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I took over here for a fortnight in 1976 whilst it was still a single auditorium – and a very impressive place it was throughout. The double width circle staircase alone conjured up images of Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers musicals…..
The film showing the first week was ‘Aces High’ one of EMI’s films which floundered during the record hot summer that year although the returns were quite respectable in Derby. I recall the Manager of the Odeon (Gaumont) presenting himself at the main office upstairs to ask permission to see the film and I took him into the circle just as the house tabs parted onto the BBFC Certificate…..brilliant timing!
I cannot for the life of me remember what was showing the second week but I recollect vividly my last evening there which was the opening Sunday of HG Wells' ‘The Food Of The Gods’ and while I was standing in the main foyer I heard an almighty sound of cheering and guffawing coming from the stalls. Bearing in mind that there was a large stalls foyer between the entrance hall and the auditorium it had to be loud indeed. When I entered the stalls I discovered that the racket was in response to a scene of a poor unfortunate being stung to death by giant wasps…..such was Sunday night audience behaviour back then!
I think that I transferred to Huddersfield from Wigan at around the time you returned to Halifax (you rang me once from the Rex at Elland) and I rose through the ranks, as it were, to manage the ABC’s South Shields, Chester, Darlington and Newcastle Upon Tyne.
I left the industry in 1995 and most of my contemporaries were doing likewise at the time or have followed since.
I have to say I am dumbfounded that you are still in the business; the last former projectionist of mine was made redundant last year from the Empire Newcastle (originally the new Odeon at the Gate) after digital came along; the former original Odeon Newcastle Chief met the same fate also at that time. Neither of them miss the industry as it became – and I most certainly don’t!
I am delighted that ABC had a good Pension Scheme and I am now a ‘gentleman of leisure’ although if something appealing on a part time basis were to come along (say 2 days midweek – no weekends!) I might consider it….some hope!
I see you are in touch with James from York and that you have an invite to his home cinema while you are back in the UK. He will make you most welcome!
The James you confused him with rang me once at ABC South Shields from the Odeon Barnsley where he had started as a Trainee Manager. This was back in 1980 and I have no idea how he progressed from there or where he happens to be now. He was a ‘canny lad’ as they say in these parts.
Keep in touch.
This debate happened to arise in the comments section of ABC Hanley and thus here it has remained.
Re MGM, the alternate circuit release pattern commenced with Hitchcock’s ‘North By North West’ in 1959 following a period of estrangement precipitated by the film ‘Gigi’ which ABC refused to present on a roadshow basis.
It is well known that Paramount Theatres were first offered to ABC but that the latter declined first refusal hence Rank’s more presitigious City Centre presence in those locations – that is not to say, however, that ABC’s outlets were any less popular- indeed, the Haymarket Newcastle’s box office receipts exceeded those of the Odeon for many years.
The ABC TV logo was similar to that of its cinema circuit whilst not being identical and everyone I knew in the North East associated it with local ABC Theatres, particularly the ABC Globe, Stockton (happily undergoing restoration) where, over the years, millions of people went to see first class live presentations from The Royal Ballet and English National Opera to pantomime and One Night Stands.
ABC were also represented in many locations where there was neither an Odeon nor a Gaumont including the University Cities of Oxford and Cambridge………
As I understand it, the debate was about Odeon and ABC as ‘brands’ as opposed to Rank or EMI and the like and there is no question that Cinven’s decision to adopt ‘Odeon’ was the correct one at the time.
In any event, the ‘points scoring’ which seems to have reared its ugly head is rather futile as we are all supposed to be friends here – or so I understood. The circuits as we remember them have all but disappeared and even the remaining Odeon cinemas have lost their charm and atmosphere as a result of further subdivision and austerity measures. Only the Odeon Leicester Square uses tabs nowadays and then only with 2D presentations and it is questionable for how much longer.
Some of my best friends were Rank Managers and,for all the ‘cut above’ attitude alluded to, our pay and conditions were superior to those of our Rank/Odeon opposite numbers. My dear deceased friend at Odeon Sunderland was on a thousand pounds a year less than I was on at ABC South Shields (a much less important location) back in 1980 and the poor chap’s pension was derisory when he was finally in receipt of it.
Fortunately for Rank and ABC,however,he, like most of us, was not in the industry primarily for the money but because of his love of it and there was a cooperation and camaraderie between Odeon and ABC Managers which co existed alongside a friendly rivarly which, I dare say, does not exist now – nor will ever do again.
I remember you and the staff at the old Odeon. I was with ABC when your old place closed and I got you a post at ABC Wigan where you worked as a projectionist for a short while before returning to the Halifax area.
Hope you are enjoying life ‘down under’.
