The true history of Circlorama 1962-65
This is the first time the true inside story has been
told although I do touch on it in my forthcoming biography.
The 70mm Newsletter
by: Stanley Long,
Copyright 2006 DENHAM. Pictures supplied by Stanley Long.
15. January 2007
front of the "Cavalcade" Cinema.
Press image to see an enlargement
Leonard Urry had set up Circlorama together with Leon Heppner, a Russian
entrepreneur who had lived in London for several years. They acquired a
bomb site in Denman Street just behind Piccadilly Circus and constructed
a building to house the new 360 degree cinema which they had imported
from Russia. I remember Leonard telling me the building had cost
£120K. It housed the now familiar eleven screens which were arranged
round the wall of the circular building. The diameter of the auditorium
was 70ft and was served by eleven 35mm Phillips water-cooled, pulse
light projectors which were housed in an enclosed gallery. On a level
with the centre of the screens the eleven projectors were synchronised
to form a continuous 360 degree projected image, and together with a
nine track stereo system it was quite a spectacular cinematic
experience. The installation had been carried out by Frank Brockliss Ltd
who were located in Wardour Street.
What is Circlorama?
The "Circlorama" process was developed by the Russian professor E.
Goldovsky, Moscow Cinema Research Institute.
The London Circlorama cinema opened 9 May 1963. The circular
auditoria measured 18 meters in diameter and had a height of 15
meters. The screen surrounded the audience and had a total length of
45 meters. The lower edge of the screen was raised 2½ meters above
11 projectors, were arranged in a gallery around the auditoria, and
projected their pictures on 1/11 per circular projection screen.
Stanley Long 2006.
I had known Leonard for several years. He had financed one of my early
films "West End Jungle" which was a low budget dramatised documentary
destined for theatrical release. The venture had been financially very
successful despite censorship problems. Leonard asked if I might be
interested in making a new film for Circlorama, to replace the one which
had been running unsuccessfully for about 6 months. The business was
terrible he told me, in spite of buying, at great cost, a new entrance
from Piccadilly Circus. The problem, he thought was due to the very
boring ‘propaganda’ nature of the Russian film. He wanted a lighter form
of entertainment with rollercoaster type shots which would be more
exciting for an audience, who had to stand in the auditorium to watch
the twenty minute show. Being by nature a technically minded film maker
(I was a Cameraman) I was intrigued by the prospect.
The process didn’t seem too much of a problem to me, and before long, after I had worked out how to do it, I came back to Leonard with a
positive interest. I told him that it would require a small budget to
make a test in order to make sure it was possible, and to project the
result in the cinema, so that they could make a final decision. He
agreed to funding a test and within a few days I was busy working out
how to go about it. Firstly I worked out the geometry, and found that
the eleven cameras would require to be fitted with 35mm lenses to cover
the picture circle. The cameras would be mounted on a circular aluminium
plate one half inch thick. Synchronisation would be achieved with mains
The 9-channel sound was played from a separate 35mm Philips sound
The projectors and sound reproducer were electronically synchronized
through a interlock system. For sound reproduction 51 separate
speakers had been installed behind the screen and in the floor.
There were room for 500 spectators. The foyer was downstairs with room
for a 1000 people.
Making a British Circlorama
rig with the eleven ARRIs. Magazines are off (they were being reloaded).
Press image for an enlargement.
Getting hold of
eleven 35mm Arriflex cameras to do such a test proved to
be a problem in 1963. A phone call to the new camera hire company run
by Sydney Samuelson (now Sir Sydney) and his brothers David and
Michael, requesting to rent eleven Arriflexes complete with mains motors
driven through a rectifier with a fram meter to hold sync, produced
peals of laughter at the other end of the phone.
"What an earth are you doing Stanley? I have never heard of anyone
needing anything like that number of cameras".
When he had calmed down from his initial reaction, I
explained why I wanted them and that I only wanted them for one day for
the test. He promised to let me know the following day. I had a call at 12
o’clock to say that he had managed to find the eleven cameras but it
would have to be on a Sunday when the cameras were not in use
although he was having difficulty finding the right number of 35mm
lenses as the standard kit of lenses contained only a 28mm lens. He
would be short of at least 4. I decided to go ahead replacing the
shortfall with 4x40mm lenses which would slightly affect some of the
A Sunday was chosen and arrangements made to use a 40ft boat which was
kept on the river Thames at Chelsea Reach in London. The cameras were
mounted on the cabin roof, and we set off down river to make a series of
shots passing the Houses of Parliament and Tower Bridge. We shot in black
and white for the sake of economy.
a short test film in 35mm B&W to demonstrate the Circlorama system.
