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My Dad was Chief Projectionist at the Hippodrome in the early 1950’s when it was operated by Thompsons Enterprises of Middlesbrough.
This company had strong ties with Gaumont (later part of Rank who also operated Odeon Cinemas)from whom Thompsons acquired the venue.
Conversely, many former Thompsons theatres were sold to Denman and GTC (divisons of Gaumont British) including the huge Middlesbrough Hippodrome which still exists in a drastically altered form as a large Nightclub.
Thompsons had their own ice cream brand, ‘Erimus’ (no Lyons Maid or Walls at the Hipp) and it was manufactured on Longlands Road, Middlesbrough very close to Thompsons' Majestic Cinema.
Housing Clearance in New Shildon 1959. The Rex sign can be seen on the apex of a building in the distance on the right.
The structure seen resembles a fly tower but in actual fact was the extension to the main building (lower and not visible) when the circle was added.
Image uploaded to photos section.
The Great Fire of Chester Le Street at the Queen’s:–
This was the last cinema building to survive in Chester Le Street prior to its destruction by fire (see photos section for more details).
No doubt Bingo, as in the case of many former cinemas, would have run its course here but it would have made a fine Wetherspoon’s Pub. The latter organisation did establish themselves in the town within new purpose built premises known as ‘The Wicket Gate’ – but how I wish they were at the Queens!
2 photos added.
Two photos added.
One of my earliest relief duties with ABC. It was an old fashioned place but the staff were helpful and friendly. It was unusual as it had a festoon (most ABC’s had tabs) but , to my surprise, when I later when to the main ABC (the Savoy) I discovered that it also had festoons – so two in one town!
See page 7 of ‘The Shildon & District Town Crier’ Issue 852 :–
My e-mail address if you wish to keep in touch:–
3 minute video showing the Grand in its original location for the last time:–
Saturday morning at the Grand was very interesting and it was very uplifting to hear all the big plans for the cinema when it is finally up and running at Beamish. It is expected that it will take two years to dismantle, transfer and rebuild.
Re the ceiling. When I heard that the false one had been removed ( a feature of its Bingo days) I imagined that, given the ornate style of the place,the original ceiling would be arched or barrelled – but such is not the case as it basically follows the contours of the main roof.
I did ask Bill if this had always been the case with the roof trusses visible and he replied that it had indeed been the case and that , in his opinion, it always appeared not to have been properly finished .
I have to say that the ornamental plaster-work is far more elaborate than would usually be found in a cinema of its type – in particular that on the front of the circle balustrade. Perhaps there was an ‘overspend’ there and economies were made with the ceiling! Interestingly, the original houselights are still up there albeit thickly coated in decades of nicotine and dust. These, like the splay wall stained glass features, are to be carefully lowered and restored.
We did not have access to all parts of the building. The circle was ‘out of bounds’ as there are some loose stairs and steppings. The projection box was also not accessible as it is currently used as a storage area for seats….. The projection room is unusual being in the rear stalls and there were no complete rows of seats in this part of the house. The ‘box’ is in the centre with part rows at each side. Bill tells me that the projection room was transferred from the rear circle in the 1930’s and I do not know why this was done; it would seem to me that perhaps when ‘talking pictures'were introduced a general ‘makeover’ took place.
I had my photo taken whilst sitting in one of two cinema seats which have been reupholstered . These, plus all those to be installed, are from the former Durham Palladium which was one of my favourite childhood cinemas. It was recently demolished to make way for new student accommodation, Durham having one of the country’s top Universities (after Oxford, Cambridge and St Andrews). The Kalee 19’s from the Palladium, I am informed, have also been rescued although Beamish advise me not by them ….
One day, Christina, we shall be admonished for using the Princess Blackpool’s page for these communications but, in the absence of anyone providing any further information about the place (in particular some interior photos), I don’t think that they can say very much.
Suffice to say, however, that a former friend and Manager of mine (from the huge ABC Wigan) passed away recently at the age of 81. Whilst the ABC (Ritz) was being subdivided in 1977 ( 2 cinemas in the circle , one in the restaurant and – guess what – Bingo in the stalls), he was based at the ABC Theatre, Blackpool and during this period he was deployed at the Princess for two days a week. The Summer Season Show at the ABC was Les Dawson and Kenneth McKellar while the Princess was doing an ‘alternate week’ film policy starting on Thursdays. I cannot recall the films showing there for that season, sadly.
The middle link, unfortunately, overlaps the margin and cannot be copied but if you simply do a search for ‘Globe Theatre Stockton’ it should be in top position.
Hello again Christina
Well, if I did have any notion to see the recent ‘Ben-Hur’, I now know, after what you have said, not to bother!
In the space below I have added some links ( I tried pasting them here but they were impinging upon page layout).
The media were at Ryhope Grand today and my old friend, Bill Mather was interviewed by no less than seven journalists from TV, Radio and the Press.
