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The real story behind Circlorama

The 70mm Newsletter
Written by: Stanley Long Date: 14 September 2006
Stanley Long (on the left) and the camera rig on a boat on the Thames c1963.

Circlorama was bought to England from Russia in 1962 by two entrepreneurs, Leonard Urry,and Leon Heppner. A special cinema was built to house the attraction in Denman Street just behind Piccadilly Circus. It opened to mediocre business. A further site was opened up in Piccadilly Circus to feed the audience into the theatre, this proved to make only a slight difference to the takings. The cost of the operation reputedly was exceeding £250,000.

I was approached by Leonard Urry who I had known for some 5 years. It turned out that the operation was being funded by an eccentric multi millionaire by the name of Henry De Vere Clifton and to him it was a toy. He only went to the cinema once unbeknown to Leonard and Leon and had paid 3/6 to see his own show which he pronounced as boring, being a very heavy handed Russian propaganda film. He immediately instructed Leonard Urry to have a film made which had more excitement. I was summoned to meet Henry De Vere Clifton who it turned out occupied a permanent penthouse suite at the Ritz hotel in Piccadilly. When I arrived at his hotel I was shown into his bedroom, and there sitting upright in an enormous four poster bed was the man himself, he was a elderly man of about 80yrs and he sported a long grey beard, he reminded me of a Rip-Van Winkle character, he then proceeded to tell me in a very strange voice what he wanted for his new ‘toy’ ,. He rather surprised me by asking if I knew anything about Hobgoblins, he made no explanation as to why, and as the conversation was strange anyway, I didn’t go into it any further.

On reporting back to Leonard Urry I was told that it had been decided that I was to make a new film for Circlorama. I said that I would need to make a test and agreed a price for this and proceeded to design a large aluminium plate to hold eleven 35mm Arriflex cameras with mains sync motors attached. With great difficulty (it was 1963 and Samuelson’s were just starting their hire company) we managed to collect eleven cameras one Sunday morning. We fixed the cameras on a boat and set off down the Thames in the direction of Houses of Parliament and Tower Bridge. The test was in B&W and was shown the following Monday morning at the Circlorama cinema and was a great success. Following this I had a meeting with Urry and he asked me to prepare a budget for a 20 minute film. It was obvious that for technical reasons we had to purchase eleven 35mm cameras and equipment to do this (this was to do with the importance of keeping the framing constant throughout the film).

The budget proved to be astronomical and it was decided that in view of there only being one cinema and that Russia would be unlikely to be interested, I was asked if I had any ideas on how to cut the budget. I suggested a rather radical solution. That we shot on 16mm and change all the projectors from 35mm to 16mm! After much deliberation and ho ha it was decided to go ahead on this basis. Eleven 16mm French Beaulieu cameras were purchased and I proceeded with the production of "Circlorama Cavalcade".

The story of the production is interesting which I will tell you about later and the erection of the portable cinema built by Harkness and placed at the end of Blackpool pier. My adventure in dismantling this and transporting it to the Kelvin Hall Glasgow and arranging for it to be erected by the riggers of the Billy Smart Circus is a riot! And the eventual bankruptcy of Circlorama. I will reveal later what happened to the cameras and the equipment as I was a major creditor together with Technicolor and served on the inspection committee during the liquidation.

Copyright 2006 Stanley Long.
Further in 70mm reading:

The real story of Circlorama

Memories of Circlorama
More about Circlorama

CircleVision 360

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Updated 04-05-22