Walking into a lion’s den and out again with a smile on my face

The blue plaque on a building in South Street, Mayfair, which was once the headquarters of the Rank Organisation.

It was a delight to pick my old Morris Minor up and it didn’t take me long to drive from Colchester to Basildon where I was greeted by the three young ladies in my life.

Sarah, who was two and a half years old now, was a little chatterbox while her baby sister Jacqueline, barely a year old, was just starting to toddle.

That weekend we spent time together just getting to know one another again. In the evenings, with the children in bed, Marion and I discussed the future and the most important thing was for me to find a job so that I could help support our little household.

I made it clear that at the moment I did not want to return to journalism.

We talked on and off, in between me playing with the children so that Marion could get on with her household routine, and all of us going out for a walk. Then out of nowhere, literally nowhere, the cinema raised its head.

Despite my casual dress during the tour I had always been proud of myself in a two or three-piece-suit with a smart tie and well-polished shoes or boots. Marion had once been an usherette at a local cinema before working in London. We both had an impression of a cinema manager looking smart in a lounge suit during the day and black tie and dinner suit in the evening.

At that moment I determined that instead of waiting to be told what jobs were available I would head into London the following morning and first of all try my luck with the Rank Organisation who operated the Odeon cinemas.

If that failed I could always go to the local ABC cinema in Basildon.

I had got on well with the manager of the Odeon in Rhyl when I was working there on the Journal and had always been able to get a couple of seats with no charge and invites to midnight presentations of some of the big newly-released films. I remember just such a showing of Doctor Zhivago when the guests as well as the manager were in evening wear.

At that time with no internet and no home phone I had no way of ascertaining where to go but just took the chance that once in London I could easily get an address from the phone book.

Which is precisely what I did.

On arriving at Fenchurch Street station in London I went to a phone box and looked up the Rank Organisation. The address was in South Street in Mayfair, right across London from where I was.

I needed to be careful with the pennies but I wasn’t prepared to walk that distance in a city I did not really know. I decided to take the Underground instead, it involved a bit of walking to get to the right station but overall it took me about 40 minutes.

Just as when I had travelled to Basildon for my interview in 1972 I was smartly dressed, two-piece suit, collar and tie, nothing too flashy but colours that worked together.

Outside the grand offices I took out my comb and ran it through my hair, straightened my cuffs (enough to show off a smart set of gold cufflinks my father had given me) and made my way into the building and presented myself at the reception desk.

I had no appointment and I had no idea who I needed to talk to but I think my confident air when I asked to see whoever was responsible for hiring managerial staff at Odeon cinemas impressed the receptionist.

She asked for my name and then called up a number on her switchboard.

At the best I hoped I might be given an appointment to see someone later in the week. At worst they might just tell me they weren’t holding interviews.

Instead the receptionist said that I should wait and someone would come down to meet me and take me to the appropriate department.

Even then I thought they might just take me to the personnel department where I would be asked to provide my details before being told they would write and let me know if any vacancies arose.

Maybe I should have been as confident in my mind as I was in my outward appearance because the young lady who came down to collect me took my straight to a very impressive office where a very impressive man in a dark blue pinstripe three piece suit, a crisp white shirt and a maroon tie sat behind a very large impressive desk.

He stood up, reached across to shake my hand and gestured me to a wooden chair with a padded seat on my side of the desk.

His opening question was: “Why do you want to join the Odeon management team?”

No problem there.

“I am keen on current films and period films, I am at ease with people and like to see them enjoying themselves, which they would do watching a film in the surroundings of an Odeon cinema, and cinema these days is on an equal footing with a stage show.”

It seemed the last comment was the one that caught his attention and he asked what experience I had regarding the stage as a source of entertainment.

“I have been involved in amateur dramatics for the past 12 years, not just as an actor but also as a stage hand, stage manager, lighting and sound technician and working front of house from ticket office to confectionery and ice cream sales.

“Oh, and for the last eight months I have been touring as assistant stage manager, sound technician and carrying out general duties for Harry Corbett, Sooty and Sweep.”

That got his attention.

“Sooty? THE Sooty?”

“Yes.”

At first he was like a child again reunited with his favourite TV star.

He was now hooked.

There were a few more questions about my previous work and he found it interesting that I was trained as a journalist and also that I had helped my father, the pharmacist, with stocktaking and general cashing up.

He finally asked me where I was living and how far was I prepared to travel.

The second part was, of course, any distance within reason.

Once I said Essex he immediately said that the Essex area came under a district manager based in Southend and asked if I was prepared to go there immediately to meet him.

Without hesitation I said yes.

What did surprise me was that he then said his secretary would issue me with a travel warrant from London to Southend and from Southend to Basildon as well as reimbursing my fare from Basildon to London.

I could hardly believe that my audacity in just fronting up at the offices had gained me an interview with a senior executive let alone a further interview with the district manager who decided who to take on in a managerial role.

I travelled back across London to Fenchurch Street on a cloud but came down far enough to get myself a cheese and tomato roll and a coffee to provide sustenance in advance of the next interview.

This time I was expected and once again I was presented with a smartly-dressed man behind a large desk.

He had clearly been briefed on my background so, apart from mentioning the touring show (“Did you really work for Sooty?”), he moved straight on to checking on my education before I became a journalist.

This is where I still had a bit of ammunition left in that my college course had been commerce and office practice which included the basics of general book-keeping and how to handle rosters and draw up timetables etc.

Eventually he asked me how soon I could start work if I was offered a managerial position.

“Tomorrow?”

That was a little bit too quick apparently as they had to make certain arrangements and go through certain hoops before I could actually take up my new position which was to be – career assistant manager at the Romford Odeon (told you Romford would feature in my life again) and I should report to the manager, Tony Portsche, at 9am the following Monday.

Romford Odeon in the 1970s

I travelled home on Cloud 9 to tell Marion the good news.

The next day I went to the Basildon Labour Exchange/JobCentre to sign off.

Published by Robin

I'm a retired journalist who still has stories to tell. This seems to be a good place to tell them.

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