Also of interest, I hope, is the current restoration of the ABC Stockton which is quite close by. One of its many claims to fame was the fact that The Beatles played here on the day that President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963.
Part of the second video shows the ABC (Globe) back in the 1960’s with the heavy house tabs opening onto a stage musical extravaganza. If they are going to fit replica curtains they will now cost tens of thousands of GBP as they were heavy bullion carrying maroon velvet.
A deceased friend of mine, George Skelton was Manager for many years. He, incidentally , took over from Gordon Chadwick who became General Manager of the ABC Blackpool. What a pity that, in contrast to Stockton, it was not saved. Sadly, however, Fylde (Blackpool) Council allowed the nightclub owners to totally rip out the interior of the building, the ‘tripling’ of which was totally reversible.
Finally, some fragments of the Kings, Bishop Auckland (my Home Town) have been discovered. They have not been seen since the 1960’s
I have added below the link to a recent article in The Northern Echo which features your fascinating photos.
I have not been to Bishop Auckland, my town of birth and where I attended King James I School, since 2011 when I took an old friend to show him around my old ‘stamping ground’. The said friend, now sadly deceased, was my Manager at the huge ABC Wigan (facing the famous ‘Wigan Casino’)back in the early 1970’s.
I have not been back since that day as I was saddened by the town’s decline. Bearing in mind that Marks & Spencer and Beales' Department Store were still open at the time I do wonder what Newgate Street is like now………
It is fortunate that you have a five year lease on the remaining section of the Kings and that you are keen to see the original surviving fragments restored. I am intrigued by your plans to recreate the last meal served in the restaurant and to show the last ever film onto the rear shutters of the car park where once was the back wall of the cinema.
I have often wondered what that last film was and have tried to find out without success. When I was based in Darlington years ago I should have gone along to the Northern Echo Offices to try and find out but I never seemed to have the time then, unfortunately.
Back in 1966 when the demolition team were on site I would try to peer into the building but my Mum, who had absolutely no interest in such things, would drag me along Newgate Street so she could continue with the shopping!
If the woodwork in the surviving foyer area (for the ballroom?) is anything to go by, then the Kings Cinema & Ballroom must have been rather grand affairs.
As a small lad I was once taken into the restaurant for afternoon tea; I guess that this would have been a year or so before the entire complex closed. I seem to recall an air of ‘faded grandeur’ with quite a number of ‘sweet trolleys’ around the place.
When you consider it, the Kings , with all its sections (a 1,050 seat cinema, ballroom, restaurant, cafe, arcade, library etc), did indeed occupy a huge site between Newgate Street and Kingsway. I remember that from the very back of the building (Kingsway) you could see in the distance the elaborate stonework on Newgate Street. The aforementioned stone looked like a very fine quality sandstone too good to end up in landfill and I assume that it would have been sold for recycling.
For quite a while from 1966 onward there remained a side elevation of the Kings' auditorium on the right as you faced Kingsway; I am guessing that it is also now long gone.
I wish you well with your venture at the former Kings and I very much hope that you manage to see some restoration work take place. It would be interesting to see what remains above the false ceiling in the former Kings Restaurant and furthermore what, if anything, actually survives above that level as it appears that at least two thirds of the second storey, albeit with bricked up windows, remains.
Perhaps , if and when I am in Bishop Auckland, you would be kind enough to show me inside the accessible abandoned areas, if it is safe to do so.
Correction: It was Carl Davis and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra who accompanied ‘Ben-Hur’ all those years ago:–
We did show a number of silent classics at the Haymarket, Newcastle with The Northern Sinfonia Orchestra, one being Abel Gance’s ‘Napoleon’ on two occasions.
Sorry I have been a little tardy in responding but I have been looking after my sister’s house (and cat).
I was fascinated to hear about your visit to the Astra Cinema when you saw the English speaking ‘Ben-Hur’; things must have been difficult in Germany during that period.
My Dad was a Chief Projectionist decades ago and when he joined the RAF at the outbreak of hostilities in WW2 he showed films whilst off duty (and for extra pay) in their Astra Cinemas in Egypt and the Middle East.
I have not seen the remake of ‘Ben-Hur’ and reports I have received are variable. Everyone says that notwithstanding all the CGI effects (or perhaps because of them ?) it does not compare particularly favourably with the 1959 film.
I shall tell you which other version I have seen on the big screen, namely M-G-M’s original adaptation of the General Lew Wallace novel ie the 1925 silent epic (with Ramon Navarro).
I saw this at the Sunderland Empire Theatre where it was accompanied by The Northern Sinfonia Orchestra and what an awesome experience it was . A very good former Rank Organisation friend was there at the time and I was his guest. Many Rank Managers (and indeed quite a few ABC ones) were like ‘Little Tin Gods’ but he was a very genuine, kind hearted person whose memory I shall cherish always.
