Buried Treasure

Prog1Prog2

 

Facebook followers will have seen this already, but last week while removing the old worn out floor from screen two, previously the balcony in the single screen days, we found an old programme from November 1941. Quite a thrill. Not so much because of it’s age, I have some that are older, but because it’s been sitting under there all those years, waiting to be discovered.

It also comes from a time when cinema was a very important part of life in the Britain. This was a dark time, it was in November 1941 the Ark Royal was sunk off Gibraltar and the Nazi attack on Russia was in full flight. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour was a few weeks away, finally bringing the United States into the war.

I wonder who was it that dropped the programme? Someone local, someone who still lives in the town, or someone who went off to war to die? We’ll never know, but holding it in my hand this week, particularly in light of the V.E day celebrations, it feels like a direct physical connection with that far off, yet still vivid time in our history.

It’s a minor piece of ephemera of course, but it’s a wonderful window on an era when cinema wasn’t just the place to see newsreel footage, it was also a vital form of escapism. The ability of cinema to transport you from your own life and it’s troubles, the delicious vicariousness of the big screen was at it’s most essential during the grim times of war.

How incredibly exotic Down Argentine Way must have appeared, in glorious three strip Technicolor. A colour process that made ladies lips glow an irresistible scarlet and the impossible glamour of a Buenos Aires nightclub, so far from bomb ravaged southern England, come vividly to life.

Remember, no T.V then, no constant barrage of entertainment round the clock. To go shopping for the meagre rations the people of Britain lived on at the time and stop off to watch a couple of hours of handsome Don Ameche  making love to sweetheart Betty Grable must have been not merely diverting, but positively invigorating. Unless it had the opposite effect of merely underlining the desperate situation we were in. I doubt it though, cinema rarely seems to work in that way.

Some of the films are lost in time, some of them were old favourites returning as second features, such as Ronald Coleman’s Captain Hugh “Bulldog” Drummond in Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back.

Because in those days, you got two films for the price of one. There’s another British favourite in the cockney detective played by Gordon Harker, Inspector Hornleigh, another colourful musical,  Tin Pan Alley with Susan Hayward, actually retitled for UK cinemas from it’s US title With a Song in My Heart.

The plot of Public Deb No 1 has to be one of the most bizarre listed on IMDB.  “When a waiter gives a society girl a public spanking for attending a Communist rally, her soup-tycoon uncle makes the waiter a vice-president of his company.” As elevator pitches go, you have to say it’s original.

The eagle eyed among you will notice the second feature for that show is Charlie Chan’s Murder Cruise. Inconceivable as a portrayal of a US Chinese today, nevertheless the detective series was incredibly popular during the thirties and forties. Sydney Toler would play him in no less than 11 Charlie Chan films, proving that Hollywood’s propensity to repetition is certainly nothing new.

The best film that month, by some margin, is The Mark of Zorro. A 24 carat classic, the swashbuckling story of  a young 19th century aristocrat, Don Diego Vega, who leads a double life in Mexican California. By day the foppish son of wealthy land owners, by night as El  Zorro, the righter of wrongs and the champion of the common people.

A top drawer 20th Century Fox production, produced by the great Daryll F Zanuck himself and directed by Robert Mamoulian, it really is rip roaring, sword fighting fun, not least because of the tremendous central performance by Tyrone Power and a fantastic moustache twirling baddie played by the inimitable Basil Rathbone. If you’ve never seen it then I urge you to seek it out, it beats the pants off the Antonio Banderas version and invents the dual identity concept copied by Batman all those years later.


You may also notice we weren’t open Sundays then either, in fact it was my father who finally started opening Sundays in the mid sixties. Also the concept of continuous performances is something almost impossible to describe to people today, the idea that you came in at any point and could sit round until the point you arrived. Very strange, but there’s another blog post in that.

It’s almost impossible to imagine us showing The Mark of Zorro as a run of the mill thing, being the classic it is, but we did. That’s what I find one of the most affecting things about such an innocuous looking piece of cardboard, I have a direct line back to that time as the person looking after the cinema now and programming the films. The man listed on the front as proprietor, P V Reynolds, is the previous incumbent to us and he took it from the original owner.

It also illustrates how relentlessly the old girl has sat at the top of the hill presenting the world in all it’s glory to the people of Uckfield and it’s surrounding towns and villages. Through the good times and, as then, through the bad, sometimes taken for granted but more often treasured by the local community.

So as I look at this thing that has survived, like both Britain and The Picture House, against all the odds, if it’s not to grand a thing to say, I feel just a little of the weight of history, and I feel proud.

Off we go again.

Grubs up.

Grubs up.