Scenes included footage made on the Themes river. Stanley Long (left) and Don Lord
(right) operating the cameras.
The film was processed at Technicolor the following day and we waited
until the cinema was closed that evening to screen the results. It
worked! And apart from the four screens that had the 40mm lenses, the
matching was perfect. Leonard and Leon were delighted and a meeting was
arranged for the following day to discuss further arrangements for the
production and I was to come up with an approximate budget to complete
the twenty minute ‘epic’. I worked most of the night on this and came up
with a rough figure of what it might cost. One of the problems I had was
the availability of the cameras. Obviously it would not be practical to
hire them. Also there was another problem. Once the cameras had been
mounted in position I would be unable to move them, because every camera
has a slightly different gate pitch and changing a camera would mean
that the racking would be affected and each time a new shot was done, if
a camera had changed, the projectors would have to be adjusted. So it
meant that eleven cameras had to be purchased. This of course made the
budget sky high. Another problem was that even shooting one take was
eleven to one over normal shooting, take two would put the shooting
ratio to 22 to 1 not counting run ups etc. The stock cost in colour would
be horrendous not withstanding I came up with the final figure which I
then presented at the meeting. It was £150.000! more than the cost of
the original cinema!
Obviously with only one cinema in the country which was capable of
showing the finished film, it was a ‘no go’. Even the possibility of
selling off the cameras after the production didn’t ease the budget
sufficiently to make the project viable. Leonard called me a week later
and said the cinema was doing so badly at the box office that they faced
closure unless something was done. There was one possibility in that
the Russians had a new gimmick. They had fitted Cinemascope lenses to
the cameras vertically and produced a new film which used double height
screens. A print was despatched to England and Harkness Ltd were given
the order to put extra screens in the auditorium. It also meant that
eleven anamorphic lens had to be purchased for the projectors.
The day arrived when all this was put in place and I was asked to attend
the test screening. The whole thing was a disaster, not only was the film
content worse than the first one, but the print suffered from racking
problems similar to those I knew about when we tried to change camera
positions between shots. The screening ended up with the poor
projectionists running round the gallery adjusting the racking after
every scene. By the time the picture was correctly lined up the scene
changed and they had to start all over again. It was a disaster. Leonard
came up to me after the screening, his face said everything.
can sort something out, we’re facing closure."
I thought long and hard
that evening. How could we reduce the budget?
Enter, an eccentric Millionaire
front of the "Cavalcade" Cinema.
The following morning I telephoned Leonard. I told him I had an idea and
arranged to meet him that afternoon. My idea was to change the whole
operation over to 16mm! We could buy eleven 16mm cameras for a fraction
of the cost of 35mm. The stock cost would be dramatically reduced and
likewise the processing. I had worked out some rough figures and it
looked as if I could reduce the cost by about seventy five per cent. It
meant changing all the projection equipment in the cinema, but the 35mm
machines could be sold as replacements to cinemas. So they would be
looking at the difference between the cost of the 16mm and the sale of
the 35mm ones, plus the cost of the changeover. There was a marginal
advantage in that, as we owned the cameras we could make regular changes
to the programme. It all sounded quite practical and Leonard and Leon
were convinced that this could be the solution. However there would be
no going back once the decision had been made, and there was no way we
could make tests. It was a simple - go or no go! It was then that I was
told where the money was coming from for this whole venture.
Leonard acted as a trustee for an eccentric millionaire by the name of
Harry de Vere Clifton. Apparently soon after Circlorama had opened, he
had walked on his own from the Ritz hotel Piccadilly to the Circlorama
cinema in Piccadilly Circus, paid his 3/6p and went in to see the show
unannounced. He didn’t like what he saw, and thought the film should be
changed to something more interesting. Leonard had talked to him about
me and he asked Leonard to arrange a meeting to talk about his ‘little
toy’ as he called it. The ‘meeting’ turned out to be at the Ritz Hotel.