Beamish Museum have invited me for a last look around the Grand Cinema, Ryhope next Saturday and I shall be visiting with a retired cinema CEO friend ( the one who worked there in the early 1950’s).
After this the painstaking process of dismantling the building brick by brick will be carried out prior to its reconstruction and restoration at Beamish.
I am told that the false ceiling from its Bingo/Car Warehouse days has been removed and that the elaborate plaster-work can again be seen – albeit coated in many layers of dark paint. On the splay walls at each side of the pros are stained glass nautical scenes which in cinema days were back-lit. Indeed they will be once more when the building is finally up and running. Crews have been warned to take extra care with these!
You will be pleased to know that there will be two sets of tabs. This will be two sets more that a commercial cinema in York which has recently been restored by ‘Everyman’. According to reports upon their acquisition of the venue, it was to have “opulent stage drapes”. Instead, however, they have floated a huge screen forward of the proscenium arch. What a let down……
I imagine that you are right about today’s cinema-goers and perhaps the cinema styles and presentational formats of yesteryear would not always be appreciated by our instant gratification society.
Having said that, I am told that in the few instances where old cinemas have been restored (eg Rex Berkhamsted, Odyssey St Albans, Plaza Stockport etc), the reaction from young people is overwhelmingly favourable and the resounding sound of “Wow!” from first time visitors is palpable.
Re ‘Ben-Hur’, one of my favourite films , if not indeed my very favourite:
Your Grandfather was perfectly correct by asserting that the overture and entr'acte must not be detached from the feature; these were essential to its presentation and the audience’s anticipation of what was to follow!
I remember my parents taking my younger sister and me as infants to the nearby Essoldo (Hippodrome) Bishop Auckland to see it in early 1962. By then it had finished its Roadshow engagements and was early into its General Release.
The Essoldo was an Edwardian Variety Theatre and,I would point out, was nothing like those ABC venues as seen via the links I forwarded.
It had a great deal of atmosphere though and I often think back to that time when the small market town still had this outlet in addition to 2 other Essoldos (the Eden and Kings) plus a much more modern Odeon. They are all now long gone although the Essoldo/Hippodrome survives as a Bingo Hall and could easily be restored to theatrical use by all accounts. I did not realise, as a young lad all those years ago, that this particular theatre had a female Chief Projectionist as per the clip below which is from a 1966 ‘Mining Review’. We used to play this as a ‘programme filler’ as it was free and counted toward British Quota! :–
To conclude re ‘Ben-Hur’. It did have a couple of re- releases in 1971 and 1977 and it was whilst I was carrying out a fortnight’s holiday relief at the ABC Bradford that it played there for a couple of weeks. Unfortunately, it was in the middle of a red hot summer and the returns were not exactly brilliant. This was a pity for whilst Bradford did not have 70mm , the CinemasScope screen was quite impressive and it was a shame to see that masterpiece of a film being viewed by a 100 or so patrons in the evening. My base theatre was ABC Huddersfield and ‘Ben-Hur’ was ‘pencilled in’ to play a few weeks later. I was rather looking forward to this as I thought that , by then, with the weather having cooled down , we would do good business with the film. However, on the basis of Bradford’s poor attendances, it was cancelled at ABC Huddersfield and one of our opposition theatres, the independently owned Princess (yes, another with that name!)played it for 3 weeks and enjoyed excellent business. The proprietor of the Princess told me to thank ABC’s Booking Department for the favour!
The ABC Westgate Road, Newcastle had at one time been the ‘flagship’ of the circuit (Essoldo) of which the Bishop Auckland cinema was part. Older staff used to talk about the prestigious venue being the only Roadshow venue for ‘Ben-Hur’ between Leeds and Edinburgh and that it played there for 6 months. It had been expected to play for a whole year , apparently, but after a huge row with M-G-M regarding terms, off it came!
I looked at the photos of the Atrium – how wonderful and what a great pity that it is no more…………..
I have to refer, before ‘signing off’, to the use of tabs in the UK. Hardly any cinemas have them nowadays, and where they are fitted, with the exception of some noteworthy independents, they are not used.
However, not far from where I live is the World-famous Beamish Open Air Museum where a cinema is about to be reconsructed in a ‘new’ 1950’s town. It is the Grand Ryhope, Sunderland and a good friend of mine, a retired CEO of a small cinema circuit, worked as a projectionist there in the early 1950’s and was there when CinemaScope was installed in 1954. Well, it will have not one but two sets of tabs and , as an example of a medium sized small town or suburban cinema, will seat 850 in stalls and circle. Beamish are expecting it to be a huge attraction and I am sure that it will be:–
Glad you liked and , like me, find it all very nostalgic. Today’s cinema – goers do not have that atmosphere any more, do they?
Just by chance, by the way, I stumbled on the following which is The Beatles number ‘Help’ at ABC Blackpool, in colour:–
Yes, Mike in Golden Square were listed the names of all the associated companies…