Memories of the 1970s cinema houses

The auditorium at the Odeon.
The auditorium at the Odeon.

From the usherette to the shows for juniors – oh what wonderful memories of bygone picture houses!

Thanks to ex-cinema controller Bill Mather we can take this great trip down Memory Lane.

Doris Hart whose story prompted a string of cinema-related messages.

Doris Hart whose story prompted a string of cinema-related messages.

Bill worked at the pictures when there were nine screens to control in the Fairworld group. They included, he said, the Horden ‘twins’, Hartlepool (former ABC), Sunderland twins, (High Street West), Washington twins, Seaham Harbour, and Guisborough.

He even remembered when, as a nine and 10-year-old, he would help the usherette.

He also helped us answer one point in a previous article. A 1979 story asked if Doris Hart was the first female cinema manager in the region (she swapped a job in Sunderland for a manager’s position in Hartlepool that year).

“That award would go to Mrs Grey, who was the first female manager in the country to manage a cinema under the then, Gaumont British Circuit, which had some 275 plus cinemas around the country.

Bill Mather

“She was manager at the “Palace” Sunderland, (near the Empire) from 1920 (the silent era), and continued, believe it or not, till around it’s closure,” said Bill.

Bill was a young boy of 9 or 10 when he used to help the usherettes to “half the tickets” in the upper circle on Saturdays and when he was on holiday. He later started his official career in the cinema industry in the projection room.

He recalled the days of the grand piano which was in front of the stage on a Saturday morning Junior Show. Bill spent more than 50 years in the industry.

Another to tell us more about female cinema managers was Terry Charnock. He said: “I was a manager with ABC for 22 years here in the North East and I knew Doris very well. One of my very best friends, I am pleased to say, was Brett Childes whom Doris succeeded in Hartlepool in 1979 when Brett took over the reins at Odeon Sunderland.”

He recalled other female managers such as “Molly Scott (for Classic and later ABC in Newcastle), Norma Yeats (originally for Rank at the Odeon North Shields which later became a Classic), Betty Ridley (followed Norma at Shields when she went to Whitley Bay), Mary Marshall at Wallaw Blyth (as A/M for ABC then Manager for Arnold Scheckman and later Classic), Wynne Peacock (Tatler Newcastle later Classic Low Fell).”

Terry added: “The Essoldo had female managers at Houghton Le Spring (a Mrs S Oliver) and Stanley (Sadie Smith).”

Finally , Gaumont (part of CMA/ Rank who also owned the Odeon Circuit) had a female Manager at the Palace, Sunderland as far back as the 1940’s.

“I am sure there were other examples in the region albeit mainly in independently owned cinemas.”

Doris, he said, was an assistant manager before becoming full Manager/Licensee at Hartlepool, Bishop Auckland and Coventry.

Great memories. We want more. Email chris.cordner@jpress.co.uk