Ereiamjh. (Name the film for a bonus point.) I have emerged blinking into the sunlight, a full six months after making what turned out to be the monumental decision to acquire the restaurant over the road.

Having run restaurants before I can’t imagine why I didn’t think me and my family’s life wouldn’t be turned upside down.

Half a year down the road we have started to build something quite groovy over there. Inevitably not everyone agrees, but that’s the nature of business. Most people though, seem to think we are doing a good job.

What Tansy, my wife, and I want to do is make this part of the high street a genuine destination for the complete night out. Dinner, movie, me talking bollocks. What more could you possibly want?

Anyhoo, enough of the propaganda, brain washing marketing tosh. I’m back in the land of the living, older, wiser and recovering from plantar fasciitis. That’s a bad foot to you.

Six months on my feet every night did it in. It’s getting better now though, thank you. Our new restaurant manager, Gary, is doing a fine job, which means I can go back to doing what I do best, sitting around cooking up more plans to improve our lovely cinema.

Which also means the refurb we started in 2014 can now continue. Screen two has now closed and will emerge in six weeks as dead sexy as the other two theatres we finished last year. Increased legroom, those lovely seats and the best picture and sound around.

I have to say I’m so proud of the screen one and three. They have turned out so well. Screen one particularly is a marvel, with the larger screen and 7.1 sound. I sometimes just go in there and sit and look. Is that a bit weird?

Screen One Done 2

Screen One earlier today.

 

Inevitably the restaurant has sucked up a lot of the resources we were going to spend on the foyer, but we will still be tarting that up. New bar/kiosk, groovy new decor, that sort of thing. All being well we should be finished by the middle of the summer. Then I’m going to have a lie down.

Anyway, I’m back, and as belligerent as ever.

I’ll post more refurb pictures as we go.

Kev. X

Here goes then, point of no return approaches.

Screen One earlier today.

Screen One earlier today.

 

Tonight (August 28th 2014) we close the number one screen and start ripping out the seats. At this point, there’s no going back. I’m spending ½ million pounds, not much if you say it quickly. Actually it is quite a lot, I’ll still be paying it back when I peg out probably.

It’s been a long time coming this refurbishment, mainly due to a combination of indecision and health and safety gone mad stuff. I reckon it was much easier building Ely cathedral, so you had to hang from rickety wooden scaffolding and a few surfs died in the process, but anyone who’s had a nice picnic on the lawn surely agrees that’s a small price to pay.

The work will be in two phases. Phase one, starting tonight, involves the complete refurbishment of screens one and three. Screen one is being utterly gutted, floor out and screen coming down. This will expose the dividing wall between screen one and two, where we have the worst sound proofing problems.

When we converted to two screens in 1977, creaky old mono sound barely got to the back row, let alone through a wall into another room, however, with multi-channel turbo nutter digital sound it needs sorting out. Two noisy films don’t cause too much of a problem, but if Thor is banging his hammer in one and Judi Dench is having a quiet cup of tea in the other the rumbling in the background sounds like a distant war.

To fix this everything is coming off the front wall of screen one and we are building another soundproof wall from floor to roof, isolating the two halves of the building. Lord Dench should then be able to enjoy her tea in peace.

When this is done a new floor goes down, introducing steps all the way as opposed to the back four rows, this will make the back row higher. New carpet and dead sexy new seats. The new seats have cup holders at last, and I’m taking a row out to improve the legroom.

The entrance is being moved to the side, meaning we can take the curtains and screens all the way across the front wall. This means a bigger picture and with the groovy acoustic fabric going on the walls, watching a film in there is going to be an even more wonderful experience. I also intend to upgrade the sound to 7.1.

 

Phase one plan. Great reading for builders and architects, probably confusing for everyone else.

Phase one plan. Great reading for builders and architects, probably confusing for everyone else.

 

Screen three will also have new seats, carpets and acoustic treatment. I’m raising the screen up a bit to improve the sightlines and a new air conditioning system that will be much quieter.

Once all that is done we stop for Christmas. There are simply too many good films to have nay part of the building out of operation November to March. Once we have squeezed every last drop out of Marigold Hotel 2 the work will start again.

That’s the really challenging bit, completely removing all the walls in the foyer and building an extension on the north facing part of the building. We can then accommodate you all in more comfort and with the new bar we can offer the complete night out. At that point we refurbish screen two.

Then I pass out and retire to my bed until Christmas 2015.

The point of no return is always good to reach. When the work started on building number three in 1999, I remember clearly standing outside as a JCB gently nudged the back of the building off, thinking there’s no going back now.

It’s oddly calming, because from this point on the only way out is to finish.

Wish me luck.