Once the first projector had come to the end of the spool, the second projector would take over and whilst that was running, the spools had to be changed on the first projector, the spool that had been taken off had to be rewound, before the second projector reached the end. The number of times these old films ran through our projectors were so much more frequent than with the usual feature film cinemas and they often broke!

Our projectors ran with carbon arc burning, providing the light source, later to be replaced with the far better Xenon lamps. The carbon rods had to be carefully aligned and fired, to form a very bright arc, if the gap between the rods, or their alignment was not exactly right, they would fail to ignite.

Once fired it then took quite a few minutes to reach the full brilliance required, from then on, the gap between the burning rods had to be constantly monitored, otherwise the colour of the light would either be too blue, too red, too dull, or worse of all would go out. As these rods burned a mechanical device was supposed to maintain the gap, but this could not be relied upon and often had to be overruled and corrected.

The biggest constant fear for the projectionists (always two of us in the projection room) was that either the film would break, this happened quite often, or the change over from one projector to the other (there were two identical projectors) would be miss timed, plunging the cinema into darkness.

All these old films had to go through our projectors ten times a day. I remember well on many occasions the film would break, thank goodness most often beyond the point where it was projected, so the audience was unaware that anything was wrong. But this meant that the film failed to go on to the second spool and instead snaked and twisted all over the floor!

The panic to catch it quickly and to desperately try to thread it back into the spool to be repaired later, will never be forgotten! Once this had happened and the second projector had taken over, this damaged film had to be cleaned, all joins checked and repaired as it was wound back on to a new spool, before it was ready to be threaded back to show again. All this whilst the next spool had to be threaded on to the first projector (which then had to be fired up) well before the second projector's film ended.


Gradually having been promoted to chief projectionist at our other Birmingham cinema for a few months, I was moved to assistant manager and eventually after several years, to the head office film booking department.

This was where films were selected and the programs planned, involving tricky negotiations to determine the percentage of the box office takings that could be agreed to be paid to the distributor. After a while in film bookings, I was taken to learn and assist the General Manager Mr Tonks, whose job was to keep an eye on all our cinemas, particularly the staff, the general look, and the condition of the cinemas overall. But more interestingly to check if there were any kinds of stealing going on.

As we had twenty-three city centre cinemas from Edinburgh down to Brighton, we did a great deal of travelling together. I found Mr Tonks to be remarkably interesting, full of guidance, as well as having a wealth of information on all aspects regarding the day to day running of our cinemas.

Detective Work

0n one occasion the manager, cashier, and usherette in one of our London cinemas had to be fired and replaced.

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