I believe that the film which Paramount did not want to have released on the ‘National Circuit’ was ‘Breakfast At Tiffany’s’ – which did very nicely, thank you………
The ABC name first appeared in 1928 as opposed to Odeon which emerged two years later. Even when the cinemas retained their individual names (Ritz, Regal, Savoy, Forum etc), the company logo also appeared on the Fronts Of House, press advertising and day titles on the screen.
After initial ‘big spend’ conversions, ABC (by now under the EMI banner) embarked upon a massive programme of conversions of varying standards. Many were ‘drop wall’ whilst others were slightly more expensive and involved the bringing forward of the screen for the main auditorium. The latter conversions did not always look better than the cheaper ‘drop wall’ variety as it depended on how neat the so called wall was and how well or otherwise original features were preserved and integrated into the main auditorium.
The conversions which were staggeringly awful were those carried out after the acquisition of Star Bingo in 1975 when the new ‘Social Centre’ Division (very philanthropic sounding) got their grasping hands on impressive and large cinemas like Plymouth, Wigan, Aldershot and others where the circle would be crudely divided into two or more screens whilst the Bingo brigade acquired the ‘lions share’ of the building (the stalls) and, more often than not, the greater part of the entrance foyer.
Despite all this, the circuit still retained many high standard venues and the iconic ABC name which, from the mid 1950’s until 1968, was also seen by millions of home viewers at the beginning of very popular series such as ‘The Avengers’, ‘Armchair Theatre’, ‘Redcap’, ‘Mystery And Imagination’ etc plus the big live Variety Shows networked from ‘Europe’s Most Luxurious Theatre’, the ABC Blackpool ; this was in addition to being the continuity logo in those areas where the company had the weekend TV franchises.
The devious acquisition by the ‘Poor Man’s Essoldo’,Cannon, in 1986, which would take far too long to go into detail about here,but which most certainly should not have been allowed to happen had the Monopolies & Mergers Commission done its job properly,killed off the ABC name and any remaining vestiges of respectability.
When it re emerged in 1997 the tatty ‘ABC’ signs (a tiny triangular ABC logo above the word ‘cinema’) appeared on a ‘rag bag’ of cinemas as diverse as the very best city centre venues such as Edinburgh to shocking dives like Ealing (not the ‘proper’ ABC, the ex Forum)which had been part of Star, Classic etc – in short, places which the ‘proper’ ABC Company would either have not wanted in the first place or would have disposed of to the likes of Essoldo in the 1940’s and 1950’s……
As for product alignment, M-G-M was,in its heyday,larger than Columbia, Universal and United Artists combined and had the most prolific output of the Hollywood majors. Warner Bros were also one of ‘The Big Five’. ABPC did not have as large an output as Rank, but the major films they did produce were very profitable. It must be considered also that whilst Paramount & Universal Pictures did not appear on ABC screens until after disagreements with Rank, their association with the former was longer lasting than with Rank as far as alignment was concerned.
To conclude, and to imagine a hypothetical situation, had venture capitalists been around many decades ago and acquired the Odeon and ABC circuits (one has to imagine the absence of a body such as the then M & M Commission – not that it was of any use in 1986 with the Cannon debacle), it would have been highly debatable as to which name would have been retained had a choice had to be made.
I am sorry that it has taken so long to respond. At one time Cinema Treasures used to inform me via my linked e-mail address of any replies to comments but they have ceased doing so for some reason.
My assertion on this site re the ‘pop’ shows was as a result of my former Manager, John McIntosh’s direct appeal to me to do so on his behalf and I suppose that I should have said this.
He was Manager at the ABC Playhouse from 1967 until its closure by EMI in 1970 following its sale to Tesco who had made an offer that could not be refused. There were certainly no pop concerts during John’s term of office and he was aware of none during the previous Manager, Bill Spinks' time there either.
The conversion to a supermarket failed to proceed after it was ascertained that there would be problems with deliveries etc. The building then stayed shuttered and empty until its acquisition by Mecca for bingo which preserved the place until they pulled out. This is now happening country wide as new purpose built venues supersede former cinemas. I never thought that I would say this but I think it is a great shame as at least the places still existed with their architectural features largely intact in most cases.
The photo at the top of the main page is definitely not of the ABC Forum proscenium and whilst I was never based at the theatre I did carry out managerial relief duties there for ABC in the 1970’s. The Front Of House and two foyer photos are certainly of the ABC Forum.
I shall ask Bill Mather,retired former CEO of Fairworld Cinemas, to look at the auditorium shot to give a second opinion.
The first looks like the original auditorium of the Victoria Cambridge…….
