Recollections - Employment
George Field grew up at
Gilmerton, Edinburgh and now lives near Melbourne, Australia. Here he
recalls his employment in Scotland then Australia.
leaving school, I went to work as an apprentice projectionist.
My memories of those days can be read on
web site, complete with photographs.
I also drove buses for Alexanders
of Fife for a few years, after my mother re-married and we moved to
Kirkcaldy. After the stint on the buses, I went
back to being a projectionist at the Odeon Kirkcaldy."
"In 1974, my wife
and I emigrated to Australia and I am still
driving buses in Healesville (about 60kms east of Melbourne) and running
movies part-time in our small local cinema.
Although I have never been back, I still have
a great interest in the bus and cinema scene back
George Field, Melbourne, Australia:
February 2, 2008
George worked in cinemas in Edinburgh, then Fife,
then Australia. Here are some of his memories of Edinburgh
cinemas between 1962 and 1976.
Memories of a
Monseigneur News Theatre
" My life in the ‘box’ began in 1962.
My Mother was an usherette in the Monseigneur
News Theatre, Princes Street, Edinburgh and I
had just left school and was looking for a job.
The cinema manager was a little sweet on Mum
and when she told him about me, I was employed as the spoolboy. So began a
sporadic lifetime in films, culminating in present-day,
which finds me as a part-time projectionist
/ front of house at a couple of country
cinemas near Melbourne, Australia.
But, back to the
Monseigneur. It was the only Scottish site of the small chain of news
theatres. All the others were in London and
situated in or near railway stations. Starting at 12 noon, we screened a
continuous one-hour programme of cartoons, shorts, comedies and a
My job was pure and simple.
film reels and hand the right one to the duty projectionist.
Also, on a Monday and Wednesday,
I would cycle along to Waverley Station and join
the other spoolboys from a dozen cinemas in collecting Movietone News,
which had been rushed via overnight train from London.
Because the film was fresh from the
laboratory, it was ‘green’ and had to be waxed, in order for it to run
smoothly through the machine. We had Ross C3 projectors, Peerless arcs and
an RCA sound system. The non-sync was a normal record deck. Occasionally, we would get a 78rpm record to
play with film. This was almost always a Charlie Chaplin comedy. It is
true to say that the sound-on-disc ran ‘more or less’ in sync with the
picture. Thank goodness it did not happen very often.
To access the box took
nerves of steel, especially when carrying heavy film cases. After climbing
the three flights of stairs to the roof. One
then had to descend a steep, narrow steel stairway into the box.
The rewind room was originally a concrete room
on the roof, but by the time I arrived there, the rewind area was situated
at the rear of the machines. Very cosy, but considering that a lot of film
we ran was nitrate, it was a monumental fire risk, bearing in mind that we
were running carbon arcs and most of the nitrate was Disney cartoons!
The curtain was a
magnificent scalloped velvet affair coloured gold and looked most
impressive when it was lowered at the end of each show. After about one
minute, it was raised again and away we went with the next show. We ran
nine shows daily and, especially at weekends, the queues stretched quite a
way down the street."
"Bill McQueen was
the Chief and John Dingwall was the 2nd.
passed away in 1973, but John was quite a young chap. I wonder where he is
After a short while, it was decided that I
should be indentured as an apprentice, do the technical college course
and, after three years, gain my 2nd projectionist’s certificate. So, off
I went twice weekly to Brunton College, Edinburgh University to study how
to be a competent projectionist.
One had to learn all sorts of things back then:
- How to build a
the use of ‘push/pull’ tubes.
- Design a cinema
from the ground up, with all the relevant regulations of fire exits per
Screen ratio and
size, etc, etc.
Can you imagine today’s operators having to do
all that just to run a computer-controlled multiplex?
I gained my projectionist’s certificate, which
in those days was a lot harder to obtain than it is today.
The sad thing about it was that,
later, on arriving in Australia, it was not
worth the paper it was printed on."
"A few months after I started at college, we
were given the bad news that the Monseigneur Cinema
was closing, to be re-furbished by the new owners, Jacey Cinemas. It was
to be closed for quite a while, which meant that everyone was out of work.
