Nigel Wolland

Nigel Woolard
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Interview Date(s): 
22 Mar 2011
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This transcript has been produced automatically using Otter

It provides a basic, but unverified or proofread transcript of the interview. Therefore, the British Entertainment History Project (BEHP) accepts no liability for any misinterpretation of the content of this interview.

Speaker 1  0:01  
So, tell us your name and where you were born and

Speaker 2  0:04  
my name is Nigel Walland and I was born in Kettering Northampton share on the 20th of June 1940.

Speaker 1  0:15  
Okay, tell me about your family background to begin with whether were you related to anybody who worked in film or television? No, not at all.

Speaker 2  0:23  
My dad was in the army and we stayed up in Northampton share until after the war, actually, and then move down to salary, which have been there ever since. And I went to school or I finished school in Weybridge again in sorry. And when I left school, I had a job in a radio while they used to find you a job in those days, and I got a job in a radio shop in Weybridge. But I wasn't too happy there. And I got into the cinema by going to I love cinema in those days. And we used to go on Wednesday afternoon when the when the shop was closed. We closed on Wednesdays. And I saw a slide at the ABC regal Walton on Thames asking for a probation or projectionist. And I applied for the job. And I got the job. I mean, basically all they asked me was could I make a cup of tea? I'd have a letter from my mom to say I could see x films. Basically that was it. And I stayed there work my way up. Were what the Regal Walton on Thames, right where I applied for the job. And I stayed there for five years I was promoted to fourth projectionist, third projectionist. And during that time, I used to help out cross the road at the Odeon. Right. And

Speaker 1  1:53  
did you know must have known that walking on terms was the cradle of the British film industry. That's right. Oh, yeah. Ward studio down the road. Yeah, that's a

Speaker 2  2:03  
nettle Folgers over the back of the Regal when we used to watch them making the Robin Hood films Yes. And CO Shepperton was also nearby. And because I think in those days, I mean, people that wanted a job in the studios actually got a job in a cinema to get their union card. And of course, a lot of people I knew sort of did actually leave the cinema and go and work at Shepperton and various other studios locally. So, you know, that was the reason they joined the Union.

Speaker 1  2:36  
But you didn't have that thought. Now, I still joined

Speaker 2  2:39  
the Union. I was 16. And the chief actually at the Odeon was the union steward. And he used to do that sell the stamps. Anyway, I think he wanted to get shot at there. Sonny asked me if I was interested in taking it over, which I, which I did. And that was the old South London branch of neck, as I said was was run by Joe quick, who was the chief at the ABC in Kingston. And then Unfortunately, he died. And then the South London area was taken over by the West London area. And Ron pasque, who is sort of well known in Union circles was was the Branch Secretary. And after that, I sort of worked with him.

Speaker 1  3:27  
But going back to the projection box, you must have seen enormous changes in the in the methods of projection. And yeah,

Speaker 2  3:36  
I think things are done. So things went along for quite a number of years before there was a lot of changes. I mean, we were still running reel to reel film with mono sound. And it was the same when I when I actually left the regal and went across to the Odeon in 1960. We were still running rail to rail and now no sound. So we're still a few years before, sort of the Dolby system came into into being

Speaker 1  4:07  
running cinema skateboard. VistaVision or whatever. I mean, it's the same as anything else really, isn't it? That's right.

Speaker 2  4:13  
Yeah. I mean, it was just changing your lens and your aperture plate. And that was it. That was all you had to do in those days. That was

Speaker 1  4:20  
it. As I said before, do you remember any particular weeks or any particular films or any particular occurrences which stand out in the memory? Well,

Speaker 2  4:30  
I think sort of locally. I mean, we used to take all the release films. I mean, the Odeon Walton we had we opened up with a Guns of Navarone on a pre release basis over Christmas and New Year. And I mean all the staff got in on new year I was there was a lot of snow and New Year's Eve there was it was it was really deep. And I think it was the only the staff that got into the cinema is day to run On the field and each other. Yeah, well, I think we ran it just in case somebody asked and we kept on time. Yeah.

Speaker 1  5:12  
Then, as I was before, at that time, there was still a sort of full complement of staff.

Speaker 2  5:18  
Yes, yes. Right. Yes, definitely there was that there was a full staff of projectionists they had a chief projectionist, a second projectionist, or a senior second and a second, and then a third and a fourth. And that that carried on for quite a number of years. During the time at Walton on Thames, I started there as a second projectionist. And the chief sort of left and I got offered the chief job, but I didn't get it straightaway, because I had to be 21 to be a chief. And I was only 20. But actually, soon as I was 21, they gave me the job.

Speaker 1  5:58  
And of course, you're too young to have done national service. So I

Speaker 2  6:01  
just I just missed national service. I don't think it would have been a problem because my dad was in the army. I'd been in the Army Cadets for a number of years and I'd risen to accompany Sergeant Major on the on the outside. So I think if I'd have been called up on may have actually stayed in the army and that would have been the end of my cinema career but as it was, I didn't get called up and I stayed in the business for 50 is Yeah.

