Maurice Woodhead

My first job as a projectionist arrived by chance in mid 1962. I had just left school and was thinking of going into the RAF.

I was working in my fathers Ironmongers business in Gainsborough Lincs but this was only a temporary arrangement so I went in search of another job that paid better and for reasons unknown to me now got a job as a projectionist with the RAFCC at the Astra Cinema RAF Hemswell. My training consisted of the manager (called Purvis) giving me a nights instruction on winding/lacing and projection and following an RAF bod around who was part time in the box. I found out that the reason I was employed was that Mr Purvis also managed the Astra at RAF Scampton and I was the token representative for most of the week. For a 16 year old that was great. I worked from Sunday to Friday and had Saturday off , living on the base but going home by bus late Friday night and returning Sunday late afternoon.

In 1963 the Thor missiles were withdrawn from RAF Hemswell (early 1963)and I got a nice letter from the RAFCC on a Monday saying that the cinema would close on Friday and thankyou for your service. Oh well home I went with three weeks pay. I was rich………

As I had quiet liked the projection job so I thought I would try for a bigger cinema so I wrote to Rank and was asked to visit the area manager at Peterborough for a chat.

At the ripe old age of 17 I was offered a job in Hinkley Leics (cannot remember if it was the Odeon or Gaumont) so off I went.

The job itself was ok and it rounded the edges in my projection/presentation skills but the chief was a pain. The good side was the clothing factory opposite the cinema which had windows facing the projection box. Girls hundreds of them a very good reason to stay I thought.

After 6 months I left and went home to Gainsborough and for a year did a totally different job but eventually ended up as the Chief at the State Gainsborough with a woman called Kath as my second. During my time there also got involved in stage shows such as wrestling and pantomimes etc these were great fun and I enjoyed the ‘get out’ parties. My other involvement was the Sat morning kids shows where I went down rather well as a ‘pop’ singer with my own group.

I enjoyed my year time there but the company decided to bring in a chief from another cinema on the Lincolnshire coast so I joined the Star Group in 1965 as a mobile Chief projectionist based at the Regal Worksop. I worked for the Engineering Manager (Dennis Cheetham) and worked in various cinemas from the Zetland Richmond Yorkshire to the Prince Charles in London calling also at Manchester,Leeds,Bacup,Bakewell, Todmorden,Bolton,Sheffield,Isle of Wight,Leyland,Yeado and Sunderland to name but a few places.

Projection equipment ranged from rickety Walterdaws,BTH Supa’s, Kalee and Westars to brand new Italian 35/70mm sets.

Instruction manuals did not exist and most times in the country cinemas I attended because the only projectionist had gone ill (usually bronchitis ?) with no one to show me round and I can always remember that if I was doubtful as to how to work the gear I would call the Westrex engineer who lived in Brampton Lincs for advice.

Boilers were another problem in a few cinemas coke and coal were still in use and stoking was a black art to me. One cinema still had its original generating set powered by an old Railway locomotive built into a brick out house (thankfully it was not in use).

In 1967 I was given Studio 7 Sheffield as my home as I had just got married.

In December 1967 Studio 7 auditorium was destroyed in a fire but it was rebuilt and reopened capable of running 70mm in 1968. The opening film was ‘La Boheme’ followed by the Mikado.

In January 1969 I was asked to open a new cinema in Sunderland which was a conversion from a Hostel.

I think I spent a month or so in Sunderland training the new projection team and doing the opening night.

By mid 1969 I was getting tired of the hours (from 10:30 to 22:30 (01:00 on Sat) and the single day off a week so I called it a day and moved into electronic engineering and headed down to London.

Looking back a lot of cinemas closed within a few years of my leaving so it looks as if I picked the right time to go.

My time with the Star Group was priceless, some of the equipment antique, projectionists who wore starched collars and being offered accommodation in usherettes homes when I turned up out of the blue in some small town (with mum and dad in residence of course).

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