Manchester Moviegoing Through The Ages

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IT seems that Manchester is a veritable hub of arts and culture today, with a bustling film scene precipitated by cinemas such as HOME.

But the Manchester film landscape has not always looked so healthy. Over the past decade, Greater Manchester moviegoers have seen the decline in independent cinemas throughout the satellite towns. They have been cannibalised by ever-growing multiplexes and chain cinemas with which the small outfits cannot compete.

Cinema has been a pass-time for the working classes for much of the 20th Century. The British Film Institute documents the 1930’s as the advent of local cinemas. They claim that “virtually every town, suburb and major new housing development gained one or more new cinemas”.

Fast forward to the present day, and most towns and suburbs are bereft of any silver screen entertainment. Quays News spoke with Derick Moss, former owner of the now closed Curzon cinema in Urmston, to talk about the demise of this cinematic history.

Derick at the Curzon Credit: Derick Moss

Derick at the Curzon
Credit: Derick Moss

He said:

Every suburb had it’s own cinema because that was the only form of entertainment at the time. Those were the days when the management would wear a suit and greet the customers, you don’t get any of those thing any more.

Derick grew up around cinemas in Manchester, his dad was manager of the Longford (Essoldo) Cinema in Stretford. Derick, 69, learned the art of projection here, and by the age of 18 had been employed by ABC cinemas as a trainee projectionist in a number of their cinemas around Greater Manchester.

ABC cinemas were one of the driving forces of cinema development since the 1930s, and owned many cinemas in the Greater Manchester area. However, not long after Derick’s employment as a trainee, they realised he already knew more than they could teach him and put him to work in other cinemas.

ABC Wythenshawe Credit: Derick Moss

ABC Wythenshawe Credit: Derick Moss

“I absolutely loved the Apollo in Ardwick,” he said. “It was a sight to behold.” Derick grew up to hold many jobs in those Manchester cinemas, and eventually owned his own cinema – The Curzon.

“I remember when I had The Curzon,” he said.  “I had a guy who ran an advertising agency and he was a really big Norman Wisdom fan and he wanted to show a film in the cinema.

“He told me how much he loved our cinema so I managed to find a film for him. We put it on for his 40th birthday and he invited all his friends and family and colleagues. He could have gone to one of the multiplexes but he came to us because he understood what we were doing.”

That sense of community is what drove many cinemas to last as long as they did. Stephen Hill was a projectionist at the Metro cinema in Ashton for 25 years. He called it the ‘best job ever’, and has attempted to carry on the skill at home (Metro closed in 2003) with a 16mm projector in his front room that he acquired from the Cornerhouse.

Credit: Stephen Hill

Credit: Stephen Hill

He laments the loss of community that was present in these local cinemas. He said:

Back then, everything was in the town centre and everyone would go to the cinema. The shops would stay open and people would go shopping afterwards. Restaurants would stay open and buses would be full, the place was bustling.

Cinemas made you go as a family and get out of the house, it was good for the family and it was good value. All that is lost now.

He recalled the time that local schools would come to the projection room to show the pupils the magic of cinema to get them interested. Stephen would cut up a piece of film for each student and hand it to them. Just a couple of years ago, Stephen was working at a school cutting the grass.

One of the teachers at the school told Stephen that she went to the projection room and got given a piece of film. “That was me,” he said with a mixture of both pride and sadness in his voice. “That’s what I miss, we had a great sense of community and it all centred around the cinema.”

Today, all the cinemas that both Stephen and Derick worked in are closed. They either lay empty or are repurposed for other businesses. One man, Matt Gough, is trying to bring back the Metro in Ashton to it’s former position as centre of the community.

Plans for the Ashton cinema. Credit: Matt Gough

Plans for the Ashton cinema.
Credit: Matt Gough

“I’ve always had an interest in cinema,” he said. “I used to work in the Odeon in Oldham.” Matt is currently running a fundraiser to try and turn the Metro into an arts hub for Tameside. He’s aiming to restore it to it’s former glory.

Matt said that the lack of cinemas in the local towns has affected all businesses in the area. “I’ve had so many independent businesses supporting me and asking if they can help, they understand what this would do for the community.”

“Going to the cinema was a night out that was designed to take you out of every day life. It was something to do for everyone. These buildings are part of our heritage. A cinema gives the community a base, I think that’s changed drastically.”

The British Film Institute tells of the history of cinema and it’s importance to the working class throughout the country. They said:

“These cinemas flourished particularly in poorer areas, where the warm and luxurious surroundings were most appreciated.

“Some patrons walked on carpet for the first time; others, particularly the unemployed, would sometimes take refuge for an entire afternoon and evening, watching the continuous performances repeatedly.”

Times have changed since then, but it seems that the need for the local cinema is not lost. Luckily, it also seems that the hope for such cinemas is not lost either. If Matt continues his attempts to regenerate the Odeon, local cinema might just survive.

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