This was a stadium cinema with no overhanging balcony but with a raised section at the rear of the auditorium.
Sometime in the early 1960’s the Ritz had gone over to bingo and the 1972 modernisation was carried out for its return to films.
It closed as a cinema in the Summer of 1970 which then left Horden with only the Empress as a cinema until it in turn also closed. Horden for a short while then had no cinemas until the Ritz returned to films in 1972 – possibly as a result of the larger Picture House’s conversion to bingo.
The Painted Wagon pub occupied the large second foyer area and the mini screens 2 & 3 were in the under hang in the rear stalls and not in the front stalls which, after the conversion, were unused. The screen for the main auditorium remained in its original position within the proscenium.
Cinven, the venture capitalists who backed the reformed ABC Chain, subsequently acquired Odeon following Rank’s disposal of that circuit (in rather the same manner in which Thorn-EMI parted with ABC) and, upon the advice of Industry Experts, opted to retain the ‘Odeon’ brand as it was superior.
Once upon a time that would have been very debatable especially in the days when ABC as a brand was as well known for TV as for cinemas and film production. However, by the time of the Cinven strategy, the ABC name was very much tarnished to say the least………
EMI took over in 1969, long before tripling and even longer before the Cannon ‘back door’ take over of the circuit.
ABC 1 with 670 seats was situated in the former circle area and ABC 2 with 867 occupied the stalls. The later subdivision of the latter ruined the whole of the downstairs seating area.
It was never renamed Essoldo; the name Regal was retained as the former Playhouse just down the road bore the Essoldo name.
After eight years as a Bingo operation, Essoldo decided to return the Regal to film exhibition and , by narrowing the auditorium and by installing luxury seats in a modern configuration, the capacity was reduced to a mere 405. Classic took over a little while after the cinema’s reopening but were allowed by Essoldo to put their sign up in anticipation of the takeover – it would, after all, have been silly to call it the Essoldo for such a short time………
The ABC name was added at a very late stage in its life after a buy out by Cannon’s directors (backed by CinVen) who decided that , after all, the ABC name was superior to that of Cannon who could not wait to consign it to history in 1986.
The last name this cinema was known by was the A B C.
I used to do managerial relief stints here in the 1970’s whilst based initially at A B C Wigan and subsequently A B C Huddersfield. This was still a single auditorium then with stalls and circle and the stage still had occasional use.
Serves Empire right that the distributors do not look kindly upon their act of butchery at Leicester Square – here’s to the Odeon!
Congratulations to all those involved in the reversal of the subdivision and restoration of this cinema. While the big boys are further carving up theirs (Empire Leicester Square etc), James Hannaway and his team of visionaries are doing the exact opposite……..and using house and screen tabs!
The philosophy with the circuits seems to be that no one is interested in fancy decor or curtains – in any case it is unnecessary; well, this could be said about many things in life but the people at Berkhamsted, Evesham and now St Albans seem to be testimony to the importance of the “unnecessary”.
One observation re the auditorium photo; are the house tabs illuminated via footlights or pageant lighting? they do not appear to be lit on this particular shot.
Congratulations once again; I wish that we had somewhere like the aforementioned places here in the North East but apart from the main auditorium at the Tyneside Cinema (and that is a former News Cinema so does not quite count) I am sorry to say that they are all multi screen popcorn sheds!
Perhaps Mr Hannaway could come up to Stockton On Tees and give some valuable advice with the ABC Globe which is slowly but surely being restored; apparently the fly tower is going to remain sealed off and there will be no films – and, I dare say, no curtains either………….
From the British Pathe Library :–
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZM_mvgrECzw (The opening of ABC Blackpool at 05:20)
The Beatles Live: ABC Blackpool 1965 :–
Watch out for the all-star line up at the end!
From The British Pathe Library:–
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zqv6GOPdcLk (Europe’s First Triple Cinema Conversion – ABC Edinburgh 1969 )
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sKhFXBNPVvg (Rolling Stones at ABC Hull )
From The British Pathe Library: The Beatles Live 1963:–
From The British Pathe Library: Premiere of ‘Hell Is A City’ 1960:–
From The British Pathe Library
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bF93jYwNB-4 (The opening of ABC Sheffield 1961)
AND – How anyone in their right mind can assert that today’s multiplexes are better than this I cannot begin to think!
I would be delighted to see the slides of the Haymarket; I believe you also have some film footage of Westgate Road ABC on its last day. I was unable to visit on the last evening as I had already transferred to Darlington and that tin pot shower of charlatans, viz Cannon, played a dirty trick to stop me attending………
I hear that you and Steve have now retired from the business and I trust that you are both enjoying being out of the rat race…..