Except me! Because I was indentured as
an apprentice, Jacey had to find me another position. So, I was
transferred to the ABC Lothian Road. Wow!"
"This was the big time, as the ABC was the
flagship cinema in Scotland for Associated British. Not only did they
screen roadshows for several months, often in 70mm, but touring rock
bands and singers performed on the fair sized stage area in front of the
In fact, back when I was at the Monseigneur,
Cliff Richard and the Shadows popped in for the film programme, in between
shows at the ABC. Mum, who was on tickets that day was beside herself
with excitement. They all came in with handkerchiefs over their faces, but
once inside, bought tickets and nibbles quite happily.
I missed it, but Mum remembers them as being most delightful."
Right, back to the ABC. There was a large
crew in the box, with a Chief, two 2nds and an apprentice on each shift. I
worked with Walter Chapman, Ronnie Sinclair and David ????, but I cannot
for the life of me remember the chaps on the other crew. From memory,
David was in charge of one machine, Ronnie in charge if the other, whilst
Walter seemed to wander around, not doing very much.
I, of course, was
still in charge of the rewind room. It was a rigid ABC rule that, when
your projector was ‘on’, you sat beside it and did not move until
changeover time. It must be stated that all this happened several years
before 6000ft reels, so every thing was running off 2000ft reels."
"During my time at
the ABC, I was also using my spare time in being a holiday relief all over
the place. I did many shifts at the Caley Cinema, the only cinema with a
lift to ferry the patrons (and projectionists) to the circle and beyond.
It was a huge cinema, in excess of 2000 seats, I
think, and one of the few to retain the ‘cuddle’
seats, which was simply a twin bench seat with no armrest, designed for
smooching. I vaguely recall putting one of them to good use with an
The Tudor Cinema, Stockbridge
"I spent a lot time
at the Tudor, Stockbridge with a dear friend, Willie Temple. The Tudor was
the epitome of a ‘fleapit’ and I am reminded of it whenever I watch the
film 'The Smallest Show on Earth'.
The box was equipped with Simplex 8 projectors, with awful front shutters
that clattered very noisily. But it was the screen that was the most
amazing thing. It was simply the rear wall painted white.
There was no masking, so Cinemascope and wide
screen shared the same size image.
This was quite
a problem if the action was at the extremes of a Cinemascope frame. Do you
remember ‘Pillow Talk’ with Rock Hudson and Doris Day? There was a long
dinner scene wherein they are holding hands and murmuring sweet nothings
across a candlelit table. The trouble was that
at the Tudor that’s all you got. No faces at
all as they were outside the screen size."
The George Cinema, Portobello
"When the Tudor
closed, Willie went down to The George,
Portobello and I did quite a few shifts for him there."
"Sometime during all
this, the Jacey had re-opened as a News
Theatre, closed again and re-opened again as a
Continental Cinema, but I never went back.
La Scala Cinema
I was quite happy, doing relief work here and
there, gaining experience with many different projectors.
I saw time at the Savoy, the La Scala,
Edinburgh Film Festival
"I even did the
Edinburgh Film Festival one year. That was hard work, as you were on duty
by yourself all day, with a vast array of films to deal with. There were
features, documentaries, shorts and anything they could throw at you at
the last minute.
There were two 35mm machines and a 16mm
projector. It was held in a small cinema, about 75 seats and there was no
guarantee that a film would actually get it’s full run. After a while, the
phone would go and they would request something else, ‘as soon as you can
please’. I wonder if it is still the same today."
George Field, Melbourne, Australia:
February 5, 2008
The paragraphs above are extracts from
notes written by George in January 2007.
George Field added:
sure you are aware of the two superb docos released on DVD by Panamint
Cinemas'', narrated by Neil Connery (Sean's
the story of the Edinburgh Playhouse.
I found them about two years ago,
and talk about the memories flooding back !!!!!"
