Mike Williams interviewed by Richard Wallace
Projectionist Mike Williams describes the other duties carried out by projectionists outside the projection box including an accident where he fell through the ceiling of the cinema auditorium during a film screening.
There were so many other jobs that a projectionist used to do beside projecting film. Electrical cleaning, all the signage in the cinema would be cleaned by the projectionists, some degree of painting would be done by projectionists, rewiring would be done by projectionists. So it was quite a complex job besides showing film. We even looked after the heating in the cinema. Constant trips down to the boiler room to make sure the boiler was blowing all right, you know. All part of the job, all part of the job. I used to hate cleaning … my favourite hate job really was cleaning house lights where you would have to go up into the ceiling void and take these sheets of glass out looking down at the bottom of the cinema, sort of thing. Dangerous, but we never thought about it. Go up there with buckets of hot water and wash the nicotine, such a filthy job, all part of the job, you know. You’d go in early that morning, get up there and start scrubbing house light fittings and hope you’d be finished by the time the show started. I fell through the ceiling in the cinema once, at the Olympia. Again it wasn’t long after we’d been converted and we’d started working in the morning on reinstalling a microphone run. And we got as far as both sides of the stage, went up to start the show. Now Frank Saunders said to me, trusting guy, he says, “Mike,” he said, “you might as well go down there and put that run in while the show’s on.” He said, “Don’t make too much noise, but run it up over the top, straight across the ceiling, down the other side,” he said, “and we’ll finish it off tomorrow.” “Oh,” I thought, “this is nice, I’m trusted.” So up I climbed, up the cat ladders behind the screen, right up on top of the proc arch that used to be, which was a new, false ceiling. Brand new in fact. And I started to lay the cabling across and I stepped backwards without stepping on a rafter and it was just plasterboard. And I landed on the stage, really, really … it was quite a drop, if you can imagine a Todd-AO screen which is quite a height, you know, and I went right down the front of that, landed on the floor, the hammer went flying out into the audience, luckily there weren’t many people there. But there was one guy in the front clapping. And I was quite upset, I said, “Are you being funny?” “No,” he said, “good effect that!” And we never found the hammer. Never, ever found that hammer. But it was right up until the days I stopped going to that cinema even as a cinema goer it still had a patch in the ceiling, it used to break my heart every time I seen it. It was a round patch in the ceiling where Michael had fallen through, the chief had … he spent a lot of time, Frank, cutting out a piece of plasterboard to fit that hole and getting it up, up there and painting it so people wouldn’t know I’d done it.