When I first heard that the Projectors were still up in the Projection Room, my ears pricked up in excitement and I hastily prepared my camera equipment. I was shown up to the Projection Room via a beautiful spiral staircase, the faded flakes of blue paint not hiding the elegance of the mouldings and detailing. In no time, I can see the vast roof sprawling out in every direction.
A small un-assuming brick building is pointed-out to me, dwarfed by the gable wall of the Great Hall. Up one more level and now at the door, the anticipation is now growing, as the door is unlocked. Not being opened for many years, the door has swelled into the frame, but after a little encouragement, it springs open, revealing the first side room. Being a bright and sunny day, it takes a few seconds for my eyes to adjust to the darkness within. It soon becomes clear that I'm standing in the Cutting Room, with part of the spool winding equipment fixed to a shelf, with a film reel storage cabinet underneath.
In another corner is an old 78 R.P.M. record player, sitting ontop of a wooden cabinet, which provided music during intervals during the many Theatrical and Musical perfomances. An old "bakelite" telephone hangs on the wall, which would have been used to allow Staff down in the Great Hall to communicate with the Projection Room. The next door opens more easily, the brass handle turning without making the slightest of sounds. The sight that greets me is a room full of Cinemagraphical goodness!
Two magnificent Gaumont Kalee "Commander" Series 18 (as I am later told) Projectors stand silent in the middle of the room, with the lenses still pointing towards the Stage, as if patiently waiting for the next show to start. The "Duosonic" sound controller sits between the two projectors, below what I'm told, is a complete Fire Safety system; comprising of a set of metal shutters above each of the holes in the wall of the Great Hall, connected via a series of cables to a metal coupling, made of a very soft metal that has a low melting point. The cellulose films containing the moving pictures were highly flammable, and the light source or "rectifiers" used to "project" the films onto the screen in the Great Hall, created immense heat -this combination had the potential to ignite into an intense fire. To prevent an fire from spreading into the Hall, the heat from a fire would melt the cable coupling, which in turn would lower the fire shutters over the holes in the wall, and also would automatically open the vents in the roof lantern above, to allow the heat and smoke from any such fire to escape.
Carefully opening one of the beautifully crafted wooden and glass "portholes", a wonderful view was afforded of the Great Hall.
The third and final room, contained the two Amplifiers, quietly resting in the near darkness. Considering that the Projection Room had been "mothballed" back in the 1980's, the Equipment was in remarkably good condition. During this first visit in February, I photographed and filmed as much as I could, as at the time, the future of the Projection Room Equipment was far from certain. Previous attempts to find a new home for this obsolete equipment had not been fruitful, however I was still hopeful that this equipment could be saved from the Scrap man. The Project Office at Runwell Hospital shared the same view, and so, armed only with perseverance and a whole load of hope, I contacted as many Cinema Enthusiasts & Museums as I could find.
After a few false starts and dead ends, the Regal Group stepped up to the plate. On an interesting side-note, Alex from Regal Group told me that the Equipment dated back to the late 1950's, and it was likely that this Equipment had been donated -either free or at cost price, by Lord Rank, who is well-known even today for his many charitable activities.
On a sunny day in March, 2010, the Regal Group's "Rescue Team" of Alex, Adam and Sam arrived. Over a period of 5 hours or more, they worked hard to dis-mantle the Projectors, as well as removing any other items which were salvagable. Their biggest challenge was to haul the two Amplifiers, each one weighed an absolute tonne!! Eventually a route was chosen; involving dragging the Amplifiers off the higher roof, along the 200+ feet of corridor roof, then carefully lowering them down to the ground. By early afternoon, the job was done, and a well earned cup of tea was enjoyed by all! I must admit that, not only was I overcome by a sense of relief, to know that this Equipment had been saved, but a feeling of slight guilt that I had the easy job of taking photographs!
With the Regal Group's expert knowledge and enthusiasm, the Projectors and most of the other Equipment is now safely stored away, awaiting a new home. Now that you know the story of what happened, below are some photos from the day of the "big move".