"When my Mum (who is 85) saw the
Playhouse DVD, she was amazed to see footage of
the adoring fans as Laurel and Hardy left the cinema
after visiting it on a whistlestop tour of Scotland to publicise one of
She clearly remembers being part
of the crowd, as she was a great fan of theirs. She was about 12 at the
time. What a coincidence!"
George Field, Melbourne, Australia:
February 5, 2008
Walter Lyle Hume
Cowes, Isle of Wight
Here are some extracts from Walter's memories of
being a projectionist, first for home movies before World War II, then in
some of Edinburgh's cinemas during the war.
Recollections of a
"In the dim and distant past
before the 1939 war, I was introduced to the rites and mystique of
showing cine films.
a very ancient hand-cranked
35mm Pathé 'home-movie' projector with a large box of film stock which
consisted of four-inch spools of old black and white silent films.
Subject matter ranged from
Charlie Chaplin to Valentino, heavy drama (nice to boo at), westerns and
newsreels (1914-18 battle scenes) and, best of all, the Keystone Kops."
"The metal-clad projector had a
small condenser lens which became the recipient of a 'huh' and polish.
Illumination was provided by an Ever Ready flat battery, or cycle lamp
battery as we used to call them, and a 3.5 volt bulb,
The screen took the shape of a
toy theatre stage with decorated proscenium, rather like an oblong
orange box with no front. The actual screen was a silvered piece of
cloth that did not reflect a very bright or clear picture.
We soon learned to improve that
by borrowing a white pillowcase ("Now don't you dare get that dirty!")
which was about the approximate size of the picture and gave good
definition. It was easily put up with drawing pins, the throw being
about eight to ten feet, with the projector placed on a tall plant
"Bearing in mind that the
audience were all under twelve years of age, this was an ideal layout in
a darkened lobby where they were all seated on the floor. Only the noise
of the 'tickety-tickety' hand cranking to mar the otherwise silent show,
apart from the cheers and boos, oohs and aahs.
To create a few laughs, it was
only required to reverse the direction of the handle. We charged each of
our audience (up to fifteen or so) one penny in old steam money to help
defray the cost of battery and bulb (and a fish supper for the
"There were sprocket holes on
either edge of the film. Unbeknown to us at that time they were in
fact a potential 'bomb', being nitrate based. It did not take us
long to learn that a little broken piece thrown upon the open coal fire
gave an impressive 'whoosh'.
There was an ironmonger's shop
locally, Spence & Spence, where these off-cuts could be bought, usually
sixpence (2.5 p.) each; no doubt originating from some of the many local
"Such beginnings, in those
pre-television days, ensured that I was 'hooked' on the pictures.
The War came and
I had set my sights, with immature
misguided patriotism, on joining the Merchant Navy, but (fortunately and
happily) I was turned away as being too young: "Come back in a couple of
years and we shall find you a ship" (phew!)."
Monseigneur News Theatre
was offered and accepted a job as junior projectionist (tea-boy come
rewind/splicer) at the Monseigneur News Theatre
at the west end of Princes Street, Edinburgh.
In common with all news theatres,
it was a relatively small, tall narrow building, not more than 300 seats
(quite a lot by some of today's standards) divided between the stalls and
small balcony, with a restaurant which served only wartime fare: Welsh
rarebit, bangers (sausages) or spam and chips, or beans on toast. It
had and a tiny foyer with even smaller ticket-desk office."
"The projectors in the
projection booth ('Box') had front open shutters and Ross carbon lamp
houses (a perpetual cause of poor pictures unless constantly adjusted).
The acrid fumes were vented to the atmosphere through flexible steel
chimneys which leaked.
The spool/rewind room was a
tiny concrete shed on the roof, just large enough for one person and the
"The continuous shows started at
1pm Monday to Saturday, each complete show of newsreels, cartoons and
shorts (Fitzpatrick Travelogues) ran for about an hour, non-stop until
Although never classed as a
luxury cinema, it was very popular, especially for the travelling public
with an hour to spare whilst waiting for a train at the now defunct LMS
(ex-Caledonian) Prince’s Street main line station opposite."
long, cinema owners were more than pleased that so many women were being
recruited as projectionists. They, in turn, proved to be just as
efficient as their male counterparts.
