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Going to the Essoldo marked my introduction to cinemagoing. I was taken here by my mother and Godmother on my fourth birthday in April, 1951, to see the Cecil B. De Mille Technicolor epic SAMSON AND DELILAH. I can still see Victor Mature pushing apart the stone pillars that supported the Temple of Dagon and quite literally bringing the house down. I also remember I kept turning around in my seat and looking at the dancing beam of blue-ish light that came from way up there and seemed to have something to do with what was going on on the screen, never dreaming at that time that one day, I, too, would become a projectionist…although not at the Essoldo, Stockport.
CinemaScope was installed at the ABC Capitol in January, 1955 and their first presentation in the revolutionary new system was KING RICHARD AND THE CRUSADERS, which began a six day run there on Monday, January 17th. At the same time, the other ABC cinemas in the area, the Empire, Longton; the Majestic, Stoke and the Savoy, Newcastle under Lyme, ran a ‘flat’ non anamorphic Academy Ratio version of the film, which had been filmed separately for showing in cinemas that had not yet been equipped for CinemaScope presentations. Filming of these separate non anamorphic versions of CinemaScope films continued until late 1956, by which time it was found that almost all cinemas had been equipped to screen films in CinemaScope and the filming of secondary versions was deemed no longer necessary.
In March, 1954, the Odeon was chosen to present the North Midlands Premiere of the first film in CinemaScope, THE ROBE. Equipment costing thousands of pounds was installed there for the presentation of CinemaScope films complete with a wide screen with moveable masking and four-track magnetic stereophonic sound. As the Odeon didn’t close for this installation, it must have been done at night over several nights and in the mornings and a three weeks long engagement of the film began on Monday, March 8th, 1954. The next landmark in the history of the Odeon occurred some five years later when it closed for two weeks for the installation of an even bigger wide screen and equipment for the showing of 70mm Todd-AO films. The opening presentation of the newly installed system being SOUTH PACIFIC, which opened on Monday, July 13th, 1959, and ran for an incredible seventeen weeks. However, the Odeon’s biggest hit was THE SOUND OF MUSIC, which opened in 70mm on Boxing Day, 1965 and ran for an even more incredible 46 weeks!
After closure as a cinema, the Capitol became a Bingo hall for a while, but was finally closed and demolished in November, 1965.
I was a projectionist at the Plaza on and off for nearly twenty years, starting in 1962. The film that was showing when I started work there was the X certificate drama A Kind of Loving, starring Alan Bates and June Ritchie. At that time, there was a staff of eight, including myself and, over the years, they’ve all since died except me. Yes, I’m the only one left. Benny Norcott was the manager from 1949 to 1981 and the Plaza was his life. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if his spirit is still there and has been seen on occasion. I wonder what the old place is like now inside and how they stop the snooker balls from rolling down the slope towards the screen.
Living at Weston Coyney at the time, the town of Stoke was way out of my area, as I usually went to the Broadway in Meir; the Alhambra in Normacot and the ABC Empire and the Focus in Longton. But I paid my first visit to the Essoldo, Stoke, at the age of 13 in 1960, to see revivals of Heaven Knows Mr Allison and The Deerslayer and a week or so later, the new release of The Story of Ruth. I went back there in August, 1962, to see King of Kings; Guns in the Afternoon; Village of Daughters; The Phantom of The Opera and Captain Clegg.
Following its demolition in 1959, a new F.W. Woolworths store was built on the site and that opened in March, 1960. The store still stands, but is now a Bargain Buys outlet.
It can also be seen in the 1962 film ‘Don’t Talk To Strange Men’ as the cinema that Janina Faye goes into to see ‘Pocketful of Miracles’.
Oddly enough, although there are photos of the Empire when it was a theatre and, from 1966 onwards when it was a Bingo Hall, there are no photos of the decades when it was an ABC cinema. You’d have thought that ABC would have taken at least one photo of the front of the Empire in all that time, but apparently, they didn’t. There were photos taken of the ABCs Capitol in Hanley; Majestic in Stoke and Cine-Bowl in Hanley, but none of the Empire. The front of the Savoy in Newcastle-under-Lyme would have been impractical to photograph, because the entrance was down a narrow alley way.
I only went there once, as a 12 year old in May, 1959, to see “Rockets Galore”, an Eastman Colour Rank comedy and a Universal International CinemaScope and Eastman Colour Western, “Last of the Fast Guns”. I remember it as having a very wide CinemaScope screen.
The Plaza closed on Saturday, January 9th, 1982, having been a cinema since 72 years since 1910. The last programme was Neil Diamond in THE JAZZ SINGER and Dustin Hoffmann in KRAMER VERSUS KRAMER. I have complete programme details of the Plaza from 1949 to when it closed in 1982, together with an almost complete run of children’s Saturday matinee programmes from 1956 to when they were discontinued in 1974.
I have a complete run of all the programmes shown at the Empire from 1932 to when it closed in 1966.
I have a complete run of all the programmes shown at the Alhambra from May, 1930, to when it closed in 1977, with the exception of June 22nd to August 6th, 1959, when no programme details were published due to the six weeks long national printers strike of that year.
This photo was taken in June, 1959, during a reissue screening of “Mighty Joe Young” and “Where Danger Lives”, which began a three day engagement on Monday, June 15th, 1959. I have a complete set of Broadway programme details from when it opened in December, 1936, to when it closed in June, 1971, with the exception of the dates between June 22nd and August 2nd, 1959, during the national printers strike, when no programme details were published in the local newspaper. In fact, the strike went on for over six weeks and I only know the Broadway’s programmes for August because they managed to get a programme card printed for that month.
I don’t know why the YouTube link for the British Pathe newsreel clip doesn’t work where you are, as it works fine for me. I know you can’t click on it from here, it has to be copied and pasted into your browser and then click on it there or just press enter. Anyway, if that still doesn’t work, go onto YouTube and put the words England Under Water (1958) into their search engine and if that still doesn’t work, then maybe they clip can’t be seen outside the UK.
It was an ABC long before 1971. Here it is in a newsreel clip from June, 1958.