Ladies and gentlemen - memories of a new era of film in Sunderland!

Bill Mather’s cinema memories are vivid and extensive.

Thursday, 30th May 2019, 11:00 am
Youngsters queue for a movie at the Regal.
Youngsters queue for a movie at the Regal.

It’s not surprising really as he spent 53 years in the industry.

Today, he shares his recollections of the days when a new era of film came to Sunderland - and it was so impressive, it left the audience gasping.

A Sunderland Echo report on the launch of CinemaScope in 1954.

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It was back in January 1954 that the wonderful “Cinema Scope” came to the Regal. So did 4 track stereo sound and “The Robe” was the first film to use it.

Bill said: “I recall vividly going with my mother and the last show around 8pm was packed.”

He added: “I recall that, before the opening, there was a short 2 minute introduction on the small screen (old square ratio), and showed the lens etc, and the professor who had formulated the new system.”

Then the curtain opened and the voice of Valentine Dyall said: “Ladies and gentlemen, the management of this theatre is proud to present to you... CinemaScope”.

Bill remembered the reaction it got from the crowds.

“The screen curtains opened with the “20th Century Fox logo and the screen was full width of the proscenium and around 55 feet wide.(The Regal had one of the widest prosceniums of all cinemas in the area).

“You could hear the audience gasp as the opening music came over the stereo speakers, It ran for 4 weeks from memory.”

A friend told Bill that Mr Black himself had ‘come down from London and he stood at the front circle barrier and had the projectionists rehearse the opening.

“He was hitting his umbrella on the front of the circle rail stating that when the voice said.. ‘proud to present CinemaScope... the screen curtains had to start opening exactly then and NOT 5 seconds after! He was a true showman’.”

Bill added: “Mr Black used to come from London once a month and stay at the Grand Hotel near the old “Echo Offices” Bridge Street, and tour his cinema and “Rink Ballroom”. His main office and the Boardroom was in the main tower (front entrance).

“I recall one day, (my first meeting with Mr Black), was when I was refused admission because the cashier said that I had to have a grown up to take me in. The showings were “U” certificate: (“Yankee Pasha” – Jeff Chandler and “Rails Into Laramie” the 2nd feature).

“I argued that as it was a “U” certificate and came every Monday as this was my favourite cinema and came every week without problem I should not have to have an adult at 4.30pm!

“I heard a voice behind me and turned and this elderly gent, with a bowler hat and black top coat and brolly said to me...did I hear you say this is your favourite cinema.”

“I said, ‘yes sir, I come here every Monday at this time straight from school and I don’t like the “Ritz” or others as much!’

“He said to the cashier... ‘give this young man his ticket for the circle Miss and make sure in future he get’s in when he comes if you are on duty, and of course providing the certificate is not X!”

Bill still remembers some of the movies he saw and ‘looked forward to seeing more’ especially in Cinemascope and stereo.

Films like “The Glenn Miller Story” (packed circle) “The Caine Mutiny” (packed circle) “From Here to Eternity” (packed/standing in the foyer and stalls waiting for seats), “The Robe” “Demetrius & The Gladiators”, “The Importance of Being Ernest” (half full circle), “The Long Gray Line””

Bill remembered ‘with a heavy heart’ that the last film played under ownership of Alfred Black was the last week of June 1955 when I saw “Untamed” (Tyrone Power).”

We will have one last instalment, for now, from Bill next week.

In the meantime, we would love your own cinema memories from any era.

Who remembers the days of scented cinemas, organ music, usherettes and page boys.

Who remembers page boys, CinemaScope and the early days of stereo?

Get in touch and share your memories by emailing [email protected]