August 25, 2017 Interviews

ESP’s Marc Hernandez takes a look back at the city’s Odeon Cinema to celebrate the building’s 80th anniversary….

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It’s hard to believe but Saturday September 2, 2017 marks 80 years since the Peterborough Odeon cinema first opened. It ran for over 50 years before closing in 1991 and the building (now the Broadway Theatre) is set to stage a Film Music Gala evening on that Saturday evening.

(Call the Box office: 0333 666 3366 to snap up the last remaining tickets.)

In a rare interview, Mike Jackson who started work as a trainee cinema projectionist at the Peterborough Odeon in 1962 recalls the cinema’s glory days and how it set him on his way for an extraordinary career in the world of entertainment.

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Caption: Mike Jackson at a party at the Odeon in approx 1964 taken in the entrance to the Cinema stalls. Also highlighted in the photo is Richard Longfoot (the current Club Chaplain at Peterborough United).

“I saw my first film when I was 6 years old at the Odeon, Peterborough,” Mike told me. “It was Danny Kaye in Hans Christian Anderson. I thought it was all wonderful. This began a lifelong love of cinema. 

“My brother Alfie who was 15 years my senior used to take me often twice a week to The Princess or the New England Cinema. Plus I would never miss Saturday Children’s Matinee and I loved the cliff-hanger serials.  I used to turn round and watch the beam of coloured lights coming from the projection room.  It was magic.

“Alfie bought me a 9.5mm hand cranked film projector and I was never happier than giving film shows to my friends after school.”

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Caption: Mike with school friends in the 1950’s.

“My senior school was Arthur Mellows Village college at Glinton,” he continued. “I wrote an essay at school about film projectors and that led me to becoming the school’s projectionist. It was great because it got me out of several lessons. 

“During my time at school I made an 8mm film called When The Cat’s Away.  There was a BBC film competition and I won it and received a cine camera prize at the National Film Theatre in London. I was thrilled to have my film shown on TV.

“All I wanted to do when I left school was to become a projectionist. On my 16th birthday, in June 1962, an advert appeared in the Peterborough Citizen and Advertiser that the Odeon required a trainee projectionist.  I was about to leave school so getting this job was just wonderful.”

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“The Odeon had 1,800 seats and business was good. Some films really stick in my mind for being exceptionally busy. Most films ran for one week, but really big titles like Dr. No, Mary Poppins, Cleopatra, and El Cid would be booked in for 2 or 3 weeks.

“Being a single screen cinema this was the type of film that would these days be kept on for many weeks on a smaller screen, but we couldn’t do that. But one film outshone them all. The Sound of Music ran for an unprecedented 10 weeks, and even on week ten was still booming.”

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Caption: Odeon, Peterborough projection room.

“In those days we had two 35mm projectors running a maximum of 2,000ft of film (which runs only 20 minutes). Most films would be 6 or 7 reels depending on the running time, so this meant repeated change-overs from one projector to another. This was done by the use of cue dots which appear in the top right hand corner of the screen.  hey are on 4 frames of film, which at a projection rate of 24 frames per second, last one-sixth of a second on screen.Odeon-IMG_5428

“The new reel is laced up with 8 in the picture gate, which means it is 8 feet from the first frame of the new reel. The carbon arc-lamp would be lit but the light shut off from the gate. On the first cue the incoming projector motor is started, then 6 seconds later the second cue appears and the projectionist would activate the shutter and the sound switch to cut to the incoming reel. 

“The audience would have no idea what had taken place and the film continued smoothly. The finished reel would then be rewound by hand ready for the next show. It was such a satisfying job to present a film with flawless presentation. A projectionist is the last link in the chain for films that often cost millions to make. A big responsibility.

“Getting good advertising to promote a film was an art. The Odeon Manager at the time was Alec Amies and he was brilliant at this. For Goldfinger he had a bikini model painted gold all over in the foyer, for Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines he got local strong man, Walter Cornelius, to jump off the town bridge in a mock-up plane. 

“The first colour advert ever in a local newspaper was for the Odeon showing Cleopatra, not to mention a model taking a bath in milk in the foyer! And I seem to remember him taking a cow into a bank for some reason, and getting chucked out!”

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Caption: P&O Arcadia

“During my time at the Odeon I heard about projectionists working on passenger liners,” Mike recalls. “As I have never been abroad this was very appealing so I applied for a job. In November 1967 I sadly left the Odeon and joined P&O’s Arcadia. My first voyage was for three months going right round the world.  Not a bad start. 

“The ship’s cinema had 161 seats and used 16mm film. Although we had shows continuously all day the cinema was closed in port so we got full shore leave much to the envy of many crew who still had to work. We had the very latest films which hadn’t even opened in the UK yet, plus classics like Snow White and The King and I.  