I was more than delighted to be
offered a position of assistant (dogs-body, yet again tea-maker) to the
Chief Engineer (BSc and all that!) of a cinema/theatre group.
This turned out to be a
fascinating and interesting job. Eventually I attended every
cinema and theatre in and around Edinburgh, either on projection repair
missions with my 'Chief', or acting as stand-in relief projectionist.
I worked very long hours,
although during the war everyone else did the same. We were also required
to attend regular all-night fire-watching duties, but as a payment of two
shillings and six pence (12.5p) could be claimed. I was not slow in
opting for extra turns."
"Due to the travel
restrictions, I was based at the cinema nearest my home, which had been
opened just prior to the outbreak of war, circa 1938, and therefore just
run-in. This was the State Cinema in Junction Street, Leith, built on
the site of the defunct Hawthorn's ship yard, alongside the Water of
Leith, at the upper reaches of Leith Docks.
The State enjoyed an excellent
de luxe status and was very popular with the local patrons; the
auditorium arranged with stalls for two-thirds of the seating capacity
of about 1400 with the remaining third in a gently-sloped low-slung
stepped balcony. The stalls had a centre aisle with two side aisles for
the side stalls, the balcony being of a similar layout.
The screen could be easily seen
from every seat with no distortion, except for the front row where
everything was magnified (very popular with youngsters on Saturdays)."
"In contrast to many earlier
cinemas, the State projection room was quite spacious with a high
ceiling and ample windows situated near ceiling level. Regrettably these
were blacked-out to comply with wartime regulations.
Within the building,
here was a two-storied Billiard and
Snooker saloon run totally as a separate business, Peter the disabled
manager, ran it with total discipline, the least whiff of nonsense and
troubled makers were evicted.
Underneath the entire length of
the cinema was a large joinery business, normally making wood structures
for houses, but during the war they were busy building MFV`s and Carley
Float life-rafts for the Admiralty, another potential fire hazard, under
The full-time front of house
staff were paraded in smart blue and silver uniforms. There were:
ten usherettes (not all on duty
at the same time)
a foreman and assistant to keep
everything non-technical running smoothly
a doorman (evenings only)
two ticket office cashiers
one refreshment kiosk attendant (the
kiosk did not last very long due to sweets and confectionery being so
and, mostly unseen by the
public, seven cleaners and the technical staff, chief operator,
second, third and fourth assistants.
The manager dressed in a lounge
suit during the day and always wore evening dress at night."
"Every programme had to be made
up on a Monday morning.
The main feature, with anything
up to twelve reels of film, had to be carefully spliced and glued together
with film cement, plus a second feature or several shorts, cartoon,
newsreel and trailers, not forgetting the adverts; a task that sometimes
took right up until lunchtime, especially if the film was in need of
"Late into the evening showing
of the big picture, the air raid sirens would start warning people to
take cover. Within a short while, the manager is contacted by the
police and told to evacuate the building as soon as possible.
A quick call to the duty
projectionist to shut down and put the house lights on, by which time
the manager would have reached the stage to request everybody to leave
as quickly as possible, and for their safety to go to an air raid
When the audience got outside
the place would be in total darkness. Tramcars remained where they had
stopped when all electricity was shut off, and so it remained until the
'all clear' was sounded, sometimes hours later.
Often during a performance a
policeman, complete with steel helmet and gas mask, would hand an
official note to the manager to make an announcement to the effect that
all members of the crew of HMS Nonsuch, or the equivalent description
for units of other branches of the armed forces, were to report back
immediately to their ship or depot."
"On one occasion,
a lot of high-ranking officers turned up and told the manager he
would be required to show a film to a group of servicemen as soon as
possible. The army and naval personnel were on their way and were
required to be suitably accommodated, officers in the balcony, senior
non-commissioned officers in the back stalls, other ranks down front.
The manager asked for
the films which were to be shown and how long they would run for, and,
as a matter of interest, who was going to pay for the use of our
facilities ("Oh, just send the bill to the War Office, old boy!").
