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My Life in the Cinema
Remembered by a British projectionist

Read more at
in70mm.com
The 70mm Newsletter
Written by: Robert Scott-Spencer, projectionist (retired), England Date: 6 March 2005
My name is R “Bob” H Scott-Spencer

My love of the cinema started in 1953 when I was taken the see the Queens Coronation at the “Elsodo Theatre in North Road Brighton.” I was far more interested in where the picture come from than what was on the screen. I was given a silent 8mm projector and films for my eighth birthday. By the age of 12 I had an 8mm and 16mm Elf sound projector. The 16mm projector earned my packet money by run films at children’s parties, mainly cartoon’s and shorts though it was not long before feature films were being played. I must have bored my family and friends with my weekly films shows, though I always tried running a new film each week even if they were only new to my collection. My father had the job of driving and carrying the equipment about.

I have been involved with cinema/theatre and bingo operations one way or another since the age of 13. How did that come about?
 

It will sound odd but having worked in so many cinemas/theatres, but I have just two photographs. One is of the Screen One projection box at the Paramount Plaza London. And the other is of my self when I had a new sound system fitted to my own cinema/theatre. If I had thought about it at the time, taking photographs of most if, not all the cinemas/theatre I worked in. I would have a nice little income from the copyrights now. The cinemas/theatres and the films they showed were part of our lives for over a hundred years. Yet there is little to show for it, apart from the memories of those that used or worked in them in many cases.

The buildings and the equipment have all gone, and in many cases the films have also gone, just like the image on the screen their for 1/24th of a second and gone for good. Brighton is listed as having had some 53 plus cinemas/theatres built, of that number only four to my knowledge are still operating. And the outer shells of four other remain. In the case of two of them no attempt was made to recover any thing from the interior before demolition took place. No doubt this as happened world-wide and would account for the lost DP70's. Yet they're were and no doubt still are many independent cinema/theatre owners who would loved to have acquired and used them, I know I would have if given the chance. I sometimes wonder why in view or the cost to the owners of these DP70 projectors, and the sound systems etc, why they were so willing to destroy them?

Working as a freelance and relief projectionist you got to hear and see more than you should about the turnover at some cinemas/theatres that have been closed. And people ask you why did they close it instead of selling it to some one else?

Then you have to tell them that in the case of the Odeon and ABC cinemas in Brighton as else where both belong to the same company Cinven or as now WestLB
 

Further in 70mm reading:

70mm Film in London

Internet link:

I use to go to the Saturday morning children film club at the “Odeon Cinema Kemp town Brighton” which also held on a Wednesday during school holidays. It was during one of the children film club meeting I managed to worm my way into the projection box to have a look at the projectors (Kalee’s). I must have said or done some right as instead having to leave after a few minutes I was allowed to sit on a stool in the corner, to watch and talk to the projectionists. It was not long before I was allowed to rewind the film and shown how to splice the 35mm film. Then how to make up and take down a programme. Then how to lace the projectors and how to do a change over, it was not long before I know how start, run and end the show and best of all do it my self. Even if someone was stand over all the time. This Saturday and Wednesday treat last until the cinema was closed down and the children film club moved to the “Regent Queens Road Brighton.” Here I could not even get a look in the projection box let alone touch the 35/70mm projectors. Or when it moved from there to the “Academy Cinema West Street Brighton.”
 
 
At the age of 15 I joined the army, after my basic training I joined my unit I soon found there was a run down 16mm camp cinema/theatre. Which by the way was used as a lecture hall and church. And as soon as I showed an interest in it I was ship off to the Army Kinema Corporation for more training as a projectionist, this included how to manage a permanent cinema and how set up and ran a mobile cinema unit. At first this cinema was equipped with miss match pair of Bell & Howell’s, I had these replaced with a pair of DeBrie’s, complete with anamorphic lens and new slide projectors were also installed at the same time. Later back stage in a storeroom, I found a pair of broken Gaumont British L516’s.

