When I was a child and was taken to ” The Pictures ” as my family called it, my mother used to scold me for continually turning around to watch the light beam from the portholes at the back, I was more fascinated with that than the actual fim on the screen. I remember in the better of the two cinemas in my home town ( Gainsborough on the River Trent in Lincolnshire, UK ) they used to change the colrs of the lights in the splay walls and on stage. There was a set of front curtains ( tabs ) and a festoon in front of the screen. There was also an organ which was portable and taken around cinemas on the circuit.
Eventually at the age of 14 I spoke to Mr George Scott, who ran a hairdressers salon in one of the small shops at the front of the cinema, he also had a band The Geo. Scott Ensemble, which entertained in the restaurant/ball room above the main foyer. George arranged for me to have a look in the projection box, where the workings were explained to me by Stan Hunt, the chief at the time. The projectors were Westars with Westrex sound and Peerless carbon arcs.
When I left school at the age of 15 I insisted on training as a projectionist, this was in 1953. Unfortunately the following year my grandmother passed away and my family moved to her house on the Lincolnshire coast, however, I was able to get a job as second operator in the small cinema there ( The savoy, Sutton on Sea ) where I stayed until I joined the R.A.F. in 1959. I was often called upon to volunteer for projection duty at various service cinemas, and upon leaving in 1968 I had various jobs in the electrical trade for a time, before going back as a projectionist, first at the Lyric at Mablethorpe, another small holiday resort on the coast, and then at the Tower at Skegness. I stayed for 9 years but the company which eventually bought the place ruined it. they built a new floor out from the front of the balcony and made a smaller cinema upstairs, while the ground floor was levelled and made into a seaside amusement arcade. I personally moved the screen to its new location, also the speaker system, and worked out the focal length of the new lenses as well as cutting new aperture plates.
I rigged up footlights in four colors and insisted in putting on what I called a show…as opposed to just sceening a film as they do now. I used to show the trailers for the next weeks show and followed them with several black and white titles for the next few weeks shows, I changed the footlight colors for each title and always made sure that the last one matched the color of certicate at start of the main feature, I would close the curtains on the last title and open again on the certifate unless the feature was in Cinemascope, in which case I left the tabs open and let the audience see the screen widen out as the masking opened, it all had a great effect and I got so that I was like a robot, flying round the box and doing it all by myself.
Eventually financial considerations forced me to find a better paying job but I am always intersted in cinemas and whenever I am in another town I seek out any traditional cinemas that are left and try to get a visit to the “Box”.
Of the many funny happenings was the time when we showed “Quadraphenia”,,,,,,,the main character, a lad of about 17 was in a scene where he arrived home and went to his room, he began looking at his stash of girlie mags, and although it did’nt show so much detail it was obvious he was doing what came naturally…when suddenly from the audience a guys voice was heard saying ” Well what the hell do you think he’s doing you silly cow !” Of course the whole audience broke into hysterics and I’ll bet the poor girlfriend wished she had never asked.
As a footnote……….it was once law that a cinema or theater had to keep a cat, also here in the UK it was law to play the National Anthem.