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Sharing stages with Bristol’s Hippodrome and its historic film projector

Tues. 20 Mar. 2018

I recently caught a performance at Bristol’s historic theatre, the Hippodrome, and during one of the show’s two intervals I took a look at the Cary Grant Bar, which is at basement level in the grand old theatre and is where I found a wonderful old film projector on display. It’s quite an exhibit, and it stands as a monument to the short period in the theatre’s history, 1932 to 1938, when it was a cinema.

Apparently the projector showed “the latest Laurel and Hardy films” and “news reels delivered by a man on the back of a bicycle”. After 1938 “it was still in occasional use” and is still remembered as a functioning projector “into living memory of some of those still working at the theatre today”, only finally becoming obsolete during the early 2000s.

According to the displayed information, the projector’s lamp house “was both hot enough and large enough to be used as an oven during performances – providing the projectionists with hot garlic bread and jacket potatoes in between screenings”. In 2009 it was moved to ground level, and it was so heavy that a crane had to be used to lift it down. It was then stored in parts around the theatre until it was reassembled and exhibited in the Cary Grant Bar in 2016. It’s still in working order from its restoration in the 1990s.

The projector was made by the Ross company of London, then a fairly prominent British manufacturer not only of cinematograph projectors, but also of photographic lenses, cameras, binoculars, telescopes, search-light arc lamps, aeronautical, astronomical and nautical instruments, and of course opera glasses.

As for the Hippodrome, it’s a wonderful, atmospheric venue; it opened in 1912 and is now a grade II heritage-listed building. It has a retractable dome and one of the UK’s largest stages outside London. According to the Hippodrome’s website, it is “One of the most prestigious provincial theatres in the country” (those interested in this particular historic building might also like to see the Wikipedia entry, Bristol Hippodrome).

Faithfuls visiting me from further afield have been known to combine a visit to me with a performance at the Hippodrome, and I must say that sounds like making the most of a trip to the South West. One of my faithfuls has even taken me to a performance after a session at my premises; very enjoyable. It’s good to know a stage as prestigious as the Hippodrome’s can share honours with the stage of my Studio and Domestic Room. After all, the dramas of life and fantasy are acted out on all of these stages.

Those interested in the company that produced the Hippodrome’s projector can find some information here: Ross. As for the sign “Please do not rest your drinks on this projector”, it’s a sad commentary on what appears to be a rising incidence of selfish and ignorant behaviour in society at large.

But the show, as ever, goes on; and, fortunately or unfortunately as the case may be, the Hippodrome’s seats are very comfortable – just right (or not) for red-hot bottoms after a visit to one of my stages.

Mistress Geo