Sadly Mervyn died at the beginning of 2004, but as cinema was both his work and his passion I leave these memories up as a tribute to him.
This wasn’t the first time I’d been in a projection room as from the age of about 9 I wanted to be a projectionist and I’d been shown around the boxes at the Odeon and Granada Sevenoaks, Gaumont and Odeon Bromley, and of course the cinemas of Tunbridge Wells. I had this interest in film form a very young age from when my mother used to take to the pictures and I was constantly turning around to see where the beam came from.
From the Kosmos I moved to the Opera House Tunbridge Wells as a third projectionist and here was a new experience. As it was an old theatre which still put on stage shows the projection room was behind the screen – rear projection. Here we had Kalee 12’s on Universal bases and Peerless Magnarcs.
Moving down to the seaside and to Deal in Kent I became second operator at the regent Cinema, right on the sea front. The equipment here was amazingly Kalee 8’s on the usual Universal bases and Vulcan Arcs. It was here that we regularly screen 3D movies in 3000ft lengths – the aracs could only run for 30-minute stretches of carbons. The machines were mechanically interlocked.
Back to Tunbridge Wells, this the Ritz (Essoldo), the towns super cinema and the best box I had ever seen – in fact one half of the floor we were not allowed to walk on – highly polished. Here I was co-second running on shift work, two on two off and it was here I had my first experience of running CinemaScope magnetic four track films.
After getting married it was back to Deal and the Regent, as a second. The equipment had changed by now, gone were the Kalee 8’s and in came Kalee 21’s, but still on the Universal bases. When the Chief left I took on that role.
Management training came next and eventually I took over the Royal Deal as Manager/Chief. From here I moved to London as a relief manager for the Essoldo Circuit eventually taking over the Grand Camberwell – what a dump. However I took that in my stride and moved on the the Essoldo Clapham Junction. This was the old Grand Theatre where Dan Leno often performed and it was said that his ghost resided there.
Once in London it was a short step to production – another dream, but not the ultimate one – as after leaving the Essoldo I became a projectionist again, but also a film librarian at Rothmans Export where I experienced running double-head material (separate picture and sound) on a Phillips machine. It was here where I set up Rothmans own Film Unit and where I made many commercials and short promotional films.
It was about this time that I started what became Rebel Films, at first it was just supplying announcement filmlets, leaders and spacing to the Classic Group and Essoldo, later came the day titles. I had to leaver Rothmans to concentrate fully on Rebel Films distributing trailers and publicity to all UK cinemas, Eire, Gibraltar and Malta. We also made trailers, documentaries and television commercials and even David Jason’s first cinema feature, White Cargo that I produced for Border Films. It often appears on late night television in the West Country.
It was at Rebel Films where part of my dream came true, by having my own preview theatre equipped with Ross GC1’s with Westar sound heads. It seated nine and ABC installed the luxury seats.
To cut a very long story short we moved to Cornwall in 1986 and bought a Garden Centre/Café just outside Bude and it was here that my ultimate dream came true, to build a proper cinema. Anyone can buy a cinema and run it, but I wanted to go one further and build a small palace of dreams.
The local Picture House had closed and the nearest cinema was 30 odd miles away, so we decided to build a small intimate cinema for Bude.
Work started in the December of 1987 and by early July we were nearly finished and considering we built it ourselves with some professional help I think it was a major achievement. Fitting it out with carpet, screen, tabs, footlights, seats and the projection room was exciting. The equipment installed were a pair of Westar 7000’s with Orcon Xenon lamphouses. Of course this enabled me to do change overs – all part of the real projectionists expertise. The 7000’s came from the Strand Cinema Bideford as did the footlights and other odds and ends.
Let me take you on a journey to the Rebel as it was on 11th August 1988, the opening night. It is situated just off the A39 at Poundstock about 41/2 miles south of Bude and as you drive into the large car park you see a building that appears to be in the Greek style – a classic pediment surrounded by two mock columns. A smaller pediment and pillars also surround the entrance doors. Once through the double doors you find yourself in a small, but very high vaulted foyer with the pay box being straight ahead.
To the left there is access to the toilet area and on three of the valls are some simple art deco 30’s style light fittings with curved opaque glass. To the right of the pay box some steps lead to the auditorium. To the left of the pay box a door takes you through the storeroom and up to the projection room.
Once inside the auditorium – a very spacious area – which reflects no particular style or period, just plain. Twelve rows of powder blue seats contrast with the dusty brick coloured carpet and dusky pink walls. A dark blue ceiling and silver grey curtains finally set the scene.
The Rebel opened on 11th August 1988 with a charity showing of ‘Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs’, and it has been a very popular cinema ever since, but my one regret is that I didn’t make it a twin.
Unfortunately due to circumstances beyond our control we had to sell the Rebel since which time there have been some changes, a sales and ticket counter in the foyer. There is also a false ceiling in the foyer and the projectors now are Cinemeccanica Victoria 9’’.
It is still a buzz when my wife and I visit the Rebel, which we do most weeks and I still keep my hand in with a bit of projection, but it is an achievement to make that ultimate dream come true – build and own a public cinema.
If you want to find out what is showing at The Rebel check it out at www.rebelcinema.co.uk