Pat Church marks 50 years at the Bury cinema he saved
In 50 years Pat Church has had 12 employers, but he has always worked in the same place, which is why Bury St Edmunds has two cinemas.
It was on February 16. 1966 that the 19-year-old Pat started work as an assistant projectionist at the Abbeygate Cinema in Hatter Street, having come from a Peterborough cinema that was closing.
It has had several name changes but has returned to the original as an independent under managing director Alistair Oatey. Its future looks secure, but it came closest to closing just before Pat became manager in 1975.
Owners the Star Group had told Pat they did not accept projectionists as managers and they were not keeping small screen cinemas open.
“The cinema was about to close – everything was in place for boarding it up,” he said. “We talked them into keeping it on.”
He went to them with a business plan for saving it.
“The challenge then, was to make it work,” he said.
Video was then in its early days and Pat thinks it did cinemas a big favour.
He explained: “It was always a bargaining deal so you had to show two bad films to get a good one. Once video came in all those films went into the video market.”
Pat still does not see home entertainment as a threat: “Watching a film in the cinema, it envelopes you into the screen – you can’t recreate that at home.
“I was helping a lady of 92 and she was just as excited as a 16-year-old. She had come to see Dad’s Army and it was an entertainment event to her.”
Pat has cut his hours, with his deputy Jonathan Carpenter taking over as manager, but says he will never tire of being there.
“I’ve hardly been away from this building for 50 years,” he said. “It’s been such an involving part of my life.”
He even met his wife Geraldine there. She and her mother lived in a flat above what is now the cafe and the projection room window faced her kitchen window. Their first date was to the cinema.
And on March 16 they have another date there when the cinema holds a celebration evening for him with a showing of a film he has chosen but is keeping secret.