Changing Times with Arthur Benson: Cinemas

The site of the former Operatic Picture House on Water Skellgate in Ripon.
The site of the former Operatic Picture House on Water Skellgate in Ripon.

Following Pete Colman’s look at cinemas last month, 81-year-old Ripon resident Arthur Benson, of Whitcliffe Lane, recalls his youth working at two picture houses in the city.

A firm at Leeds owned both the Palladium and Opera House cinemas. I do not know the name of the firm.

Arthur Benson.

Arthur Benson.

I started working as a 15-year-old in 1945 as a junior projectionist at the Opera House on Water Skellgate. The staff at the time were, as far as I can remember: Alan (surname?), who was the chief projectionist; Algie Robb, who worked the same as me but at the Palladium on Kirkgate; Geoff Davis, I think, was the chief projectionist at the Palladium; Alec (surname?) was the odd job man, who also was relief projectionist and electrician; Lionel (surname?) worked with Alec.

At the Opera House the projectionists’ box was outside at the back in a square building that had been built on.

There were holes in the Opera House wall for the cameras and also a hole for the projectionist to look through to check the film.

There were two cameras with a double reel of film in each ready for use. Before the film started I, as junior projectionist, had to go to the back of the stage inside the Opera House to get the camera ready with the advertisements.

Each advertisement was on a separate slide and when I had put in the first slide, I then went to the side of the curtains to hand-wind the curtains open then rushed back to my camera and started changing the advertisement slides, giving each advert about a minute before changing to the next one.

There would be about 10 slides. At the last one, I had to close the curtains and rush back and turn my camera off.

Alan, who would be watching from his porthole, would then start his camera and I would have to rush and open the curtains again. I then went back to Alan and waited until it was my time to start running the second camera after Alan’s camera finished.

He would then go in to the back room and re-wind his film, ready to show for the second house and I would do the same with my reel when it had finished. There could be as many as 10-15 reels depending on the length of the film.

When the film was nearly finished I had to go to the back of the stage, and when ‘The End’ message came up on the screen, I had to close the curtains.

Sometimes the film would break and we had to shut down the camera, re-wind the film as quickly as possible, and start the camera again at the spot where it broke.

This was accompanied by boos and shouts from the audience, so speed was essential. At the end of the show the film had to be repaired ready for the next showing.

There would be two houses. The first house was 6pm, the second at 8.30pm.There were no matinees at the Opera House when I worked there, but there were two at the Palladium on Thursdays and Saturdays.

The three working lads used to change between the two picture houses. I went from the Opera House to the Palladium, Algie went to work with Alec, and Lionel went to work with Alan at the Opera House.

While I was working with Alec, the electrician, he said “we are going to modernise both picture houses”.

And guess what? I helped him put in the motors for ‘electric curtains’ at both houses. This allowed opening and closing of the curtains by a mere press of a button, although we still had to run round the back to get behind the curtains.

What would the projectionists think if they had to do all this in 2012? I lasted in the job for two years and then left.

l Looking Back with Pete Colman is on page 35.