Speaker 1  6:34  
So when did they when did the changes start to happen in terms of projection and technology and so it you said you you've got us to 1961 thing?

Speaker 2  6:44  
Yes. I joined joined Odeon in 1960 64 I moved on i i went on relief as a relief chief covering all bases at the Odeon Wimbledon but covering London and the home counties I suppose you could say but mainly southern counters. And I did that for nearly a couple of years travelling around quite a bit down the coast and down in timeshare

Unknown Speaker  7:13  
I sort of holiday relief or or

Speaker 2  7:15  
holiday relief and if someone was sick or whatever, or they were short. I did that for a couple of years. And then I was I was offered the the old unit at Surbiton which was not far from where I lived. And so

Speaker 1  7:30  
did they did they pay for your board? Nojima you were Oh yeah. Well while

Speaker 2  7:34  
you're on relief, but I mean normally you just went to a cinema and you work the day and then you went home but I went sort of further afield like as I said, I spent the summer down at the Odeon that deal and they paid for the accommodation and food and everything else. So I was basically living off the the company at that time but it was very nice. It was it was nice digs and everything. And it was only a couple of us run in it was quite, quite enjoyable.

Speaker 1  8:03  
And so we got to 64 When you said things began to change.

Speaker 2  8:12  
Yes 64 I was at Surbiton then i i was asked if I would go to the Odeon. Chelsea was the old Gaumont Palace but it was still it was renamed the Odeon. And six months later, I closed that cinema. And then I went back out on relief again for a while.

Speaker 1  8:36  
My what happened to the to the closed cinema in Chelsea. It

Speaker 2  8:39  
got redeveloped as it got gutted, but they couldn't they couldn't alter the facade or the outside walls. And actually they put a smaller cinema in there with a habitat and some offices and some flats. See, but during that time, I was on relief base back at Surbiton, which was handy. And I looked after a couple of bingo halls, a top rank suite. I was at the new Victoria for a while on the black and white minstrel show for that summer. And then as as technical chief as no as just basically helping out on the lighting and whatever I need to do. And then I I went back to Wimbledon as it was being tripled. It was one of the first ones that Odeon did in London. And I was advised that it would be useful because that was the way things were going. And it was it was it was quite new with having three cinemas within the old the old cinema shell. Yeah. So

Speaker 1  9:49  
how did that work? I mean, was there a common projection box with things firing in different directions or with

Speaker 2  9:55  
with Odeon? They they didn't. From the start build a lot of new multiplexes, they actually divided up a lot of their older cinemas and Wimbledon actually, all they did was built a wall down at the front of the circle. And they put two little mini cinemas in the rear stalls.

Speaker 1  10:13  
I see. So there were there were separate projects. Yeah,

Speaker 2  10:17  
there was two projection rooms downstairs and one upstairs, but that was when they started bringing in these clatter systems, commonly known as cake stands where you only needed one projector. And all the film ran off a platter through the projector onto a onto another platter. It was a non re one system, but it out there man in levels, you weren't doing changeovers all the time.

Speaker 1  10:40  
I see. I see. And how is that developed? Over the years? I mean, obviously, the projection systems have become less. What's the word? There are less and less people involved in

Speaker 2  10:54  
exactly yes. Because they then were sort of the normal multiplexes out there with you know, five 610 screens. Although you know, they cut down on the Manning levels because as I say they they had these known reward systems, but Wimbledon was the first one they did in the London area. And then during that time, I went back and reopened up the new Odeon. Chelsea enclose row. Which was a nice, nice, what

Speaker 1  11:24  
was that? Originally? It was the old

Speaker 2  11:27  
Odeon closed. Sorry. Yeah. But they'd redeveloped it. And during the time I sort of was going backwards and forwards, but I reopened it eventually. Yeah. And how many seats did that had that had 725 things. So I mean, the old Odeon was 2000 6000 up 1000 pounds. And then during that time, Chelsea was brought on to the West End area of London. So I got sort of invited up to the Christmas dues they had for the cheap projectionists and also I got invited up to the Odeon to help out on on premieres. So that was that was no then I was offered the or I was moved to the Odeon at Kensington, which again at that time was being tripled three screens at that time to under the stalls area and one up in the old circle. Then they added another screen. So there was four there when during the time I was there. I know all through this time I was going back forwards to the Odeon. Leicester Square, helping out on live shows and premieres and whatever. And in 1983, I was offered a job. There was a few changes going on. And I was offered the job and I went there in April 1983. What was your official title? Chief Engineer, it was a combination of the chief, the old chief projectionists. And the house engineers which they had in the in the West End. Yeah,

Speaker 1  13:13  
yeah. So you're responsible for front of house, but would that be lighting and everything?

Speaker 2  13:22  
Yeah. Yeah. Because again, at that time, the house engineer had retired. So we were responsible for basically the technical operation of the centre. But But yeah, I had a handyman who would sort of help out. Yeah, change in things like that and bit of maintenance. But other than that, we we sort of ran the technical side.

