Bernard Tonks

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Interview Date(s): 
6 Jul 1998
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Interview notes


[Transcribed from Joyce Robinson’s handwritten notes. DS]

This interview was recorded in the projection room of the Regal Cinema, Cranleigh*, which Bernard owns. [*Closed 2002, and demolished. DS]

N.B. There are no indications where the tapes start and finish.

Bernard was born in Farnborough on 12th December 1936 and was ‘film-struck’ at a very early age. His foster-mother had worked in cinemas and pointed out the change-over dots on screen. He was shown a local projection room at 13 and decided on film work; taking himself up to Wardour Street at 15 and lying about his age he got a job as a messenger with Pathé News. 10 shillings [50 pence] a week. He delivered a ‘supplement’ to the London Casino, where Jewel & Warriss [a British variety act] did their own dialogue to the newsreel. Bernard next took a professional job as a trainee at the Regal, Uxbridge – he was always nervous of flammable nitrate film: a rule, then, was that no more than 4,000 feet of film was allowed out of the can at any one time. He moved on to the Odeon, Tolworth, and then The Regal, Kingston [upon Thames], a double ‘A’ (AA) house. He worked for eleven years at the Regal, on the ABC circuit [Associated British Cinemas] where Warner Brothers Natural (3-D) Vision was introduced. Changeover of reels – as both projectors were in use - was not possible so an interval was used; and a coupling bar to synchronise the projectors. More up to date cinemas used the Selson [?] system and soon long-playing spools were introduced.

Bernard speaks of many types of equipment he has worked with, in different houses: especially when, for a period, the control board was moved to the circle in the cinema, supposedly to get a better idea of focus and sound quality; but many operators fell asleep! It was withdrawn after a while.

Bernard moved to the Playhouse, Hampstead, after marrying, as Chief Projectionist. Sound was still on disc; Bernard in time off replaced the wiring with plastic wires, which took a year. Around 1960, Capitol Provincial News Theatres – The ‘Classic’ circuit took over the cinema, which had 3-ratio screens which Bernard was able to adapt to 5 ratios. He worked there for seven years.

In 1968, he moved to the Carlton, Haymarket, for five years, during which time he took part in the Cinema City exhibitions at Chalk Farm [at the Roundhouse. DS], where he saw one of the original models for King Kong. He became freelance next working at various cinemas and was asked by Contemporary Film Cinemas to rewind their entire library of 1,000ft reels onto 2,000 ft spools.

Through NATKE [National Association of Theatrical Television and Kine Employees] Bernard took a full-time job again with ITN News, projecting. He was there 9 to 10 years, but began to think of owning a cinema and in 1978 bought the Regal, Cranleigh for £30,000. It was an uphill time with competition from television. Bernard showed films three days a week with ‘bingo’ in between, working part-time for ITN News. He took voluntary redundancy in 1991. He tells of surviving flooding, and hard times. He improved and enlarged the projection room and refurbished the auditorium, replaced equipment. The cinema is now [July 1998] doing well.

The interview ends with a description of the equipment which includes ‘Basil’ – his nickname for his ‘cinemotion’ board, which ‘runs it all’.

[JR’s note] NB Bernard sent a six and a half-minute addition of overlooked information; it follows the conclusion of the interview proper.