With the typical logic of the army it was assumed that if I could run the cinema, I could also run it as a lecture hall and theatre for live performances. At that point in time the only thing I had done as far as live performances were concerned, was working back stage for the school’s drama club and scout gang shows. With the help of the local drama group I leant how the lighting rig, patch board and lighting console and sound system worked. Members of the unit did put on a few shows and concerts thankfully all very basic.

I also started doing some weekend projection work for the two local cinemas near the camp so kept my hand in on 35mm. My age did not bother the owners even though I was showing ((X)(18)) certificate films at times. This is also were I learnt to run a 35mm projection box single handed in the 1960’s, which was to come in very handy in years to come. One cinema had pair of Simplex and the other a pair of BTH Supa projectors

I had been running the camp cinema/theatre for two years when I was taken ill one night with a kidney problem which brought my time in the army to a very abrupt end.

There I was, coming up 18 years of age [1 November 1965] knowing that I wanted to carry on working in the cinema/theatre business. So I joined the Rank Organisation at Wardour Street London, and had more training in 35/70mm film projection to work as a relief projectionist to be based at first in London. But ended up being based in the “Regent Cinema Queens Road Brighton” to cover staff shortages, illness and holiday’s etc in Brighton or Worthing. This did not go down at all well with the chief projectionist or the other projectionists (all older men) at the cinema I was based at having this young upstart, in their projection box. As they were still working with four persons on duty for each shift, with a strict picking order as to whom did what and when. When they leant what I was there to do and that I was none union and willing to work and had worked single manning they felt threatened by my presents. And made working they’re or at the other cinemas I was meant to give relief cover to almost impossible for me, after some months I left. The Regent Cinema was equipped with a pair of 35/70mm projectors with water-cooled gates, the biggest arc’s I have ever seen, and a full optical and magnetic sound system.
 
 

Joining Rank Organisation

 
From there I moved to London [2 February 1966] and joined Classic Cinemas at first as a full time then part time relief projectionist working all over London for three years. This was also my introduction to semi automated projection systems. The projectors ranged from the oldest with carbon or Zeon arcs to the newest Philips fitted with pulse lamps.

It also at this time I started working as a freelance relief projectionist for other independently cinema owners and or other chains. Mostly single manning 35mm, something’s double manning 70mm. I also got into 16/35mm mobile cinemas and audio-visual presentations at this time. It amazed me just how many little cinemas there were in London at that time both open to the public and the number of private club and home cinema they’re were. And the range of equipment they used. In one place there were a pair of Zenith water-cooled projectors, with hand feed carbon arcs still in use.
 
 

Joining Plaza Paramount

 
London´s Plaza´s DP70 showing "Raiders of the Lost Ark" in 70mm 1981. Image by Thomas Hauerslev

I was then asked if I would like to join Paramount at the “Plaza Haymarket London” as a relief projectionist. There were two screens with two separate manual projection boxes both of which were single manned and they were having trouble finding another full time projectionist willing to work single manning. Here each screen had a pair of 35mm Philips; screen (1) had a glass fronted projector box rather than portholes, screen (2) had a wall mounted floating screen and a pair of mist tabs.

I then went to work for “CineCenta” Panton Place just off Leicester Square London now an “Odeon;” the first purposes built four-screen cinema in the country. I enjoyed working they’re because of the set up then used. Two Philips projectors per screen using 4000’ spools and no automation of any sort. On the opening night they’re was one projectionist per screen this quick became two screens per projectionist and then one projectionist for all four screens when semi automation was added. The only thing I did not like was the constant static electric shocks, neither of the two projection boxes was that large and with eight Philips 35mm projector and Zeon arcs, films, rectifiers, Sound systems and lighting controls. It got quite painful at times. Especially going up and down the metal staircase between the two boxes. It had a good lay out with two screens on the ground floor and two on the second floor back to back. Which made it every to see want was going on at all times.
 
 
London´s Plaza cinema in 1981. Image by Thomas Hauerslev

In 1971 I was approached by Classic Cinema and asked if I would like the job of chief projectionist and assistant manager when they re open the “Vogue Lewes Road Brighton” formerly the “Gaiety” as a cinema and bingo hall. Again they could not find projectionist locally willing or able to operate a manual box double shifting single-handed. As my wife wanted to return to Brighton so I took the job. This was also my introduction into how to run a bingo hall. Here it was back to a pair of Weststars with carbon arcs. I had to leave when my wife found out Classic Cinemas planned to turn the cinema into a sex cinema with live strip shows. I found it odd that she was aware that I had worked in many places showing sex films and said nothing, yet when it came to a live show, she objected?
 
