Colin Crosby Heritage Tours

Working in Havant

In the mid eighties, my cinema career took me to Havant in Hampshire, between Portsmouth and Chichester.

I had been out of the cinema industry, managing Rugby Enterprise Trust, and frankly missed what had been my career for a long time.

In 1984 I approached Thorn-EMI, who ran the famous ABC cinema circuit, and told them that I was available. They were, of course, aware of some of my previous achievements, and after a very short time I had a phone call from Ian Riches, one of their executives.

Ian told me that the Empire Cinema at Havant was on its last legs, and under all normal commercial considerations would be closed. However, another part of the company had a factory in the town, and they did not want to lose face among the considerable workforce by closing down the local cinema.

Would I be interested in moving down to the South coast and turning the business around?

Well, of course I would be interested. Ian and I went down to Havant where I had a good look round. Although some years before I had managed the Odeon Cosham, not many miles away, I did not know Havant intimately.

The upshot was that I joined the company and set out to change the fortunes of the cinema.

The first thing I did was to change the name. "Empire" is all very well, but I felt we should capitalise on the excellent reputation of the ABC circuit. So the name became ABC Empire.

My personal publicity machine went straight into action. I introduced late night shows and one day shows, concentrating for these on the more unusual - rock season, Shakespeare season, opera season etc.

I brought in the idea of showing a film on school holiday mornings, quite distinct from the main feature shown in the afternoons and evenings.

I organised the "Havant Empress" Contest, copying my own innovation at Westcliff, which I had also run at Halstead.

Saturday mornings also took on the feel of a Colin Crosby cinema. Not only did the children watch films, they also took part in contests every week, and I played the fool each week, including miming to pop records.

I was very much involved in local organisations. I was Public Relations Officer for the Hayling Island Carnival, and compered the annual Carnival Queen Contest.

I became Junior Vice President of the Havant Chamber of Commerce.

I was involved in the plan to resuscitate the Hayling Billy steam railway from Havant to the popular seaside resort of Hayling Island.

Chichester did not have a cinema at this time, so I made sure I had plenty of publicity material in this historic city.

Along with my colleague Mike Rodgers, from the ABC Portsmouth, I broadcast regularly about films on Portsmouth Hospital Radio.

In British Film Year, which coincided with International Year of Youth, I organised a Carnival procession in the enormous housing estate of Leigh Park. The actor Ben Cross came down to open it for me, and Leslie Ash also took part.

Together with Mike Rodgers, I was the public face of British Film Year in the Portsmouth area, including fielding questions at the Southsea Show on Southsea Common. As well as those just mentioned, we also had visits from Windsor Davies, Nigel Havers, Melvyn Hayes, Richard Johnson and Jean Marsh.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, I arranged for local groups to sing carols to the queues, raising money for charity.

I also brought in a no smoking rule at the cinema, instead of the previous nonsense of being able to smoke on one side of the auditorium. I was the first manager of a mainstream cinema to do this, and it could not be said that I was foisting my own bigoted views on others. Although I now do not smoke, everyone knew at that time that I was a heavy smoker.

Within a short space of time, the no smoking rule was brought in all over the country. If you approve, you can thank me for it.

The upshot of all this was that, while in the year before I arrived at Havant, the cinema lost a lot of money, in my first year it broke even and in the second year made a modest profit.

Unfortunately, a long spell off sick from work coincided with the ABC circuit being taken over by Cannon. Business declined in my absence, and my new employers decided to close the cinema instead of giving me their support.

The Empire at Havant (I had reverted to the old name on my return, it no longer being an ABC Cinema) closed in 1987, and I was made redundant.

I never managed a cinema again, although I came to Leicester to work briefly for the City Council in a marketing capacity.

If anybody reading this has any connection with Havant, or the Portsmouth area in general (Born? Lived? Worked? Ancestors? Relatives?), I will be very pleased to hear from them.