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We are keeping a diary of the project as we go along so you can get a flavour of what we are up to.

The project is underway

trainee workshopAfter several COVID enforced delays we are finally under way. We've been busy making contact with projectionists who worked in London and we have been overwhelmed by the generosity of people who have got in touch offering to share the histories of their working lives for the project. We have now booked in twenty-two interviews which will take place mainly at the BFI, Southbank, but also at the Rio Dalsten and elsewhere. Their experiences range from the big chains such as Odeon, ABC, Isoldo and more, but also the rep scene with interviews with people who worked at The Electric, The Rio and The Scala. The projected films range from the big blockbusters, through Bollywood, fringe screenings, 16mm, 35mm and then the introduction of digital projectors.

We have also recruited twelve volunteers aged from 17 to 84, some complete beginners to oral history, others with some experience. This is a really interesting group with film makers, ex-dock workers, students and more. We are very much looking forward to working with the team.

Training at the BFI Southbank - September 27th, 28th and 29th

projection room BFITraining took place over three days at the end of September 2021 at the BFI Southbank. Dom Simmons from the BFI gave an excellent talk on the history of film projection. This was followed by a guided tour of the projection boxes looking at the 35mm set up and also the new digital projectors with Dom, Lexie Reisbek and Steve Grey.

In the afternoon 8 of the people who will be interviewed for the project came along to share stories of their working lives with the group. This Reminiscence Group was an opportunity to explore the themes of the history from the perspective of those who worked in the industry. Thanks to Nigel Wolland, Gregory Woodward, Geoerge Achilleas, John Sharp, Peter Bell, Lexie Reisbeck, Steve Bell and Dom Simmons for taking part in this. We had a great discussion and it was interesting to reflect on common experiences as well as differences in the working lives of those who attended.

projection room BFIOver the next two days we ran oral history workshops exploring the ethics and practicalities of oral history. This covered using aduio recorders, preparing an interview space, research, and interview skills. After this we explored the themes we want to explore in the interviews and to develop questions to tease these themes out. It was a very busy and rewarding three days and we are now ready to start interviewing.

Day One Interviews: The Rio, Dalston - October 4th

Interviewing Peter HowdenThe group interviewed Andrew Woodyatt and Peter Howden about their work. Peter was not only a projectionist, he also managed cinemas and trained many young projectionists up and has been credited with saving some of London's independent cinemas. Peter is well known for his work at the Electric Cinema in Portobello Road from 1968 to 1980 when it became the major rep cinema in London. He then went on to work at the Everyman before moving to The Rio with some deviations along the way. Andrew began work in 1989 working for Showcase and UCI cinemas. He then moved on to Rio Dalston.

Interviewing Andrew WoodyattThese were fascinating personal histories and we are looking forward to putting the full interviews from these and more on the interviews page of this website for you to listen to.

Days two, three, four and five of Interviews: The British Film Institute, Waterloo - October

We managed to do a further 19 interviews at the BFI over four days with some disruption caused by Covid. We interviewed four staff who actually work at the BFI otherwise it was projectionists who have worked across London who came along. Their working lives ranged from the multiples to the independents, from the Streatham Odeon to Leicester Square and we counted that together they had worked in around 64 cinemas. We are currently busy editing the interviews and looking for archive footage and photographs. We are going to watch the rough edit with the group in December. A huge thank-you to everyone who gave up their time to come and be interviewed.

In Memory of Ron Pearce

Ron Pearce

We were extremely sad to hear the news that Ron Pearce passed away a few weeks after being interviewed for this project. He was an enthusiastic supporter of the project and we are very grateful that he gave his time to come along to share stories from his long working life as a film projectionist in London.

Born in 1943 in Hammersmith his love of film began as a child when he bought a pack of chewing gum and found contained within it four 35mm frames from the film "Knights of the Round Table". He took this home and shone his bicycle light through the film and projected his very first film on his fireplace. His mother bought him a second hand projector and he bagan renting films to project from a shop on Goldhawk Road before the proprieter gave him a job repairing the films in return for free rental. He worked all night and was late for school and an understanding teacher, rather than castigating him, asked him to come and talk about his interest to his class in a scene that reminded me of the famous scene in the film Kes. In 1958 he got a job as a trainee projectionist in the ABC Acton. His long career took him to the News Cinema on Baker Street, the Classic on Praed Street, Isoldo Cinemas and to the Odeon on Haymarket then St Martins Lane. He finally left the business in 1988 to try different work. He will feature in the upcoming documentary and you can hear his wonderful interview, brimming with stories and detail, on the interviews page of this website. We send our condolences to his friends and family.