 

EMI Golden Square London

 
I was then taken on as a zone relief projectionist by EMI Golden Square London [1971] as a, none union member and based at the “ABC East Street Brighton.” As before it was to provide single man cover for staff shortages, illness and holiday’s etc. Though it turned out there was a little more to it than that. It turn out I was also there to easy the transitions from multiple manning of the companies projection boxes to single manning working both single and double shifts, which happened over the next two years. Ironically I was the one made redundant when is process was near completion, so I went back to freelancing. The odd thing about the ABC East Street Brighton was it had a pair of 35mm Philips projector fitted with fully wired four track magnetic heads yet the only an optical mono sound system. Saying that it was not the only odd thing about this cinema, it had two projection boxes though only one was completed, two entrance, and it also had two fully fitted restaurants and a cafe. A ballroom, a full size stage, which was never fitted out, with dressing rooms, and 300 space under ground car park. And something, which I have only seen in modern cinemas, a passenger lift. One of the cinemas I covered was “Astoria Brighton” which had a pair of Philips DP70’s; most of the others had Weststars.

From here I went back to freelancing.

I was then take on again by the Rank Organisation at Wardour Street London [1973/74]; I was given a crash course in Cinemaccanica equipment and then based at the “Kingwest Centre West Street Brighton”. Again because I was not a union member. The reason for this was the staff there were not willing to enter into talks with the Rank Organisation over the level of manning and working practices, in what was an automated projection box using platters, and had threatened to go on strike, thereby closing the cinema. The staff there was the staff from Regent Cinema, Academy Cinema and Odeon West Street cinema, all had been moved there after these cinemas closed. This time they found out quickly that I could not be intimidated as I had been as an 18 year old when based at the Regent Cinema. When a second none union projectionist joined for the same reason, on the same short term contact as my self. The staff realised the cinema would carry on running even if they went on strike and that Rank Organisation was not joking when it said it would sack all of them unless they entered talks about the level of manning and working practices. Because there was always one or the other on duty, double shifting each day they know that the cinema would carry on running, within weeks the manning levels were halved, and new working practices in place, problem solved the other projectionist and my self also left. Here the projectors were all Cinemaccanica, pair of 35/70mm and three pairs of 35mm Vic 5’s all with Zeon arcs, with four Christie platters. All the projectors were set up to be used with long play reels or the platters. They use one projector on each screen to run the adverts and trailer set reel to reel and the feature film on the other using the platters. Which meant there had to be four men the in box because they would do a manual change over, rather than let the automated system do it. When asked why they did it that way, instead of making it all up on the platter the answer was because it was the way it had always been done.

I went back doing freelance relief work, in 1980 I was offered the chance to buy the Miles Bryne chain of cinemas but having worked at sometime or other in most of them I turn the offer down.
 
 

Into Retirement

 
When I was force to retire in 1981 I brought a 820 seat cinema/theatre in South Wales and ran as a hobby on business lines for a number of years on a combination of second run films, live performances and bingo. It never made a notable profit yet never made a loss on the other hand. Until the local council built a 500 seat fully fitted all-purpose hall a few miles away, and started putting on live performance. With the loss of live performances, which kept my cinema/theatre a float, I closed down and had the place strip of anything use full by other cinema and theatre owners who wanted it. Then had the building demolished.

Now for a real twist the local council called upon me to do the stage lighting and sound at this new theatre from time to time between 1983 and 1987. It was also my introduction to a computerised lighting and sound system.

During my working years I have use 8/9.5/16/35/70mm and ran both manual semi and fully automatic boxes with towers and or platters. For many years I also ran a mobile cinema of my own using both 16 and 35mm projectors, during the 1970s I also got involved with video presentations.

The only thing I never worked with was “nitrate film.”

Would I do it all over again?

Yes
 
 
 
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Updated 22-12-16