I was met by a Butler and shown into the enormous penthouse suite, and
then into a large bedroom with a four poster bed, in which was sitting
bolt upright an elderly man with a long grey beard and long hair. He
looked for all the world like Rip Van Winkle. I was summoned to sit at
his bedside and was introduced to this strange figure who Leonard had
told me was worth about 90 million pounds and that was in 1963!! Clifton
started the conversation
"Mr Stanley Long, I have heard all about you,
and I am delighted that you may be able to save my little toy from
closing. Urry has told me all about your ideas for a new film. Do you
know anything about Hobgoblins?"
The question was quite out the blue
‘not much I confessed’. ’Oh that’s a pity’ he replied, ‘but I would like
a scene with some Hobgoblins. See what you can do’. With that he
politely dismissed me. ‘Well off you go and good luck, I look forward to
seeing your new film’. I left the room in a daze, this had been the most
bizarre meeting I had ever experienced., and certainly the oddest project
I had been involved with. I asked Leonard if it had all been some kind
of joke ‘No its no joke’ he said. ‘I am trustee to the inherited
fortune of Harry De Vere Clifton and the Clifton estate and my job is to
look after the crazy whims and investments of Harry De Vere Clifton’.
‘Why then’, I asked ‘was there so much problem with the budget?’ ‘I told
you’ he said ‘I have to do the best job I can to control expenditure. Now
you go off and make the film in 16mm’. ’And what about the Hobgoblins’? I
asked , ‘Oh forget that, he won’t remember’ Leonard smiled.
And so it was, that I set out to start the most interesting and
challenging job I had ever undertaken. I arrived in Paris later that
month to purchase 12 (one spare) Beaulieu 16mm 100’ loading cameras with
15mm lenses. On my return to England, I set about designing the rig
which was to hold the eleven cameras and to find a way of keeping them
‘in sync’ during shooting. I tried several ways of doing this including
a rather clumsy method of mechanical linkage. Nothing worked. Then I
discovered that there was a small synchronous motor manufactured by a
company in West London, Evershed Vignoles Ltd, I went to see the
technical man there, and I discovered that they could make a gear which
fitted into the side of the cameras and it was the perfect solution. I
purchased 12 (one spare), and the cameras ran in perfect sync after a
short run up. When the cameras were up to speed I dropped a hoop over
the rig thereby giving me a reference point to pick up during the
editing stage. Then I turned to the problem of editing.
Editing 11 Strips of Film
Long with the 16mm camera rig in the middle of Clapham Junction railway
lines. Harry Green (Production manager) with back to camera, on
the right is an employee of British rail, Don Lord is below Stanley Long
fiddling with something, gentlemen and lady on the left are
Press image to see enlargement
I approached Acmade Ltd, a company specialising in editing equipment,
and from my specs they constructed a 12 gang synchroniser from 3x4 gang
machines. This coped with the eleven picture tracks plus one for sound.
The bench was 5 feet deep!! The editor required long arms to reach the
back tracks! During this time I was compiling a shot list, which
included amongst other things a view from inside a cage of lions (Chipperfield), a scenic railway ride, a shot from the middle of the rail
track at the busy Clapham Junction during a rush hour (courtesy British Rail). Try doing that today with Health and Safety breathing down your
neck. A lifeboat launch, various shots around London, including a
tracking shot from the roof of our camera car going down the Mall with
Buckingham Palace in the background and the Horseguards Cavalry in the
foreground (with the leader brandishing his sword at our camera car, mouthing ‘f… off’, and a grand finale with ‘The Swinging Blue Jeans’ a
popular group of the time, which I photographed at the Leicester Square
Ballroom. I also mounted the camera rig onto the back of an E type Jag
[Jaguar, ed] and had a racing driver go round Snetterton Race track in the middle of
a gaggle of formula two cars. Ice skating from Streatham Ice rink.
The skating sequence was filmed at Streatham Ice rink (south London). I
rigged the cameras on a mount which had semi circular domes on the four
feet, this enabled me to push the rig about on the ice. We had a team of
champion skaters doing their bit skating round the cameras about 7 meters
from the centre. It all looked great on the screen. of course it was
essential for any crew to keep well away from the rig at all times, so I
fitted a remote control to the cameras, (this was very useful for the lions
cage!!). I remember slipping over on the ice as I came back to the cameras
after one take, I suffered for several days with a very sore arse!
