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Film reel and the rotary dial telephone 



The Apollo Manchester (later the ABC Ardwick) opened its doors in August 1938 during the golden age of cinema. In 1977 celluloid film spooled through the projectors for the last time and the theatre became exclusively a music and comedy venue. The projection box at the rear of the theatre has remained untouched ever since.  

The theatre drew its patrons from the working class population of East Manchester, offering an escape from the hardships of everyday life. The big screen experience brought a touch of Hollywood glamour in difficult economic times. Patrons were also kept informed of world events through newsreels during this boom time for the British picture house.

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One of the two projectors


The 02 Apollo Manchester today

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The cinema auditorium, 1950s

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Interval music

A vinyl LP of ‘Big Terror Movie Themes’ makes a colourful splash in what is otherwise a largely monochrome room. Disaster movies such as ‘Jaws’ and ‘The Towering Inferno’ were blockbuster movies of the mid 1970s. The soundtrack was almost certainly used as incidental music for the patrons in the auditorium, before films and during intervals. Could this music be some of the last to be played through the cinema’s speakers?

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An abandoned billboard poster from Prince’s 2002 Apollo show

The film reel storage boxes stand at the rear of the room, as they have done for 80 years. Each slot is numbered to ensure that the film reels being projected are in sequence. Some movies may have 2 or 3 reel changes in a showing. Get this wrong and the projection box telephone would go in to meltdown.

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Paint peels

The projection box today is used as storage space, the projectors obscured by a mountain of administrative junk. What once would have been the beating heart of the theatre is now gripped by an overpowering sense of claustrophobia.

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Dual Projectors

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The sign on the shutter says ‘Please Keep Closed When Not in Use.’ This thin piece of metal is all that separates the projection box from vast expanse of the auditorium. It is impossible to know whether the shutter has been opened since the theatre stopped showing films in the late 1970s.

The walls and ceilings adjacent to the huge projectors are charred and crackled from the intense heat generated by the machinery. A tinder dry FIRE procedure notice ironically clings to the brickwork in a defiant gesture.

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Storage boxes & skylight

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Fire procedure notice


Esso lubrication

High up ‘in the gods’ at the back of the rear circle, the blocked apertures of the projection box are still clearly visible. The theatre’s listed building status guarantees that the outward façade remains untouched. The projector shutters were closed for the last time over 40 years ago.

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The projection box apertures at the rear of the circle

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Former projectionist, Derick Moss

Derick Moss who was the Apollo’s Assistant Manager and trainee projectionist in the 1960s provided me with invaluable technical information about the projection box. On close inspection of the technical data on this image, Derick revealed that not only were these the same projectors which he operated in the 1960s, but were in fact the original machines installed in the theatre in 1938.

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Ozzy Osbourne gig programme

The well worn auditorium amplifier’s basic construction belies its power to fill such a huge auditorium with sound. Derick Moss explained how the sound through the amplifier had to proceed the projected image by a split second, to balance the differential between the speed of sound and the speed of light.

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