“I’VE WATCHED SOMETHING REMARKABLE UNFOLD”
Sewing miles of blackout material and baking potatoes in the small hours for horror all-nighters were labours of love for her in the early days of the cinema, writes Jo Gibson.
When I first knew Roger, he was an art student at the Royal Academy schools. Those early ‘dates’ in 1960 were spent at the National Film Theatre, Ronnie Scott’s and various musical venues. Moving to Chichester in 1964 and expecting our first child, I did wonder how Roger, an urban man, would survive – no longer within easy reach of cinemas and concert halls. However, …. Teaching art at the then College of Further Education Roger also devised courses on ‘The Art of the Film’ under the auspices of the Workers’ Education Association. I attended some of these, depending on availability of baby sitters (two babies by then). A welcome relief from nappies and a stimulating approach to film meaning by way of guided study.
On a cold morning in 1986, a couple of friends, Roger and myself stood in the rather bleak hall at the New Park centre. No facilities for film viewing at all. BUT – a vision of what might be. People rallied. Our neighbour made a pulley of sorts, enabling the second-hand screen to be raised out of the way for playgroup use in the mornings. And I sewed miles and miles of blackout material in an effort to prevent any hint of light through windows during screenings.
Other inventive, sometimes crazy schemes helped this embryonic cinema onto its feet. Often against the odds. When the All-Night Movies featured a horror programme, I was persuaded to bake potatoes at home, ferrying them through the night to the cinema (yes, till 5am). The oven at New Park didn’t heat up sufficiently!
I was also serving Dracula (tomato) soup and Frankenstein (Frankfurter) sausages. I dished out a blander ‘menu’ to the Saturday morning kids at Junior Film Club – orange squash and biscuits, helped by our daughter. There was a terrific, resourceful, ‘all hands on deck’ feel about things – lots of experiment and fun.
Roger’s vision has constantly attracted others to share in it. This response enabled a small concern to become the cinema we have today. It has depended on volunteers and I suppose I’m one of them – standby for box office and ticket taking in the beginning, and also a committee member with refreshments, when meetings were held at home in the early days. Living alongside this metamorphosing creature (the cinema, not Roger) I’ve watched something remarkable unfold.
Here’s to the next 40 years.