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Eddie is the Borders’ own ‘Mr Movies’

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Eddie Poole began his life-long love affair with the magic of cinema in his home town of Preston before the outbreak of the Second World War.

More than seven decades later and, despite being technically ‘retired’ for 15 years, he still plays a pivotal role in his family’s business, running the Pavilion Cinema in Galashiels.

The Pooles have run the four-screen Pavilion since it opened in 1996 after the conversion of the former Kingsway cinema in the town’s Market Square.

But it’s a long way from Eddie’s humble beginnings in the moving picture industry, when he was bought a hand-cranked 9.5mm projector for Christmas.

Eddie, who has lived in Greenlaw with wife, Ann, since 2003, used the projector to run silent films, starring the likes of Charlie Chaplin.

“When the war finished, my parents then bought a 16mm silent projector, for which the quality of film was much better and I also joined a local film library,” he told us.

“I’d converted the projector for sound. I was a keen cinema-goer, like everyone was in the days before television, and I wanted to imitate what was happening in cinemas in town. So my dad painted me a white screen with a black border on a piece of hardboard which I could put up in our lounge.

“I surrounded it with electric curtains and lights operated from the projector and converted the front room into a small cinema, complete with music, dimming house and stage lights.”

And it was while in his last year of secondary school that a work experience trip to the local Ritz cinema in Preston saw the 15-year-old Eddie end up with a part-time job as a relief projectionist several nights a week.

“By the time I left school, I’d been at the Ritz for the best part of a year. It was 1950 and they asked if I wanted a full-time job as second projectionist on £6 a week – my dad was only just earning that!

“I loved doing it, but my dad said ‘no’, as he didn’t feel it was a recognised trade. He said learn a trade and then you go and do what you want.

“He was actually right to some extent, as it wasn’t long after that that TV started to encroach in the mid-1950s and cinema admissions began to fall right across the country.”

Although he carried on working part-time at the Ritz, Eddie eventually took up an apprenticeship that saw him train as an electronic instrumentation mechanic for the Britain’s fledgling atomic energy industry.

“I pretty much dropped my interest in cinema after that as I just didn’t have the time. I had a couple of nights each week at night school plus I’d taken up athletics – I met Ann at an athletics meeting.”

There followed a raft of moves around the country, from Dorset to Edinburgh, including a long stint working for the English Electric Company supervising teams of mechanics and engineers maintaining and repairing the huge computers of the 1950s.

Eventually he left English Electric to join a small firm set up by a former colleague which involved travelling the country as a mobile mechanic working on computers for various customers.

In the end, however, he grew tired of driving hundreds of miles to find out the only problem with a particular machine was someone had not switched it on properly, only to then be faced with driving hundreds of miles back home again.

So the Pooles settled in Ayton, where they made a complete change, running the local grocery store.

But a chance drive past a cinema in Dunoon had already seen Eddie’s dormant interest in the cinema rekindled.

“I went in and spoke to the owner as I couldn’t figure out he could make a living when cinema was meant to be dead and buried by this point.

“So we bought couple of 16mm sound projectors and went on the road doing mobile shows in the evenings – that was in the late 1970s.

“It was during this period that we put on films at the construction village for the workers building Torness nuclear power station. There was one film they wouldn’t let us show – the China Syndrome! Not surprising really,” Eddie laughed.

“We rented films from people like Warner Brothers, Fox and Disney, which had all their films on 16mm and you just paid them a percentage of the take or on a flat fee basis.”

An acquaintanceship made through a mutual enjoyment of dinghy sailing on Loch Tummel saw the Pooles agree a deal to rent and reopen the disused Reel cinema in Pitlochry.

“That was 1981 and the first film we showed at Pitlochry was The Empire Strikes Back,” explained Eddie.

“It should’ve been the Pooles strike back!” quipped Ann.

And it was the start of big things, with the next decade seeing the family take on the running of cinemas in, amongst other places, Arbroath, Dundee, Eyemouth in 1983, and finally the Roxy in Kelso in 1985. The various cinemas were complemented with bingo, discos and roller discos to keep them afloat, with all the family taking a hand in their operation.

But by 1993, the Pooles had taken on the Kingsway cinema in Galashiels for the property’s new local owners.

They had pretty much divested themselves of many of their other cinema interests to focus on keeping the Galashiels cinema and bingo going while the building was converted into a modern four-screen cinema.

Ann took up the story: “It was a horrendous time. They’d taken out the old heating system and we had regulars who brought cushions and hot water bottles to keep warm when watching a film.

“The roof was also being replaced above the entrance and the rain regularly poured through and we needed buckets and pails everywhere and were constantly mopping it up.”

But it was worth it when The Pavilion finally opened its doors in the March of 1996.

Although supposedly retired, Eddie still helps out youngest son Andrew with the booking of films for The Pavilion, dealing with big distributors and doing publicity.

He reveals the most successful film he ever booked was Mel Gibson’s blockbuster, Braveheart, which ran for a year at The Pavilion. “We wore our copy out and had to ask for another!”

Eddie says his love of cinema is a combination of everything from the technical side, to the films themselves and the element of showmanship needed to present films successfully for audiences.

“When I used to run my little front-room cinema all those years ago, I used to get all my friends and relatives to come in.

“It was a halfpenny to sit on the floor, a penny for a hard chair and tuppence to get on the settee!”

Ann added: “He used to show them outside as well; on the gable end of the house next door.”

Eddie explained: “ I had the projector set up to point through our window onto the end wall of the house – not so much a drive-in as a sit-in!”

And despite the modern impact of the internet and the streaming of movies to 
devices, such as iPads, Eddie, now a grandfather and great-grandfather who celebrates his 80th birthday next month, is confident cinema still has a future.

“As the lights go down and the curtains draw back – there’s nothing like it. It’s still magical,” he whispers.

 

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