In conversation series:
Interviewer: Christina Reading
Interviewee Ken Hancock
Date of Interview: Thursday 15 April 2010:
Ken Hancock describes how Peter Drew Bear, who later became an owner of the Duke of York’s in the 1960’s, got him a job as a rewind boy in about 1946. He would have been about 16. He first met Peter after working with him showing films around the villages of Sussex. They went on to work together at the Duke of York’s for the next ten years. It is a period of his life of which he has very happy memories recalling the close knit family atmosphere at the Dukes.
“it was such a close knit family with the projectionist, staff and usherettes it was just like one big family .It was a family run thing. A chap by the name of Mr Bradshaw owned the building and even his chauffeur used to come in and do part-time work when we were short staffed”.
He gives an overview of what it was like to work in the projection room at that time high lighting the fact that the projectionists had to work in small teams lead by the chief operator. According to Ken it was the chief projectionist who had the responsibility of ensuring that everything thing ran smoothly.
The projection room
“In the projection room we had four staff, a rewind boy, a third operator, a second operator, and a chief operator and an occasional chauffeur who used to come in and give a hand”. The chief operator was the chap that kept us all under control. And gave the work out. So you progress from, a rewind boy, to become a fourth projectionist, then a third projectionist, and he would gradually go up the ladder until.
I: So there was a career ladder?.
R: Yes it was, if you saw another job advertised, if you were a third projectionist and you saw advertised s a second projectionist somewhere then you were entitle to go and apply for the job. It was a little industry in itself.”
This team would work closely together to deliver the film.
“It required a large number of people to operate a cinema projection because a ) you had two machines , (35 mm projectors) and all the time they were running somebody had to be with it all of the time .. So every 20 minutes you had to change from one to another so you always had to have two projectionists on hand all of the time. Whatever machine you were running, you had 20minutes before the change over so the other chap that did the change over on would have given the reel to the rewind boy, he would have gone into the rewind room and rewound the film and given the other operator the next film which was part three .H e would be lacing that up ready to take over the next change over after 20 minutes”.
A strict discipline was also imposed on the projectionists by the fact that film was very flammable.
“In those days the film was so inflammable you couldn’t leave a machine on its own, somebody had to be there all the time. It was a good training for when I joined up because in the projection room was very very tense. The fire precautions were very strict. You had leaded doors in between the storage of the films and being transported you couldn’t bring anymore than one out at a time, It was a well run organization. It had to be because it was so inflammable.
As well as showing the films, projectionists were responsible for ensuring that they kept their equipment clean and testing fire alarms.
Apart from the projectionist working at the Dukes Ken remembers the doormen who also worked there at the same time. Like the projectionists there was a sense of a peaking order.
“We had three doormen. We had a chief doorman, which was the bloke with all the braid. And hairbrushes on his shoulder, very smart and debonair, moustache and an authority figure standing as the figurehead. And then junior doorman was a bloke called Bill Hillman, he was retired from the fire service. He used to have a sort of a uniform but without the braid”
Ken remembers that it was the junior door mans job to call out the prices of seats. He would also relieve the doorman, clean the cinema and do the bill -posting
Ken describes long working hours and a social life built around the people that worked at the Dukes.
“Because we were very limited with our social life obviously because of hours, so the only people that you used to go out with as boys and girl friends would be usherettes. It was very good. We used to get one night off a week. The hours were very very long,”
According to Ken, the Duke of York’s showed two films a week, one from Monday to Wednesday and another from Wednesday until Sunday. The programme would consist of feature film a second feature film, a Pathe News reel and probably a cartoon. . The whole programme lasted about 3 hours.
Unlike today, people would come into the cinema at different point during the programme. Some people would come in just for the news, others for the feature film. And at the end of the evening, the audience would stand to listen to Good Save the Queen before heading home.
“People used to come in a middle of a film and probably stay and se it again especially children would see it twice
However the Dukes didn’t get didn’t get the first run of films, usually they were second and third run films meaning that by the time that they arrive at the Duke of York’s the films had been through quite a few machines.
Ken says that that’s why the rewind boys was so important as it was their job to make sure that there were not any cuts.
“If he found there was something wrong he would have to call somebody with a bit of knowledge. They would have to come and slice it. If you put it in the wrong order then you would only have half a film on the screen. It was all very technical. ”You have to cut the film where you want cut . Cut the offending piece out and then you stick it together with acetate and acetone so that you have a join. You can hear the join go through the machine but although you can’t see it on the screen you might get a slight judder as it goes through the machine.”
Constant queues and seat prices
At the weekends there was constant queues on each side of the cinema. Each of the queues led to different priced seat’s.
“There was this massive queue. They used to queue for hours you know and it was very very popular . When there was a queue, the usherettes would go round and take a note of empty seats and report back to the commissioner that there was a double on row X and a single in row .He would pass that information along to the second doorman who was outside working the queue. He would say the first people in the queue who want a double or two singles they would come forward go into the cash desk and they would be shown to there seats . This is because it was a continuous show”
“The most expensive seats were about 1 shilling and 9pence I think, it might have been less than that. But it seems to ring a bell. The cheap one was 7 pence, but that was in a different entrance that was the Stanley Road entrance, The 7pence seats were the ones right along the front the first tend rows at the front I think. They queued up in the Stanley Road entrance and the people with the Balcony seats would stand on the South side and the shillings seats, I cant remember, the exact prices so, they would stand on the north side. There were three ways it .”