Usherettes and tea-trays
The Odeon in West Street opened in 1937. There is some argument as to the first film shown there but I think it was either “Sixty Glorious Years” starring Anna Neagle as Queen Victoria or “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”. During the week’s run of the latter there was a competition for a ‘look-alike’ of Tom Sawyer and the prize was a brand new bicycle.
The Manager was Mr. Oscar Deusche a naturalised German who was interned at the start of the war. Other subsequent managers I remember were a Mr. Self and then a Mr. Sackier. Both appeared resplendant in ‘black tie’ in the evening from about 6.30 p.m. onwards greeting and talking to patrons. It was considered an honour if the Manager greeted you with a “Good Evening”.
A strict hierarchy
An interesting point of the times was that they rarely spoke to members of the staff, instructions being passed on through the Chief of Staff, Mr. Buttress, who came from the Palladium around the corner on the Sea Front. Mr. Buttress was a striking figure in his green uniform with tails. He was a strict disciplinarian, his word was law and woe betide the usherettes who may be caught talking in whispers in the auditorium when a film was showing. He was however a very fair man and the sort of person to whom one could take one’s problems. His son Leslie and Bill Chard who was a chain smoker of “Churchmans Tenners”, together with two more doormen and two pageboys made up the front of house staff.
Staff parade every day
There were about twelve usherettes and my Mother was the head usherette. A parade was held with all staff in the entrance foyer every day before the opening of the cinema and everyone was inspected for tidiness, make-up etc. No one giggled or spoke at these parades that were taken very seriously.
A page girl
An interesting innovation during the war was the employment of a Page Girl, a very pretty blonde with blue eyes and very striking in her green uniform with a pill-box hat. Very much later she married Leslie Buttress. There were also the four Moore sisters: Rusty and Joan were usherettes, Vida was in the cash box, and the youngest, Pat who later married an R.A.F. pilot, was one of the ice cream sales girls who wandered around the auditorium during the shorts and second features, but NEVER during the main feature. The Moore sisters used to live at the Railway Hotel just outside Brighton Station.
A real night out
There were many promotions for various films and the most striking that comes to mind was Cecil B. de Mills “North West Mounted Police” where all the usherettes were dressed up as Red Indian squaws complete with make-up, and the doormen were dressed up as Canadian Mounted Police officers. One should also remember that those days of the cinema were weekly events where patrons would dress up to “go to the pictures” and there was a magic that does not exist today.
Small tea lounge
There was also a small tea lounge in the circle foyer where one could partake of a pot of tea, a toasted teacake, cakes etc. This could, if required, be taken to a person in the audience and there was always great amusement and a ripple of laughter when there was a crash as someone upset the tea tray.
The projection equipment was by British Thompson Houston that was pretty standard in all Odeon cinemas. The Chief Projectionist was Mr. Chipperfield who came from the Regent and one of the junior projectionists, Luke Moneypenny later went into Management and finally ended up as the General Manager of the Odeon in Jersey, Channel Islands where he remained until his retirement a few years ago.
Handsets for hearing impaired customers
It is interesting to note that patrons afflicted with deafness were catered for in that several aisle seats in the rear stalls had plug points where a handset with a volume control could be plugged in. These were available free of charge at the cash desk. This is something that today’s cinemas need and is one of the reasons I do not go to the cinema any more. The Odeon was built as a cinema and had no stage to speak of but I do remember during a “Wings for Victory” week a first rate show was put on on the miniscule stage. One of the stars was Max Miller.