“We had to do crew film shows in the recreation room every week. I used to hate these because so many of the crew used to smoke and the room was choking by the end. I can remember the picture getting dimmer during the show as the smoke thickened. One night I had the idea to take the portable 16mm projector on deck and show the film on the white wall just below the bridge.  This would rescue me from the awful smoke. Disaster, an officer came rushing down from the bridge and well, I can’t repeat what he called me here! It seems my projected image was causing distractions from the bridge and considered a danger. Oops.

“I left the Arcadia after two years age 23. I got a job in the photographic dept of the Co-op in Westgate. During that time I read in Movie Maker magazine that the BBC had vacancies for Trainee Assistant Film Editors so I applied. To be honest I didn’t think I stood a chance and therefore was quite at ease at the interview in Portland Place in London. To my surprise I was invited to a second interview and got the position. I am sure that winning the BBC film competition was what got me the job.”

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Caption: Mike Jackson in editing suite at BBC TV Centre.

“I then moved to a bed-sit at Ealing Common in West London walking distance from Ealing Studios where I worked. I was one of 18 trainees. It was fantastic working at the studios where all those brilliant Ealing comedies had been made. 

“As trainees we were assigned to an editor for a period of weeks and then moved on to different types of programme. We had a competence test after a year and if successful became an assistant film editor. 

“After 6 years I was promoted to editor and my first assignment was to Blue Peter. In those days it was a live programme transmitting on Mondays and Thursdays. We always had a film item running about 6 minutes plus numerous film inserts including the opening titles on film. Biddy Baxter was the programme editor and she seemed to take to me and was always very gracious.

“This was not the experience of members of the production team who often asked if they could come to my cutting room to recover as Biddy had give them a severe telling off for something.

“I was at the BBC for 26 years and was editor on all kinds of output during that time. I have always enjoyed a good sense of humour and so comedy programmes appealed to me. I worked on such titles as Terry and June, Last of the Summer Wine, Ever Decreasing Circles, Don’t Wait Up and Open All Hours.  My favourites were Black Adder (series 1) and Only Fools and Horses (series 2 & 3.) I cut the episode with the falling chandelier which has been shown again and again.”

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Caption: Mike’s name on the end credits of ‘Only Fools & Horses

“In 1991 I heard the sad news that my lovely old Odeon was to close, mainly due to the Showcase multiplex opening. I phoned the manager and asked if I could come and take some video of the last day and he very kindly gave me permission. I asked the projectionist, Gerald Arch, if he would allow me to switch off the last projector and he agreed. It was a very touching moment for me when I remembered that I saw my first film there.

“Several years back when The Broadway cinema closed with Tommy Steel in It’s All Happening, I asked then if I could be allowed to switch off the last projector then and was permitted to do that also.”

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Caption: Last day at the Odeon Peterborough, November 1991.

“But there was one burning ambition that had stayed with me all my life. That was to run my own cinema. The last four years at the BBC I was editor on the Barry Norman film programme, and in some ways this was whetting my appetite to fulfil my ambition. 

“A good friend had just moved to Devon, and through visiting him I discovered that the Tivoli Cinema in Tiverton had a 12 year lease for sale. It was a single screen cinema with about 400 seats. As the BBC were offering redundancies it seemed like the perfect time to take the step.Odeon-IMG_5379

“I took over the Tivoli on 31st March 1996 with the film Toy Story for a 2 week booking. I thought that I had a found a gold mine as we were packing out and selling tons of popcorn, drinks and ice creams. I soon came down to earth with a bump as the next film, Get Shorty, only had 4 in at the Monday performance.

“When I took over the Tivoli it was in a bad state and needed a lot of money spending on it. I replaced the whole of the auditorium floor covering with vinyl and carpeting, and reduced the capacity of seats to 304 to give better leg room. I put in a new screen, Dolby stereo, replaced the carbon arcs with Xenons, and re-upholstered the seats. Disabled toilets and wheelchair ramps were also needed.

“I was very fortunate in making good friends who were kind enough to volunteer to help me run the Tivoli.  I shall always be so grateful to them.

“I consider myself very fortunate to have fulfilled my life ambition, and thoroughly enjoyed running my own cinema.”

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Caption: The Tivoli Cinema, Tiverton.

“Now retired I took a year long evening class on Anatomy, Physiology and Massage. I got an ITEC diploma and now use my massage skills in a Hospice Day Centre. 

“I have also written a comedy script in six thirty minute episodes called Break A Leg. It concerns the disasters encountered by an incompetent amateur dramatic group. Finding a TV production company to take it is my next challenge. 

“Looking back it’s amazing to think that film is virtually a thing of the past. There is no more film editing as it’s all done with computers. There is no more cinema 35mm film as they now have digital projectors running on a hard drive. I loved my time with film, and I was so lucky that it lasted for me right up until my retirement.”

Marc Hernandez