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My first encounter with 70mm film
Gaumont, Manchester, England

The 70mm Newsletter
Written by: David Slack, Boston UK Date: 09.11.2008
The Gaumont, Manchester, must be one of the least photographed cinemas in the world - especially the interior! However I have attached a sketch of the theatre and a copy of the original newspaper announcement for "South Pacific". These are taken from a book, 'Magic in the Dark' by Derek J Southall

It was in summer, 1958 when I first saw a 70mm film - "South Pacific" - "The First show in Todd-AO", when it played at the Gaumont Cinema,
Manchester, UK. This was the first Todd-AO installation after the film premiered at the Dominion, London. The experience launched my interest in widescreen movies and especially 70mm and Cinerama.

One day I overheard a work colleague telling another about a 'marvelous film' she had seen the night before and how 'fantastic' it was on a 'huge curved screen' - not to mention the sound! This caught my imagination, for until then I had only experienced CinemaScope in those cinemas which had, until then, installed it. I asked my colleague for more details about the film which was "South Pacific" and where it was showing. Later that day I bought a local evening paper and turned to the cinemas listings page to find out showing times, etc. I was surprised that the performances were at set times, and not continuous, and pre-booking was advised. I noted the cinema telephone number and later phoned to book myself a seat. I was astonished that the cheapest available would cost me 7/6, (35p), but realizing that this must be quite an event, I went ahead a booked a seat in the Gaumont rear circle.

To go to Manchester from my home in Cheshire, in those days, was quite an event in in itself and to make my first visit to a city cinema was a great thrill. When I arrived in Oxford Street, Manchester I was amazed to see so many cinemas in close proximity; the Odeon, the Gaiety, the Theatre Royal, the Oxford, the News Theatre, the Regal Twins, and, most impressive of all, was the Gaumont.
More in 70mm reading:

A Visit to Manchester
"The Miracle of Todd-AO"
"The March of Todd-AO"
"South Pacific"

My First 70mm

Internet link:



The original newspaper announcement for "South Pacific". These are taken from a book, 'Magic in the Dark' by Derek J Southall

It had a huge marquee displaying large red neon letters announcing the film and its stars. Wrapped around the base of the building were large colourful signs with the "South Pacific" logo and scenes from the film. I collected my ticket from the somewhat modest ticket booth and entered the downstairs foyer. It was magnificent! Very elaborate carvings everywhere and chandeliers and a winding staircase which I ascended to the Mirror Gallery from where there were two entrances leading to the dress and rear circles. The auditorium was stunning, absolutely beautiful. Rich and ornate plasterwork, subtle lighting and statues! A Compton (I think) organ was raised at the left side of the stage where the organist was playing a medley of tunes. The atmosphere was one of anticipation, everyone was smiling.

Eventually the lights dimmed and the curtains opened to reveal a huge deeply curved screen as the title of the film appeared on the screen: "The Miracle of Todd-AO". This short demonstration film preceded "South Pacific" at its initial roadshow presentations in the UK, although it was originally shown with "Oklahoma!" in the USA. Later, when "Oklahoma!" was re-released as a Todd-AO presentation in this country,
"The March of Todd-AO" was presented with that feature.

What a brilliant introduction to Todd-AO! Breathtaking! "The Miracle of Todd-AO" was just that. At the point in the film where the police motor cycle crashes into the side of a van on a hill in San Francisco, the screen went black, and nothing further was shown.
The big building to the left is a car park. Built where Gaumont cinema once were. Image by Thomas Hauerslev, September 2007

The theater was shrill with laughter, what a great start. But before everyone could get their breaths, and with nothing more than a five second pause, house lights kept down, the titles for "South Pacific" came up and we were immediately smothered by that wonderful title music and stunning images. A brilliant piece of presentation which remained thoughout the films long run.

"South Pacific" ran for over two years at the Gaumont and returned later for a further six months. I saw it many times during that period and introduced countless others to the wonder of 70mm. I saved all my ticket stubs and later presented them with all my other movie memorabilia to the National Media Museum in Bradford. A few months later I discovered Cinerama at the London casino, but that is another story...

Now I own the roadshow version of "South Pacific" on DVD along with the two Todd-AO demos and I never tire of looking at them. Wonderful memories of an era never to be repeated.
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Updated 07-01-23