There was something for everyone and I
soon learnt that I could quite effectively manipulate single tracks in
the cutting room to simulate the surround effect. An example of this
resulted in a comic scene with characters opening and closing doors on
various screens around the auditorium.
Whilst all this was going on Dr Leslie Knopp a well known expert on
cinema design, who had been responsible for the original installation,
was busy redesigning the new set up using a 16mm version of the
Phillips projector. In order to simplify the sound, I requested that he
cut the original 9 track Sondor system using three follow reproducers, with three track heads, down to one machine using one 35mm triple track head. This proved to be as I thought, more effective as the separation
of sound was much clearer on three tracks rather than the nine in the
original. All these machines were interlocked with a Selsyn interlock
which was driven by one master motor and twelve slaves, one for each
projector and one for the sound reproducer. The projectors were water
cooled and the water jacket encased the rather ingenious lamp which was
about the size of a cigarette and pulsed at the rate of 72 x 1 second
thereby giving three flashes per frame. This did away with the need for
a shutter. These small lamps however never caught on as they had
drawbacks not least the problem of not being able to produce a good red
on the screen. Therefore all the London buses came out a dirty shade of
brown. Experiments with filters in front of the projector lens failed
to correct the problem. I suppose these tiny little lamps were the
forerunners of the halogen or HMI’s of today?
Finally the film was finished, the sound track recorded and the prints
were made. I had shot on 16mm Kodak Ektachrome reversal stock and as the
film was only made in 3200 K (Artificial light) I had to use Wratten 85
filters in front of the camera lenses when shooting in daylight. The film
was processed by Technicolor and because screen matching was imperative, I
requested the film go through the processing bath in the same order of the
cameras, so that any variation in the process would be gradual around the
360 degree screen. Technicolor were very helpful and did a wonderful job,
but all the way through shooting and post production I kept wishing for that
35mm. My goodness, it would have been so much easier!
"Circlorama Cavalcade" was an
The show opened with the title
"Circlorama Cavalcade" and was an
immediate success. No doubt much to do with the advertising! Of course it didn’t match up
to the 35mm version in technical terms, but I think the content was more
interesting to the general public. And it continued to do good business, so much so that Circlorama
commissioned a portable version to be made (by the firm of Harkness
Ltd) and when the show closed the whole shooting match was erected on
the end of the West
Pier at Blackpool in readiness for the summer season . Alas this was
complete disaster. Not surprisingly the thing kept breaking down being
victim to the salt air. It has to be remembered that this was a highly
technical and complicated set up and to expect it to operate in such an
environment was expecting far too much. I had spoken to Leonard Urry
about this when they were thinking of doing it but the installation was
not my responsibility and they went ahead anyway.
At the end of a disastrous season they were left with a enormous
structure on the end of Blackpool Pier, a large loss and a
correspondingly large quote from Harkness Ltd to remove it and
reassemble in the Kelvin Hall Glasgow in an effort to recoup some of
their losses during the Christmas season. Searching for someone who
would do a cheaper job and of course someone who was familiar with the
system, Leonard once again contacted me ‘Would I give them a quote to
remove the operation from Blackpool to Glasgow in time for the Christmas
season?’ Now I’ve always been up to a challenge, but this? I said I’d
think about it. I then contacted a company, Burgess Lane Ltd in Chiswick
West London, who dealt in the repair and servicing of projector
equipment and explained the nature of the job. I told the boss Mr
Burgess, that whilst I was familiar with the system and had made the
film it used, I was totally under qualified for the technical side. Did
they have an engineer who would understand this? And would he give me a
price for his services for what I estimated to be about a week. A few
days went by and he rang me. Yes, he had an engineer who was very good
with electronics and would like the opportunity to have a go. He gave me
a price which of course excluded expenses.
I then cobbled together a budget which would give me a nice profit, then
doubled it (because I really didn’t really want to do the job), then I
phoned Leonard, who immediately accepted my quote without question.
Christ I thought what did Harkness Ltd quote? Knowing the financial
state of Circlorama, I asked for 50 percent up front and the balance
when the picture was up and running at Kelvin hall. Leonard agreed, said
‘give me your schedule and you can come up and collect your cheque’. I
glanced at the calendar. It was the middle of November! I’d have to get
my skates on! I contacted Mr Burgess and arranged the job with his
genius engineer and said it would be end of November 1965.
