Colin Crosby Heritage Tours

Adventures of the Bearded Cinema Manager

I recently gave a talk to the ladies of the Monday Club at Birstall, on “The Adventures of the Bearded Cinema Manager”.

This is a thriving group, which meets at the Methodist Church in Birstall.

“The Adventures of the Bearded Cinema Manager” is probably the most popular of the talks that I give. It undoubtedly rings a bell with most people of a certain age.

I spent many years managing cinemas and theatres, mostly in Essex and the London area. This talk tells of my experiences when coming into the business in the 1960s.

Before starting that career, I worked as a very bored clerk in the City of London. In fact, I started work in 1960 at five guineas a week. In today’s language that’s 5.25.

Although that is, by today’s standards, a ludicrously small wage, telling audiences that always provokes a “well, that’s nothing” reaction. There are always people who started work for smaller sums. The difference is, though, that whereas most of them simply walked down the street to the local factory, I had to pay, out of my five pounds five shillings a week, three pounds ten shillings a week simply to get to work. That was the cost of my season ticket between Southend and London, a distance of about forty miles each way, which added, when the trains were on time, three hours to each working day. Rather out of proportion, wasn’t it?

I actually started working in cinemas in September 1963, when I was ten days shot of my 21st birthday, at the prestigious Odeon Cinema at Gants Hill in Ilford. This was about thirty miles away from my home in Southend.

The impression that I immediately gained was that cinemas were always busy. Yes, we were very busy indeed for the few weeks of my career, but this was largely due to the blockbusting nature of the films that we showed.

These were (and remember that they were all newly-released films at the time) “The Longest Day”; “The Great Escape”; “Dr. No”; “West Side Story”; “Tom Jones” and “The Birds”. That’s a pretty formidable list of films, all of which are regarded as classics today.

After a couple of months, I was promoted to Assistant Manager at the Odeon Barking, quite close to Gants Hill.

On my first day at Barking, I was sent to the Odeon Southend for the afternoon and evening. Initially, I wondered why, but realisation dawned before I got there.

The Odeon Southend, in common with some of the others in big towns, had stage facilities. As a teenager, I had been to see lots of shows at the Odeon. I’d seen people like Frankie Vaughan, Tommy Steele and Joan Regan there, as well as lots of comedians.

That night, I worked on my first live show. It featured four young chaps of whom you might have heard. Their names were Richard Starkey, George Harrison, Paul McCartney and John Lennon. Yes, of course, they were The Beatles – hugely talented, and with a level of popularity probably never seen before or since.

Not only were they huge in Britain, at that time they had the No 1 record in the United States – and the No 2, and the No 3, and the No 4 and the No 5.

Positioned through two shows a few feet away from the stage, I did not hear a word that was sung or a note that was played. I knew what each song was that they were performing, because I recognised the internal rhythms.

This led on to a specialisation, among other things, in crowd control at concerts, and over the next couple of years I worked with many famous people, including the Animals, Chuck Berry, John Gilpin, the Kinks, Susan Maughan, Des O’Connor, Cliff Richard, the Rolling Stones, the Shadows, Dusty Springfield and the Yardbirds.

After I had given the talk, a lady told me that her husband had actually been at that Beatles concert in 1963. He was living at Hadleigh, near Southend, at the time.