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With apologies for this being the Odeon Leeds site, but in answer to the question raised above, here’s a link to an early picture of the Harrogate Odeon (1930-9) showing a picture being projected onto the fine inner screen curtain(s):
Whether, 24 years later, this was a single curtain that rose up or centre-closing curtains, I’ll have to leave to someone who worked there during the early to mid 1960s!
Hello to the Harrogate Odeon’s assistant/relief manager. The first film I recall going to see at the cinema was ‘In Search of the Castaways’, with Maurice Chevalier, Hayley Mills and Wilfrid Hyde-White, on the original single screen at the Harrogate Odeon, in January 1963. From what you say, then I think it must have been the gold satin screen curtains onto which the adverts were sometimes projected during the earlier part of the 1960s. This is what I recall from the Odeon. Are you sure about the earlier part of the 1960s? Since Harrogate is rather off-topic here I’ll have a think about things and aim to post a comment later under the relevant cinema page.
I’ve now scanned and loaded up my copy of the Studios 1 & 2 programme booklet for September 1973, with acknowledgement to Star Cinemas and the Kenwyn Publishing Co. of Blackpool. The jottings on the front cover are the timings and directions to get to the Atherley Cinema in Southampton, where I went to see Stanley Kubrick’s film ‘A Clockwork Orange’ during my time off!
At the start I ran Studio 1, on the right-hand side facing the two screens, whilst the chief generally looked after Studio 2 – both of which were run from the same master projection room, which had served both the Regal and Odeon cinemas. Later we interchanged as circumstances required. Because of my experience running 8mm and 16mm lace-up (not automatic) film projectors, it wasn’t long before I was allowed to run the complete show in Studio 1. Walt Disney’s 1940 cartoon ‘Pinocchio’, ‘Love Thy Neighbour’ from TV, MGM’s musical ‘Tom Thumb’ (with its irresistible whistling tune), and Judy Garland in ‘The Wizard of Oz’, were all films that I projected in Studio 1. I also lent a hand in Studio 2, with David Lean’s ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’, Woody Allen’s ‘Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex …’ a gory Vincent Price and Diana Rigg in ‘Theatre of Blood’, plus one of my favourite war movies (great whenever you feel a little down), ‘Kelly’s Heroes’ with Clint Eastwood, Telly Savalas and Donald Sutherland.
The chief regularly topped up the projector oil boxes (where did it all go?) and a circuit engineer looked after the more technical problems. Then, during their summer holiday break, two army guys turned up to help spread the workload and give the chief a break. The one I got on okay with had the extraordinary ability to be able to include the word f*** in virtually every sentence he spoke – amazing, if not a little daunting to witness. The other guy, who communicated with less abandon, simply disliked me and wished I would leave. Oh, well, you can’t win them all!
As we ended our work together with ‘No Sex Please, We’re’ British in Studio 1 and ‘The Wild Bunch’ in Studio 2, it was time for me to leave the chief and the Farnham Studios for Coventry and begin my academic studies at Warwick. Because I lived so far away, eventually moving from Winchester to Rownhams, I never heard from the chief or the cinema again, but what a brilliant way to commence a career in films! Years later, in February 1999, I found myself doing library research in Malta, just as the producers of ‘Gladiator’, for which the opening sequences were shot at Bourne Wood outside Farnham, were advertising in the press for extras.
The knowledge I gained from working with the Gaumont-Kalee projectors at Farnham enabled me in 1976 to overhaul a similar pair of GK 35mm projector mechanisms for The Film Society at the University of Warwick, to which cinema John Goldstone later brought ‘Monty Python’s Life of Brian’ in June 1979, for its first public screening in the world, that helped establish George Harrison’s Handmade Films. Today, 38 years later, Warwick Student Cinema is still going strong – unlike Farnham’s Regal, which helped give birth to its existence in a professional form.
I wonder what has happened to those who came to watch the films we had to offer in Studios 1 & 2 and I have since looked sadly upon the empty building plot that has become Farnham’s once great Entertainment Centre. Given the Regal was opened (dare I say ‘consecrated’?) by the Bishop of Guildford, Dr John Harold Greig (1865-1938), perhaps this is why the illegal demolition, during October to Christmas 1987, has yet to be overcome? Dare I suggest that any untoward ‘Omen’ may be laid to rest with a new Entertainment Centre on the same site? Ten Pin Bowling, a restaurant, at least one cinema with around 300+ seats and a large screen, incorporating spectacular sound, plus smaller auditoria, and maybe, even, a live performance/exhibition area for theatre and the arts … ? Go for it – Farnham!