All doors were to be secured with military
police in attendance. Nobody would be
permitted in or out during the entire performance. The film arrived with
a prominent label: 'Crown Film Unit, War Office. TOP SECRET'
I found even
the Ministry of Food Flashes ('How to Make Banana Jam from a Marrow')
to be more entertaining than some of the training films."
"As well as the State Cinema,
Leith had five other cinemas within a short distance of each other.
None could be termed modern.
- The Alhambra Cinema
(Alibam) started out as a theatre, with a very large deep stage.
Its owner, Alf Beckett, had a record shop attached next door to the
pillared cinema entrance.
The Gaiety Cinema was another
theatre conversion. It was in the Kirkgate, boasted the only
licensed bar in any of the Edinburgh cinemas. The cinema was round
in shape. Sitting way up in the `gods` balcony seats the top of
the cinema, part of the screen was hidden from view.
- The Capitol Cinema
in Manderston Street, being on the Gaumont circuit, was probably the
- The Palace Cinema
at the Foot-of-the-Walk, was
The Laurie Street Cinema
was somewhat unkindly referred to as the 'flea-pit', but it nevertheless
served its purpose."
"During the many visits to
Edinburgh cinemas I came across some odd items:
- The Blue Halls
which had the
screen placed diagonally within a near square-shaped building with the
seating taking a diamond pattern, seemingly to pack a few more in. Towards
the bottom end of the market they had to make every inch pay.
- The Palace
in Princes Street, long since gone and
replaced by an extension of Woolworth's store, had a projection room below
the level of the bottom of the screen, the projectors being set to point
- The Alhambra
in Leith Walk was
originally a theatre with a very large deep stage, stalls, circle and
gallery (the 'gods') which meant the box was very high. The gallery was
closed for safety reasons. With only wooden bench seats and very steep
steps it seemed logical."
"At this time, there were no
cinemas allowed to be open Sundays (also no pubs, Cafés or other places
of interest) and with the black-out, life was not over-exciting in the
There were many thousands of
army, navy and RAF men and women with very little to do on a Sunday,
causing problems in other directions.
The powers-that-be decided to
relax the strict non-opening rule and thereafter six or eight of the
thirty-five cinemas then licensed in Edinburgh were given permission to
open on a Sunday evening for one show, with everything finished and
closed down not later than 10pm.
My employer had been delegated
to select the chosen houses, based upon location and seating capacity
(if it had been left to the individual cinema managers they would have
opened every Sunday, all day).
Organising a programme for each
of these venues created quite a lot of problems. Apart from shorts,
cartoons and the like, a lot of effort was given to run features more
than twice. The queues formed at each cinema due to be opened long
before the staff arrived, which must have pleased the owners."
Walter Lyle Hume, Cowes, Isle of Wight,
England: March 27, 2008
James Innes Macleod
Thank you to James Innes for sending me the
James tells me that he'd love to hear from staff who
worked at any of the three cinemas below. You may recognise him by
the name 'James Innes' (he added the 'Macleod' later after marrying
Reply to James?
James has also written about the time when he lived
Hay Avenue, Niddrie.
If you remember James and would like to contact
him, please email me to let me know, then I'll pass on his email address
to you. Thank you.
The Manager - 1960s
"I was very happy to read
the memories of
Edinburgh Cinemas, especially the
memories of The Monseigneur/Jacey as I was the
Manager there in the 1960s.
I really loved working there,
in spite of the long hours. If ever the
staff wanted to find me, I'd be in watching the
cartoons etc when ever I could.
family of Birmingham who owned the
to upgrade it by making it more comfortable with less seats and more
renamed it 'The Jacey'.
(Jacey was their group name.)
They then introduced more X-rated films
by forming a Cinema Club for members only.
I seem to remember that,
just after I left, Edinburgh Council cancelled their license
for this, as some non-members
had managed to get in.
I look back on my time there as
one of the best Jobs I've ever done.
became manager of The Hayweights in Musselburgh
This was only meant to be for a short time but lasted until it, too,
fell for the change over to Bingo".
James Innes Macleod
(formerly James Innes, before marrying Joan Macleod):
December 4, 2014