I had booked two tickets with Dan Air for a flight from Luton to
Blackpool and arranged to meet the brilliant engineer from Burgess Lane
under the clock at Gloucester Road Terminal at 6pm. As I had not yet met
this man, I arranged to identify myself by wearing a white carnation (corny, I know, but it worked). Alan Lavender tapped me on the shoulder
at two minutes after six. ‘Are you Mr Long ?’ said this young man, who I
judged could have been hardly more than about 17 years of age. ’Yes I am’
I said eyeing him up and down convinced Mr Burgess had sent the tea boy.
‘Do you know about SELSYN INTERLOCK SYSTEMS?’ I asked . ‘Yes I do’ he
confidently replied ‘Everyone thinks I’m young, actually I’m 23'.
flight up to Blackpool in deep technical conversation with Alan I
quickly realised that what he didn’t know about electronics wasn’t worth
knowing. He certainly was a brilliant technician.
Our first job, as we eyed the massive structure at the end of the Pier
the following morning, was to get together a work force to act under our
instructions to dismantle and load the whole damn thing onto lorries for
the journey to Glasgow. So we visited the local labour exchange and
picked a motley bunch of unemployed Irishmen. They were to report for
work at the end of the pier at 8am sharp. There were eight in all, but
only seven turned up and we set to work. Payment would be made at the
end of the day ..in cash. They worked very well and by 5pm we had most
of the equipment out. Alan was dismantling and carefully storing
everything in the first lorry. Some of it was very heavy and we were glad
to have our willing helpers.
taken on Blackpool Central pier, July 1965. Image from Ray Downing.
The next day we
awoke in our hotel rooms which overlooked the pier, looked out of the window
to discover there was a gale which we later learnt was force eight. After
breakfast, In our youthful ignorance, we set out for the end of the pier.
Out there it was worse, the wind was horrendous but we still set about the
task of dismantling the main structure . We must have been mad, stupid or
both. All the canvas panels which were fixed by rope to the outer structure
blew in the wind like huge sails. It was very difficult to fold the large
panels but somehow we managed. The third day was much the same weather
conditions but we were now under more pressure having fallen behind
Our next job was to remove the dome covering. This consisted of one
piece of heavy canvas, seventy feet in diameter. A huge parachute like
piece of canvas held in position by rope at the edges and a metal plate
made of steel, about two feet in diameter, at the centre. This in turn
was held in place by a large one inch bolt. The dome structure was
lowered by eleven winch like columns which held the roof. These had to
be gently lowered until the roof was level with the gallery. This is
when we could get to the large bolt which held the ‘parachute’ in place.
We undid the bolt, the wind got inside the structure and blew the roof
canvas up and took the disc with it, tossing it a good 500ft into the air. We shouted for everyone to take cover. The disc hit the wooden deck
of the pier just a few feet from some fishermen who were blissfully
unaware of what was happening a few hundred feet from where they were
sitting. We recovered the disc, which had dug itself vertically into the
timber and thanked our lucky stars that no one had been injured. The
roof meanwhile was flapping like fury in a full force eight gale. We had
to release it quickly or it would have shaken the structure to bits so
we decided to undo it from one side in order for it to blow away. When
it finally detached from the main structure, it flew into the wind and
ended up a mile to the north on the beach. We immediately sent a
recovery party, who bought it back on a truck as it was too heavy for
four men to carry.
advert for the 11 screens. Image: CTA Bulletin, July/ August 2011.
Click the image, to see enlargement.
We had started on the Monday, it was now Wednesday and being winter it
was too late to work. By four o’clock we had loaded two lorries and had
one to go. It was touch and go whether we would have sufficient space
to pack everything into the three vehicles. We did however complete the
loading by three o’clock the following afternoon. We had one anxious
moment when we realised the bolts which anchored the structure to the
pier had rotted due to a season of salt water spray. These would not
budge in spite of huge spanners which formed part of our dismantling
kit. We solved that one by hiring an oxyacetylene welding torch and
burning the buggers off. We waved the three vehicles off at 5pm that
afternoon with two of our team on board to look after things. Alan and I
took the train to Glasgow in order to arrive ahead of our convoy and
also to engage further labour for the erection. After our arrival in
Glasgow and fitting ourselves up with accommodation near the Kelvin hall
we took a cab down to recess the site where the Circlorama operation was
going to be. Bertram Mills Circus’ team was busy erecting a three ring circus
adjacent to where our structure was to be.