The GK projector soundheads were ‘type 83’, which meant they had two fixed sprockets instead of a lower pair of sprung rollers. The significance of this with the Westrex towers was that with the great inertia of the bottom take-up spool, when you switched the projector motor on nothing happened at first and then, after a loose loop of film had started to build up (below the bottom sprocket), the reel started spinning at such a rate of knots that it soon snatched the film taught, snapping it cleanly in two against the bottom sprocket. So, then, the film would be irrevocably falling down at 24 frames per second into a tangled coil on the red-polished floor, unless you closed the lamphouse dowser and switched the motor off to repair the break. This tended not to amuse the audience, just getting ready to enjoy their film. So, although I was allowed to lace up and make up and break down films, it took a while before the chief felt happy enough to let me start a show on my own, because you had to simultaneously turn the motor on and wind the large take-up spool in correct synchronisation, to avoid any loops of film developing, before the clutch and rotation came up to speed.
Another ‘nasty’ was what could happen if you tried multi-tasking in another part of the cinema whilst simultaneously rewinding a 2-hour reel of film on one of the towers … When the film eventually reached the end of the reel there was no trip switch to power off the motor, so, once the back tension had gone, the heavy, full reel started spinning very fast indeed. Unfortunately, the end of the 35mm film tended to flap around outside the protective circumference of the reel and, once every revolution, with a sharp smack, the loose end would come into contact with the front wall of the projection room. Well, if you were delayed multi-tasking for any length of time then you could easily get through the protection leader, countdown leader, certificate, renter and start working away at the film’s main title … The beginning of the film would now be reduced to a mass of tiny shredded pieces, one or two frames at a time, discarded all over the floor below the tower. This only happened once.
I had two tasks to do for the chief across the road in East Street, outside the cinema. One was to go and place bets for him on the horses at the local bookmakers. He’s the only person I know who’s ever won a significant amount by betting and after I had collected his winnings – around £80, almost four weeks' of my wages – he brought a pile of new clothing, thereby demonstrating in front of me the principle of ‘putting the shirt on your back’. The other job was to collect our evening meal of fish and chips, during my meal break. Afterwards, I’d sit down at the table in the staff rest room to eat my food and once, much to my surprise, the chief, who was still on duty, came in to join me whilst eating his chips. However, in the process, he closed the heavy, metal projection-room door and also the staff rest-room door, before sitting down and telling me how he hated listening to the projectors whilst he was eating. I had an uneasy feeling that this wasn’t going to work out well.
Well, after a short while, the audience in Studio 1 wasn’t listening to the film, either. It was an Elvis Presley double bill: ‘Elvis on Tour’ (1972) and ‘The Trouble With Girls’ (1969). For the three days this double bill ran, the films were competing with ‘Kelly’s Heroes’ for making the most amount of noise and annoying the audience in the other auditorium, but, for once, ‘Kelly’s Heroes’ won hands down and the film producer, who had played a part in making ‘Elvis on Tour’, didn’t much like listening to muted echoes from ‘Kelly’s Heroes’ instead of the King of Rock and Roll! And musicals, especially pop musicals, tend not to work so well when you can’t hear the music. The producer complained – either to the usherette or directly to the manager – and the livid manager telephoned the projection room, but the projection room door was closed and we genuinely never heard his call … In the end, a breathless female member of staff appeared in the rest room and explained the urgent dilemma, between deep gasps for air – it was a long way up and she had run all the way. The soundhead exciter lamp, which never blows, had blown. Fortunately, we weren’t sacked – if we had been, then there would have been no one to run the films.
(A few more technical notes to follow and a conclusion)
Star Studios 1 & 2 at Farnham gave me my first employment during July – September 1973, prior to studying at the University of Warwick. I received my A-level results via the projection room telephone and was undecided for a while whether to remain working at Farnham or go to university.
I heard about the vacancy for a film projectionist from the chief at the Star Cinema, North Walls, in Winchester, where I lived and where there were no vacancies! It was a 27-mile bus ride, for a 27p fare, each way, to get to and from the cinema and I found the chief working the two screens on his own. Although I was going on holiday for a couple of weeks he said that there would be a job for me when I returned, if I wanted it. But he seemed most surprised when I did actually reappear, a fortnight later, as promised! The wage was £22.67 per week – better than I received working for Classic Cinemas the following summer. The manager who employed us was Mr Smith.
We had a pair of Gaumont-Kalee 21 mechanisms on GK 20 bases, which had been split between the two auditoriums, each with a Westrex tower for running huge 12,000-foot (2-hour) reels of film that we had to make up from the original 2,000-foot reels, when they arrived from the distributors. Carrying the heavy metal boxes of film cans between the ground floor and top floor was a weekly arm-stretching routine. Xenon arc lamps provided the illumination. I seem to recall that in the theatres black surge surround was all we had to mask the painted white boards (not plastic screen surfaces!) which formed the two screens. There were black edge curtains which you could move by hand to set the correct width for widescreen or cinemascope formats.
