Patrick Townsend had a student job as an usher and floor supervisor at the Northgate cinema from 1995 to 2000. His mum, Mary Harrison, worked there around the same time on the stands.

“As usher, I had to wear a dickie bow and blazer and bat-wing collared shorts,” he says. “Each usher carried a trusty torch – it was very, very traditional.”

The Northern Echo: The Odeon, Northgate, Darlington

Patrick with his fellow ushers in the cinema foyer more than 20 years ago and, below, with his mother, Mary Harrison, just before the cinema closed on June 31

The Northern Echo: The Odeon, Northgate, Darlington

The Northern Echo: The Odeon, Northgate, Darlington

Mary at her kiosk about 20 years ago in the Odeon

The cinema had opened as The Regal in 1938, but after the war it became an ABC. When Patrick started, it was a Cannon. Then it became the ABC again. Then a Virgin, only for a couple of months before it went back to being an ABC before finishing as an Odeon – he, therefore, has plenty of staff name badges which had to be reissued each time the branding changed.

The Northern Echo: The Odeon, Northgate, Darlington

He particularly remembers when the cinema showed James Cameron’s epic film Titanic, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, in January 1998.


“All began well, the 35mm reels were working fine, Screen 1, with more than 600 seats was packed literally to the rafters!” he says. “The atmosphere was amazing. Suddenly projectionist Stan Glendenning noticed that something didn’t sound quite right with the movie.

“The movie reel was slowing until it came to a near stop – the 35mm polyester film had begun to stretch!

“In a panic, as this had never happened before, I was frantically called into Screen 1’s projector room (something ushers were not permitted to enter) to help keep the movie showing. I had to hand wind the entire three hours 14 minute long film while Stan tried desperate measures to solve the problem, cutting and splicing the film, trying to figure out the issue.”

The duty manager, Marjorie Scarr, figured out that the chief projectionist, David Spiers, was on his day off but would probably be shopping with his wife Marjorie in Morrisons in North Road, so she got them to put a call-out on the tannoy for him to go to the cinema as soon as possible.

“He came straight over, but I was still stood there for hours, winding this reel by hand, trying to keep the film moving at the correct speed.

“The two projectionists managed to make a fix with a new reel for the later performance, but I can certainly tell you that I will always remember Titanic not just for its entertainment and historical value, but for the fact that at three hours 14 minutes, it is a very long movie and it gave me a very sore arm.”

The Northern Echo: Titanic

He even has a piece of the original film (above) which was cut out as the projectionists desperately tried to stop Titanic from sinking.

Patrick and Mary returned to the cinema to see Jurassic World on its last night on June 31, and got an emotional tour of some of the back screen areas where he worked 20 years ago.

The Northern Echo: The Odeon, Northgate, Darlington

The projector remained at the Odeon even when digital equipment was installed

“It was strange,” he says. “Even the smells were exactly the same. It was as if I was still 16 or 17.”

There might even have been some ghosts waiting in the wings for when the living departed so they could have free run of the building…

The Northern Echo: ABC cinema, Darlington.

THE Theatre Royal closed on October 10, 1936, and Associated British Cinemas (ABC) spent £50,000 converting it into an art deco cinema called The Regal.

ABC cinemas all had an ABC Minors Club for children. Cinema-goers into the 1960s at The Regal remember that the Minors Club always opened with the club song: the words to it appeared on the screen with a bouncing red ball above them to show the children what they should be singing:

We’re minors of the ABC
And every Saturday we line up
To see the films we like
And shout aloud with glee
We love to laugh and have a sing-song
Just a happy crowd are we
We’re all pals together
We’re minors of the ABC

Do you have any Odeon memories, either including ghosts or not?