Colin Crosby Heritage Tours

The Adventures of the Bearded Cinema Manager

I recently gave my “Adventures of the Bearded Cinema Manager” talk to members of the Wednesday Club, at a house in Knighton.

This is one of the talks that are available to groups.

I told the ladies of the Wednesday Club about my experiences as a young man coming into the entertainment management business in the early 1960s. This was my career for many years – managing cinemas and theatres, largely theatres.

Having spent a frustrating three years or so working in offices in the City of London, where I had started work for five guineas a week (that would be 5.25 today), out of which I had to pay three pounds ten shillings (3.50) for my season ticket to actually get the 40 miles to work from Southend, I decided that I wanted to do something more interesting with my life.

An advertisement in the Southend Standard led me to be interviewed for a job as a Trainee Manager.

On 2nd September 1963, ten days short of my 21st birthday, I started work as a Trainee Manager at the Odeon Gants Hill (that’s part of Ilford). It would have been illegal to leave me in charge before I was 21 (it’s probably 18 today), but of course nobody in their right mind would have left me in charge then anyway.

Over the first few weeks, I got the impression that cinemas are always busy. That was because of the amazing programme of famous, new at the time, films that we showed during that period.

For example, we showed “The Longest Day”, with a star-studded international cast re-enacting D-Day; “The Great Escape”, with another all-star cast of which everyone simply remembers Steve McQueen on a motorbike; “From Russia With Love”, the second, and arguably the best, James Bond film, starring Sean Connery; “West Side Story”, the wonderful musical based on Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”; “Tom Jones”, the cheeky comedy based on Henry Fielding’s novel and starring Albert Finney; and “The Birds”, Alfred Hitchcock’s chilling film based on a story by Daphne Du Maurier.

I went to see “The Birds” on my 21st birthday at the Odeon Leicester Square. Later on, I would have asked the Manager if I could come as his guest (we used to let each other come to each other’s cinemas to watch films), but at the time I didn’t have the nerve to ask.

I told the ladies about learning all the staff jobs; about being promoted to Assistant Manager at the Odeon Barking; about spending my first day as an Assistant Manager actually at the Odeon Southend, where I worked with the Beatles; about being in charge on a relief basis of lots of cinemas in London and the Home Counties; and about becoming the company’s expert on crowd control at live shows.

Then in 1966 I was appointed as a Manager in my own right, at the Odeon Whalebone Lane. This was at Becontree Heath (part of Dagenham). At the time, at the age of 23, I was the youngest cinema manager in the country.

Over the years I had a really enjoyable career, in some ways glamorous but always involving long hours and hard work. Everyone always says that my enthusiasm for the job comes over in the talk!