Three generations of family join together to remember Sunderland cinema projectionist

Three generations of a family came together to honour a former cinema projectionist at the site where he used to work.

Thursday, 6th February 2020, 11:10 am
Updated Thursday, 6th February 2020, 5:28 pm
John Wilson's relatives outside the Empire multiplex are, back row, left to right, Maurice Kelly, Lorna Kelly, Craig Wilson, Carol Kelly, Kevin Wilson, Martin Kelly and Jennifer Kelly, Front, left to right, are Tom Kelly and Max Kelly.

John Wilson was employed at the Royal picture house, where Sunderland’s Empire multiplex now stands, around 70 years ago.

January 31 marked a quarter of a century since his death and the following day nine relatives from across the North-East met at the Empire to visit a plaque in his memory and to watch movies together.

Daughter Carol Kelly, 64, who is originally from Sunderland, said: “It was so lovely for us to come together as a family and watch movies together there.

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The late John Wilson.

“Cinemas played such a big part of my dad’s life and it was really where our family started.

“My dad met my late mum, Margaret, while she was working as an usherette.

“She used to shine her torch up to where he was working as code so they could meet afterwards.”

Former Sunderland Civic Centre employee Carol, who now lives in Newcastle, was joined by her two brothers, Kevin Wilson, 60, who works for the Sage Gateshead and lives in Whitley Bay, and Craig Wilson, 56, from Durham, who works for Visit Durham.

Relatives of former projectionist John Wilson met at the Empire Cinema, Sunderland, to mark 25 years since his death and are pictured next to a plaque in his memory.

Two of John’s grandchildren and two great grandchildren were also present with the group splitting up inside the cinema to watch war film 1917 and family movie Dolittle.

John, who died aged 67 after suffering heart problems, worked at a host of cinemas during the 1940s and 1950s at locations including Sunderland, Washington, Horden, Seaham Harbour and Murton.

While his later working life was spent with electrical firm Thorn and Sunderland shipbuilders Austin & Pickersgill, he often reminisced fondly with his family about his time as a projectionist.

A fan of cowboy movies, among his favourite movie stars were Alan Ladd and Deanna Durbin.

From left, John Wilson's children, Kevin Wilson, Carol Kelly and Craig Wilson, next to a plaque in his memory.

Carol, who is now a support worker for adults with special needs, said: “My mam wrote a letter asking for a signed photograph of Deanna Durbin.

“They didn’t have a full address so all they could put was “Deanna Durbin, South of France.

“Amazingly they got a reply with a signed photograph. We’ve still got it.”