Associated Picture Houses — Rank

When Maxie moved from the Corinthian to join Louis at the Royal in 1938, Geoff the office boy, then 18, was sent to the Corinthian…

…where my position lasted exactly 48 hours, until a qualified replacement for Maxie was found.  I, it seems, still had to learn the business.  I was soon promoted from office boy to provincial film salesman in Louis Elliman, Ltd., my older brother Bertie retaining the larger accounts and management. 

Bertie, of all the Elliman sons, was the natural showman. Years later, according to his daughter Maureen:

…he used to make us all laugh with his version of The Black And White Minstrel Show, wearing a straw hat, singing Me And My Shadow, and finishing up with a little tap dance.  He was a GREAT dancer!!!   He sang, as well.  He’d harmonize with the radio, singing along with the bass line and pitching it spontaneously, which isn’t easy to do.  As a youngster, he’d had violin lessons with a man called Jack Cheadle, who played in the Royal Orchestra. 

Cheadle, apparently, had a lisp and would say to Dad: ‘Bertie, you need to play it NITH ‘N CRISTHP!’  …When I was 16, Dad bought me my Steinway, and told me:  ‘Don’t ever stop playing!  Don’t give up like I did to play football with the lads rather than practice!  

I answered him that I wouldn’t want to play football, and he said: “You’ll have boyfriends one day and you won’t want to practice.”   He was undoubtedly very musical, probably more so than he was ever given credit for or appreciated himself.

Bertie’s son Max, too, remembers his father as “very musical,” and harmonizing with the radio “as he drove us to and from school, and on our frequent Sunday afternoon drives.”  He also remembers him “joining in tennis and other games with us.”

Meanwhile, Geoff had to be trained.  He recounts:

My training consisted of accompanying a friend of Bertie’s, a senior salesman from a major film distributor.  He not only introduced me to film exhibitors around the country, but also to the various poker groups that gathered to combat the boredom of the long uneventful train journeys. The stakes were generally small and little damage was done, win or lose.

Travelling and meeting people led to evening meetings with exhibitors in the cinemas, which usually ended in drinking sessions in hotels or clubs.  There were also tips to be gleaned on the merits of racehorses and greyhounds due to run at the various racetracks countrywide.  One exhibitor owned a racehorse which was meant never to lose a race, but it did — often.  I remember a phone call telling me that a certain dog running that evening at Harold’s Cross, Dublin, would win, and to go and bet on it.  I went to my favourite bookie, who had the dog listed at seven to two.  In my excitement, I put £10 on the beast rather than the 10/- I’d intended.  My gloom, however, swelled into exhilaration when the dog actually won! 

I told the bookmaker I was sorry to be taking so much money from him.  He responded that my bet had encouraged him to place 10 times as much, and he’d done so!  Needless to say, on the next occasion I bet heavily, the dog lost.

Because of the war, business was becoming increasingly difficult.  The power supply was uncertain, and cinemas in country towns often got their power from steamrollers. Turf was used instead of coal to power trains, and it took time to get engines going on this alternative fuel. The supply of films was slowing up, and cinemas were increasingly dependent on reissues. But we were enterprising. If the train took us no more than halfway, we got bicycles and pedalled the rest. I recall one occasion, sitting at the rear of a hired tandem, driven by a happy-go-lucky individual who had no idea that his brakes were poor until we were coming down a steep hill…

Geoff first proved himself when he:

…visited one exhibitor who operated six cinemas in Dublin suburbs, and complained bitterly about being bored and overworked maintaining them.   I asked if he was willing to sell, and he said he would, if he got his price.  I asked the family for the money, and that’s how Associated Picture Houses came into being in 1944.  It comprised the Pavilion and Picture House in Dūn Laoghaire, the Royal in Bray, the Regent in Blackrock, Co. Dublin, and the Broadway and Camden cinemas in Dublin.  I was the company’s general manager. I was 24 and had been married a year.

The Elliman group had come a long way from its modest beginnings — far enough to attract the sharks. They came in the form of the Rank Organisation. Then nine years old, Rank was a major force in British film-making, distribution and exhibition. In 1938 it had acquired the Odeon cinema chain. The following year, it had snapped up Amalgamated Studios in Borehamwood. In 1941, it gained possession of Gaumont-British Picture Corporation, which also owned Gainsborough Pictures, comprising 251 cinemas and the Lime Grove Studios which were sold to the BBC in 1949. In 1942, it added the Paramount cinema chain.

In 1946, with World War II over and shipping safe again, Rank sought to expand into Ireland, and saw the Elliman group as a comfortable way in. Their approach was not well received by the family, but it was clear that Odeon would operate in Ireland with or without the Ellimans. An agreement was reached. Rank acquired a majority interest in the Elliman Group’s cinema holdings, reorganizing them under Odeon (Ireland), and so becoming the largest exhibition circuit in Ireland, a position it maintained until the early 1980s. J. Arthur Rank was chairman of Odeon (Ireland). Maurice Elliman was vice chairman, Louis managing director, Abe general manager, Geoff controller of cinemas and Jack in charge of publicity. Colman Conroy, long associated with Dublin’s Savoy Cinema, was made assistant general manager, and Hugh Margy catering controller. All other staff kept their jobs. The Gaiety Theatre was not part of the deal.

With the Rank Organisation takeover of the Elliman circuit, the Metropole was among the many Irish cinemas that fell under its control. Rank closed it in June 1947 and commissioned English architect Leslie Kemp to redesign it. A new auditorium was constructed, the number of seats was reduced to provide extra comfort, and a new projection box installed. The Metropole reopened on Easter Saturday, March 27, 1948, with the award-winning film, “The Best Years of Our Lives.” In the early 1970s, Rank sold the Metropole to British Home Stores. The cinema closed on March 11, 1972. The premises were demolished in mid-1973 to make way for a department store.

Leslie Kemp’s redesigned Metropole, 1957

Within two years of the Rank takeover, Jack left Odeon and returned to London, where he’d spent most of his working life. And Geoff, too, quit Odeon, to become managing director of Amalgamated Cinemas (Ireland) Ltd., a company formed by the Elliman and McNally families, who had cinema interests in Irish towns and cities outside Dublin. Its general manager was Harry Culleton. Amalgamated grew to comprise cinemas in Cork, Limerick, Waterford, Galway, Wexford, Kilkenny, Clonmel, Carlow, Athlone, Sligo, Ballina and Monaghan — but none in Dublin or County Dublin.

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