialto in Coventry Street. The Columbia was the 35th Todd-A0 installation in England by Frank Durban from Brockliss. The first pair was fitted at the Dominion in April 1958.
The Philips Multi-purpose machine was very versatile. There was a two-speed belt drive allowing the film to turn at either 24fps or 30fps. After Oklahoma, shot at 30fps, the films were photographed at 24fps. This avoided having to make separate versions and a 35mm scope negative could be created from the 65mm negative. An automatic adjustment was provided to adjust the lens as it heated up.
Another Philips piece of ingenuity was the FP20S projector with SPP Pulsed discharge lamp, eliminating the need of a flicker shutter. It was claimed that the lamp consumed only 800 watts and a thirty-six-foot image was illuminated over the British standard. The lamp with a life of around thirty-three hours pulsed three times a frame or seventy-two times a second. The first pair of FP20S machines were installed at the ABC Preston.
Another early installation was at the Queens cinema in Bayswater, London where a control panel known as Brockliss-ABC remote control system was set up in the auditorium allowing the projectionist, sitting in the front of the circle to adjust settings including focusing, racking, house lighting and volume control. The installation was overseen by ABC's projection engineer Nick Mole.
Another Philips offering was the FP7 model used in some Granadas. In the early 1970s, the cinema division was bought out by Kineton, a German company. They had handled European sales and support of Philips cinema products since 1949. In the USA the DP70 machine was known as the Norelco Universal 70/35mm Motion Picture Projector.
Because of the success of the DP70 others started manufacturing the dual projector. One of them was Cinemeccanica. They produced the Victoria eight and ten, the eight being more popular and installed in several Odeon cinemas, even if they were not equipped for 70mm presentation.
Rewind issue 166 was mostly devoted to the development of the Philips DP70 projector. PPT members can view it in the Rewind archive.