Going to the pictures was always an exciting adventure, whether it was a social night out with your friends, or a romantic date with a loved one. The cinema was the perfect setting for us to be escorted off into our imaginations were anything and everything is possible, we lived the dream with our favorite stars. And when we left the cinema we were left feeling better for the experience.
The beams of light coming from right up at the top near to the ceiling, most cinema-goers often wondered what exactly goes on up there?
The Projectionists were the enigma of those cinema days, a Wizard of Oz type character, he was the one in control behind the big doors, you never saw him yet he always delivered, and if he didn’t deliver we would soon let him know.
Reel Heroes – A short film starring some of Liverpool’s finest projectionist
Meet some of the guys here doing a Q&A our event held at Museum of Liverpool 20th August 2014
And let us not forget the other important people involved in putting on a good show –
Many thanks to Mike Taylor
Film Transport Van
Whilst we have been looking at the “Reel Heroes” of the cinema – the projectionists with a lifetime of dedication to their craft, we have tended to over look one key element – the film itself.
Ask any projectionist and they would tell you that without the film transport service we would have nothing to show.
F.T.S. (Great Britain) LTD Film Transport Service was the national company set up during the 1920’s. A countrywide operation with key centres in many of the cities. Head office was Fairfield House, North Circular Road, London NW10. The Liverpool depot was 28 Carlton Street near to the docks. A special fleet of lorries (as illustrated) delivered and collected films – day and night whatever the weather. Snow, ice, fog it made no difference. These drivers were first class. You seldom had a let down, sometimes the film bay be late but you never lost a show.
The same company also delivered sweets, popcorn, carbons for the arc-lamps and tickets for the box office. In fact it was a full service to the film industry – sadly no longer the case. The drivers had keys to a special film store at every cinema. In addition to the national carrier F.T.S. there were local transport firms delivering to the more out-lying areas of North Wales and the Lake District. Paramount Film Service also had a fleet of small green vans.
Liverpool Docks. In the hayday of vast ocean liners visiting Liverpool many of the city film renters supplied films for the on-board cinemas. Films shown during the voyage would be taken off by the F.T.S. at Liverpool, returned to the renters and new films delivered for the return voyage.
Most of our “Reel Heroes” started their careers in film projection as an apprentice or trainee. Usually starting as a rewind boy or girl progressing over a period of three or four years – what was termed “an indentured apprentice”. A young man or woman with a reasonable standard of education hs the basis to start a career in the projection room.
The apprentice is supervised by the Chief Projectionist or in his or her absence by the 2nd projectionist. the training would start in the rewind room, handling film stock, how to make splices,checking for film damage and how to make repairs. Progressing to the projection room proper – to understand the mechanics of the projection, threading up the film and making change-overs between reels. Cleaning the arc-lamps to put light on the screen. The early days would be carbon arcs and later Zenon Lamps.
Compared with other industries the work itself is not arduous. In the projection room there is always a degree of freedom, not inconsistent with discipline. Every technical advance adds fresh interest to the work and experience of the apprentice.
Whilst practical experience is gained in the cinema, the apprentice would be required to attend day release at a local college for the theory behind mechanics, light and sound. Add to this the maintenance of other electrical equipment in the cinema controlling heating and lighting. On completion of training the apprentice with the knowledge and experience gained would be capable of presenting a motion picture exhibition single handed. proving that he or she was a true “Reel Heroe”. The opportunity would be there for the qualified projectionist to move from cinema to cinema in order to gain more experience.
Two photos show the last apprentice on the Wirral at Birkenhead Town Hall.
Sadly Darren was made redundant by Wirral Borough Council and has since emigrated to Holland
Darren Rushton – Apprentice
being shown the make up of film stock and
the soundtrack by Chief Projectionist Edward Peak
The Sound Engineer
All our cinemas had equipment from the main sound companies. The principal company in the early days was “Western Electric” closely followed by “R.C.A. Photophone” – both American and costly.
In England, we had lower priced sound equipment from “British Acoustic Films”, British Talking Pictures and British Thompson Houston”. All cinema projectors could be adapted for the talkies, including sound on disc.
All these companies had engineers who visited the cinemas at least once a month. Some of the engineers had been in the cinema business since the silent days. As a junior projectionist ( reel heroe ) it was interesting to listen to their stories of the early days and how they got started.
The schedules for the individual cinema – many long gone – were kept in the projection room in the event of any emergency – and able to locate the engineer who would be on stand-by for any day of the week.
To help with projectionist training the engineers would take juniors to visit places of cinematic interest. I recall going on baord the ocean liner – “Empress of Canada” to assist with the service of the ships cinema. On another such visit, I went to Greave Hall Special Hospital at Banks near Southport to service their cinema. All part of becoming a “Reel Heroe”
Reel Heroes in Liverpool will no doubt remember the following cinema engineers; Charlie Hall, Norman Thornton, George Rowe, Eric Mayor, Norman Blanthorne, Dennis Hughes, and Andy Campbell.
Two of the above engineers installing a projector
at Odeon London Road in 1968.
Standing on left Charlie Hall, kneeling left Norman Thornton
and right is Chief Projectionist Hugh Robson
Hugh Robson Chief Projectionist.
This photo was taken in 1934, two weeks after the Odeon (then Paramount)
At 24yrs, Hugh Robson was the youngest Chief Projectionist working in
Paramount Pictures in England at the time.