"The Wind of Change":
|Some of our loyal staff at the Heanor 'Empire':|
Joan Tolley, Ina Rowe, Linda Wheildon, and Jenny Spence.
‘The Wind of Change’
With all this new activity taking place at the local cinemas, we all thought we were going to come under the hammer too. When Alistair Marr went on a week’s holiday, we had a Relief Manager named Brown, who we soon sorted out, after catching him taking photographs all over the building. I confronted him over the matter one evening in the ‘Red Lion’ across the road, and he didn’t deny the fact, I expressed my feelings about any new plans he might be drawing up, and told him that as far as Harold and I were concerned, we would hate the idea.
He then showed us a portfolio of pictures of other conversions he was responsible for, some looked nice, but others took away the character of the places. Anyway, thanks to the low beams in the ‘Empire’, they must have considered that any modification would be too expensive, and we stayed the same.
Over in Ilkeston, the Brailsford’s were still running the Scala Cinema, and I got to know one of the operators there, a fellow who’s name was I believe ‘Punch’ Moreton, when one morning Sid Dann took me for a visit there, to show me their equipment, and sound set up, which really didn’t impress me too much.
‘The Change Was Here’:
The cinema’s local to Heanor were converted into twin purpose buildings, running bingo in the stalls area, and cinema in the circle, with smaller screens, and seating improvements. The Belper ‘Ritz’ however, was designed with two cinemas in the former circle area, one showing 35mm films, and the other with 16mm equipment.
It was hoped that the 16mm theatre would attract local businesses for private use, but after operating this gauge for eighteen months the idea was abandoned following complaints about picture quality, and lack of interest. The Alfreton ‘Empire’ was fitted with ‘Mirror Projection’, due to a low beam in the auditorium, while the Heanor ‘Empire’ remained as it was, but received much needed modernisation. The cast iron canopy over the main entrance was removed; these canopies were popular on cinemas once owned by Midland Empire Theatres.
Any modernisation that the ‘Star Group’ did to the Heanor ‘Empire’ was what was needed to be done, to keep it to the standard of their other buildings. The front was cladded in timber woodwork, in the livery of white painted boards on a black background, the walls of the building being painted in a mid grey colour. The interior received new ‘Fibreglass’ curtains and tabs in gold, complimented with red aisle carpeting, while the foyer area was fitted with a new open ticket counter and sales kiosk. The twinning of the building was unfeasible, due to low beams in the upper and lower parts of the auditorium, and it remained structurally unaltered until the closure in 1983. New name boards were fitted over the entrances of all the Star Cinemas’, designating what they were, ‘Studio 1’ or ‘Studio 2’ or a combination of both. Little has been documented about Mrs. Olive Phillis, who was Cashier at the Heanor ‘Empire’ for well over 35 years, terminating as acting Manageress for the last two years of it’s operation, and there’s more about this later.
On moving to ‘The Empire’, John Plumb was replacing a Mr. Machin, and later a Mr. Broadhead as Manager. The former ended his career as owner of the cinema in Wirksworth, near Matlock. Establishing a reliable staff was his first duty, and he employed names he was already familiar with; Harold Brown, Jim Bamford, Albert Mousley, and Ted Beer. This continued until John Plumb’s retirement. The last Manager under Star Cinemas was Alistair Marr, brother of Bill Marr who was Manager at ‘The Hippodrome’ Ripley, (Studio 1, Ripley), the Marr name at that time was well known in the cinema business. He left Heanor ‘Empire’ during its final year with this company, and at this stage, Olive Phillis was appointed as Temporary Manageress. Cinemas throughout Britain were finding that keeping their doors open was a difficult task; they had struggled with the popularity of television, and now along came the video rental boom. Along with hundreds of other cinemas in the Star Group, the Heanor ‘Empire’ faced the axe as trading became unviable. The cinema was boarded up, and the front doors chained, for the first time since it’s opening in 1911.
Nostalgia buffs wrote to the newspapers, and some phoned the local radio stations; these were the same people who had failed to support the local cinemas in the past, and now they were losing an entertainment facility, they were complaining! It looked as if many of the places in which people once courted, laughed, and cried, were to vanish forever.
For years the proposed bye – pass that was planned for Heanor might now become a possibility, leaving the Empire building on an ‘island’. We had seen of how the new road would affect the cinema’s position, and we didn’t like it!
‘Making New Friends’
After the Star Group had converted the Ripley 'Hippodrome' to bingo in the stalls area, and created a 300 seater cinema in the circle, it was now renamed 'Studio 1', Ripley. With Raymond Carrington as Chief Projectionist. I found myself as a Bingo Caller, and I also helped Jack Rudkin who was then Relief Projectionist.
The Projection Box was built in 'stilts' at the rear of 'The Thorn Tree' public house, and it was possible to overlook part of the Market Place, and surrounding properties. Jack was not new to the cinema business; in fact he had worked there for a number of years in a part - time capacity.
Under The Star Group of Companies, all the local cinemas were re-named ‘Studio 1’ (and ‘Studio 2’, if the building had been twinned).
The sound proofing at Ripley was not very good, and just after opening they presented ‘The Battle of Britain’, when it was possible to hear the downstairs bingo session in progress, with the caller shouting out the numbers! However there were many good points about the building; it was warm, compact, and it’s patrons seemed to like it. The worse point about it was that the fire door from the auditorium into the projection room was via a catwalk, and whenever the door needed to be opened during summer, the daylight would completely obliterate the picture on the screen, which was most annoying.
I enjoyed my time at Ripley, working under Manager Bill Marr, who was always fair in dealing with any problems that occurred, but my thoughts were always for the ‘Empire’ at Heanor. I think in a way the place became a bit of an obsession with me, I lived my life around it, and it gave me a good social life making lot’s of new friends over the years.
The fire record at the Ripley cinema was ‘Blaze Away’ an old military marching tune to be played on a gramophone record; the problem was that when Fire Drill was practiced, nobody could ever remember what the song sounded like. Anyway in the event of a fire, who in his right mind, would stop the show to put on a record; it was best to just get out of the Projection Room as quickly as possible!
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