Speaker 1  13:47  
And what is the situation now in a cinema like that? And in terms of projection, I mean, what what is what is the system?

Speaker 2  13:54  
It has changed dramatically in recent years with digital installations. In 19 2000, we had the first digital projector that was installed and we ran I think it was Toy Story two, which was the first digital

Speaker 1  14:16  
so how does that come to you I mean, I'm very ignorant of that area what what many others but what actually comes to you they this is Toy Story two,

Speaker 2  14:26  
in those days, we had a pile of disks that we loaded into the server that was like watching paint dry, took all day, but gradually things changed. And today they come on a on a hard drive which is loaded into the into the server and they have a management system now which will actually control if you're all digital, it will do you can load all your programmes in advance. So it's all it's all programme, but when we've gone on a bit from

Speaker 1  14:58  
from that and so it works out Have the clock as it were, I mean,

Speaker 2  15:01  
it can be. It can be automated it you don't necessarily solely have to be there. But it's always handy to keep an eye on things. Yes,

Speaker 1  15:10  
I remember where I worked. I spent my life in television. And when the presentation area was always prone to disaster, you know, the people who link between the programmes and put in the trailers and all the rest of it. I think it was Grenada, and then they automated the commercials, and the most the most appalling things would happen. I mean, that one night, the computer closed down the day, the transmission at about nine o'clock, something went wrong. Close to things

Speaker 2  15:40  
happen. Because that was I mean, with Grenada, they were the one of the first cinema companies to get into television. And of course, they used a lot of the technical people that were involved in their cinemas. Yes, of course. So in the early days, put your hand up if you want a job.

Speaker 1  16:01  
Right. What have the greatest special events now in Leicester Square, which those Do you remember particularly?

Speaker 2  16:12  
Well, I was there nearly 25 years, and I've overseen two or three refurbishments and three changes of equipment. But this was where things were changing with a Dolby Stereo sound. And then there was DTS sound which was actually run off of a disk, which was where the the sound was on the disk rather than on the film, but it had a timecode on the film. And then Sony came up with their SDDS system again, so but we had all this all the sound formats that we could run that we were required to, um,

Speaker 1  16:54  
before a major film opens, does this does somebody come in and sit in this doors and set the sound levels? And

Speaker 2  17:00  
Oh, definitely, yes. I mean, in those days ever,

Speaker 1  17:03  
the people can actually put the production of the film director whatever, because

Speaker 2  17:07  
we weren't we were always heavily involved with with a Bond films. They were all way it was the home of James Bond, basically. So in those days, we when we opened up with a new Bond film, we had an exclusive in London, and we'd run it perhaps for a month exclusive with late night shows every night, morning shows. And also a lot of others. Well, towards the end of my time, there we had the Harry Potter films again, they were premiered there, and the Lord of the Rings trilogy,

Speaker 1  17:42  
know what my question was before the thing opens before the film. Oh, yeah. Getting back to that somebody? Somebody comes in from the production? Yes, yes. We always

Speaker 2  17:51  
had a rehearsal. Especially for premieres, we always had a rehearsal and all the production people would come in and print was okay. Then the sound level was, was arranged. Everything was was was fine for the premiere. And also, we always run a backup print on a premiere as well. Right. So that had to be rehearsed. And, you know, we always run them in conjunction with each other. Yeah,

Speaker 1  18:17  
so that was the habit in television in my day. I mean, there will be a backup print going, you know, whatever you're doing. Yes, I can remember being in I think it was the Odeon Leicester Square, I'm not sure. But I was certainly at a press Show of something or other and Dickie Attenborough was the director and and he was sort of standing in the aisle near me. Running out. Again, zero beats me to do with the sound balance and

Speaker 2  18:45  
it's probably Ghandi or poor chorus line, or

Speaker 1  18:51  
no, it wasn't it wasn't any of those. It was that one in South Africa. The cry free Oh, that

Unknown Speaker  18:57  
was we didn't have that. The Empire. Okay,

Speaker 1  19:00  
well, that was in the empire. Okay. That's not your fault. So any other particular occasions that you in that 25 years that you remember fondly? Yeah. disastrously

Speaker 2  19:17  
or no. Touchwood we didn't have any any major problems on on premieres. I mean, we've done everything we could and that was it, to make it run smoothly. I think one of the memorable ones was 1990. I was presented to the Queen at the end of the show. Which was which was very nice.

Unknown Speaker  19:42  
You're allowed to say what she said.

Speaker 2  19:44  
She said, You do up there, don't you? Yes, ma'am. So, but they they she always sort of likes to know a bit about people she's meeting. I mean, I was standing next to the director of me Music I think from the Irish Guards and I think Pauline Collins was the other side and I think Richard Attenborough was next to her right. But this was at the end because I'd been involved with doing some bits on the stage as well. So anyway, we got presented on the earth. That was very nice.

Unknown Speaker  20:19  
Good. Okay. So should we cut it there?

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Chief Projectionist Odeon Leicester Square