Long (left) with Leonard Urry c1976. How many of the guys will recognise
The following morning bought some bad news. Our convoy had encountered
snow drifts on the Shaps Pass and would be held up until the pass was
cleared. This we were told could take days and as we were already behind
schedule, we were worried that we could miss the day when we had to
complete in order to qualify for the opening day. We couldn’t engage
labour until we knew the lorries would definitely arrive. However help
was at hand in the form of the rigging team from Bertram Mills' circus. They had
already finished their job and by arrangement with Albert du Bois the
ringmaster, who kindly offered the services of his team, the moment our
vehicles arrived. Which they did after three worrying days. We had in
the meantime on behalf of Circlorama Ltd engaged all the staff necessary
for the running of the show once it was operational. It included three
projectionists on shifts, box office staff and a couple of managers. So
far, not bad for two of us plus unskilled labour. Our vehicles arrived
in the nick of time giving us just 24 hrs in which to get the whole
thing up and running. A daunting task, considering we had taken four
days to pull it down and load it on the transport. We geared into action
with the help of the Bertram Mills' circus riggers.
Soon, at our direction, they were climbing all over the steel structure
like a load of monkeys. They were incredible. Alan started to unravel
the miles of wiring which he had carefully packed away in Blackpool. He
certainly was an electronic genius. It looked as if we might make it
after all. We did save a lot of time by not using the steel roof which
held the canvas. Instead we hired a block and tackle and suspended the
canvas from the roof of the Kelvin Hall and attached it to the perimeter
of the structure like a huge Arabian tent. The new staff had been
called in to be briefed and Alan fixed in the final connections. We had
not had any sleep for nearly 24 hours. We were both knackered, but we
had done the impossible. I hurried to telephone Leonard to tell him the
good news. He was pleased to hear from me, but in a solemn voice
declared he had some bad news. Circlorama had filed for bankruptcy and
would be unable to meet all its debts. This was shattering news. ‘What
do I do Leonard ?’ He replied ‘I’m sending some money to pay off the
staff. Give them a week’s notice and I’ll send enough to cover you above
the fifty per cent you have already received. But I’m afraid you’ll have
to wait for any further monies until after the creditor’s inspection.’
The cinema staff and the riggers were paid off.
Shattered, Alan and I went to our Hotel and slept the sleep of the
dead. We departed for London the next day and we went our different
ways. We had shared a most unusual adventure and to this day we have
remained good friends. Shortly after, he started his own company which
he built into the leading battery technology company in Europe (Pag
Ltd). His batteries power thousands of cameras worldwide. He also
manufactures lighting equipment for the film and T V industry. He has
been deservedly successful. You can visit his website
Where it all ended up
Long (right) with Jack Cardiff 2006
Being a major creditor I was invited to sit on the inspection committee
which consisted of other creditors besides myself. The late Ray Dutfield,
financial director Technicolor later to become Managing Director. The
accountant for Circlorama, the late George Winter and various people
from, I think, The Board of Trade etc. I’m not much up on this kind of
thing but I think the payout was something like two pence in the pound
so there was nothing in the kitty in the end. What happened to Harry De
Vere Clifton? I have no idea! Leon Heppner died in the eighties.
Leonard Urry retired in 1978 and went to live in Spain. He also died in
the mid eighties.
The structure went to scrap, the projection equipment was sold to
various post production film and TV companies for very little, and the
cameras were sold to the Ministry of Defence, through a contact of mine,
and were fitted into the helmets used by the RAF free fall team!. These
cameras were ideal because the ones they were using were clockwork with
a duration of only 40 seconds whilst the Circlorama cameras could run a
full 100 feet of film without stopping. So whilst I lost money I gained
a lot of experience, met a good and lasting friend, and had an adventure
which I have told many times. But now because Thomas Hauerslev, the
editor of in 70mm.com encouraged me to put the memories down on paper, the
full information of a most remarkable oddity in the history of film is
now available for posterity.
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