We played non-sync music from a record player during the breaks between films and got away with the absence of curtains by shining a powerful lamp through a revolving oil wheel, which projected psychedelic, moving circles of colour onto the walls and screen!
The ground-floor foyer had a chequerboard floor of black and white ‘tiles’, which you could still see the remnants of during the late 1990s in the post-demolition ‘car park’. To get to the screens you went up a set of stairs to the right (upon entering) and on the upper floor there was a short corridor, where you would chat with the usherettes and could also find the doors leading into the two cinemas, built into the original circle area. On the left was a door marked ‘private’ which led up a further set of stairs to a long corridor on the top floor. On the left-hand side of this corridor was a long, almost empty, staff rest room, which spanned at least two of the windows that can be seen at the front of the building. On the right-hand side, at the near end of the corridor, was the door leading into the projection room.
(Projecting films notes to follow)
(Continued from above.) Thanks to John Farrar for pointing out where Ryanâ€™s Daughter was actually screened. Iâ€™ve since found the newspaper listings and it ran at Vicar Lane from Sunday 14th February â€" Saturday 5th June 1971 â€" 16 weeks! We normally watched films in our home town of Harrogate â€" the Odeon (still there today, thank goodness, but not the single auditorium and large screen with its amazing â€˜Austrian Puffâ€™ curtain on many wires!) and ABC (now demolished) â€" so visiting Odeon 1 at the Headrow was always a special occasion. Eventually, in 1972, we moved away to the south, but I did manage to see â€˜Diamonds are Foreverâ€™, which ran for 7 weeks from April 1972 in Odeon 2 â€" with its gold/yellow upholstery at the time. (Oops, thanks again John for correcting me on the actual colour of the curtains in Odeon 1 â€" the lighting obviously did its magic particularly well.) The big memory from this period is of what Iâ€™d describe as the best screening that Iâ€™ve ever seen anywhere of â€˜Fiddler on the Roofâ€™ in Odeon 1, which ran for 11 weeks from February 1972. Topol knocked the dust from the rafters in the barn and everywhere else at the same time! The power, intensity and effect of screenings in Odeon 1, with 70mm projection and absolutely stunning sound in a perfectly designed and fitted-out auditorium, has not been equalled, let alone surpassed, in any other cinema that Iâ€™ve since visited. Thank you to everyone who took the trouble to work so professionally in such a marvellous place, making the experience for the audience such an uplifting and a memorable one. What matters more, perhaps, than that the cinema is no longer there now, is that it was once. I think, possibly, the echo remains when you walk past the surviving exterior or visit the flats and shop within? It is a tribute, in some way, that the entire structure has not been turned to rubble but remains in part as a reminder. When the opportunity arises to create something similar again, then, no doubt, the same high spirit can be reignited in a new setting. (Thank you to: Colindale National Newspaper Library and the Leeds â€˜Evening Postâ€™.)
Those who were there in 1969, at the beginning of the Odeon 1 & 2 era, were there before my time, but only just in fact, since the first film that I went to see at Odeon 1, with my brother and parents, was ‘Cromwell’, which ran for 11 weeks from July 1970. The big films usually ran â€˜for a seasonâ€™ in those days. The auditorium was luxuriously upholstered in blue â€" blue seats and blue screen curtains which continued almost â€˜endlesslyâ€™ on round to the sides, so there was always excitement and anticipation before the show started as to how far the screen was going to open up. There were Pullman ‘armchairs’ in the front row of the upper â€˜circleâ€™ area, but the price was greater than we wanted to spend as a family. However, abject luxury was fun to contemplate … for, perhaps … one day … We were so impressed that we came back for the re-release of â€˜Lawrence of Arabiaâ€™ (ran for 7 weeks). What a way to see this epic film â€" if you werenâ€™t there in Odeon 1, then you donâ€™t know what youâ€™ve missed! My brother reckons we also came back for the release of â€˜Ryanâ€™s Daughterâ€™ and I certainly recall seeing â€˜Waterlooâ€™ in Odeon 1 shortly afterwards. The b/w image posted above by Lost Memory shows â€˜Waterlooâ€™ being screened, which ran for 10 weeks from February 1971. I remember seeing the trailer for â€˜Black Beautyâ€™ during the screening, which actually only ran for one week in Odeon 2 from 11th â€" 17th April 1971, thereby dating the photograph. Seat prices at this time were: 10s (50p), 13s (65p), 15s (75p) and Â£1 (Pullman Chairs). Children were half-price, rounded up to the nearest shilling. (To be continued.)