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David A Ellis


IDavid A Ellis

I was interested in the cinema from an early age and would often go to our local cinema, now long gone. It was called the Grand but didn't quite live up to its name. I remember my first visit was to see the 1953 film The Conquering of Everest. I was one of a bunch of school kids from the infant school, which was next door. I think it was this visit that sowed the seed. the Grand, which I was fond of, closed in 1961 with Carry on Regardless.

My first cinema job was as an assistant projectionist at the Palace Warrington, another that didn't live up to its name. I was only allowed to rewind and operate the lighting. Twice a day I would go down and bring back a jug of tea. The only way to get to the projection area was from a door at the side of the building, which took you, after a long climb, to the gallery, as it had been an old theatre. In the small projection box there was a stove, where the chief, a Mr Joe Slevin, would warm his pies. Joe would also mend TVs in the box. The projectors were Fedi, the arcs Peerless and the sound RCA. Six months after my arrival it became a bingo club. The last film shown was The Camp on Blood Island.

Next, it was to the Classic, Chester, which was equipped with Simplex, RCA sound and Peerless arcs. I had then reached the dizzy heights of third projectionist. From there I went to my third and last cinema, the Mayfair, Aigburth Liverpool. I was there for four years, 1969 -1973. I was a second operator. There were only two of us. I would run the show when the chief was off and he when I was off. We only worked together twice a week. The cinema closed in 1973 with a film that fitted the occasion, The Last Picture Show. It became a Mecca bingo club and was demolished in 1984.

I went on to work for the BBC Film Department, which was based at Ealing Studios, London. I joined as a trainee, even though I had been a second. The money was more, even as a trainee. There was a year's training, going around the different areas. Unlike cinemas we didn't have to change lamps, clean lamp fittings, clean floors or do projector maintenance. All that was taken care of. All we did was show films. These consisted of previewing rushes, synch rushes, cutting copies, answer prints and transmission prints. We also projected in the dubbing theatres. We ran 16, 35 and occasionally 9.5mm.

I started writing around 1992 and first wrote pieces for newspapers. I went on to write for the CTA, Image Technology, Cinema Technology, The Veteran and the British Cinematographer magazine. I also went on to write two books for an American publisher, consisting of interviews with directors of photography and camera operators. Each book has over twenty interviews.

My first interview was with cinematographer Oswald Morris. I saw his name in a directory of members that was sent to me by Image Technology. I remembered the name from my many cinema visits, so having seen his name I was keen to talk to him. Apart from writing on film I wrote over one hundred theatre reviews/previews and interviewed over thirty celebrities, including Jim Bowen, Ken Dodd, Craig Douglas, and explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes.

Finally, I was on holiday in Brighton back in 1963 with my father and we would often go to the cinema. We saw The War Lover with Shirley Ann Field, a Hammer horror, directed by Freddie Francis, and Lawrence of Arabia, partly photographed by Nicolas Roeg. Who would have thought back then that many years later I would interview all three? I am still writing a lot and have been working on a book about the history of Chester's cinemas and theatres. This will be published by the CTA.

Images show the Palace Warrington, programme leaflets for the Classic Chester, three views of the projection room at the Mayfair, Aigburth Liverpool, and the cover of In Coversation with Cinematographers.

Palace Warrington Classic leaflets

Mayfair projectors Mayfair sound racks Mayfair rewinder

book cover