Search

Mr Barr, man of influence...

PUBLISHED: 11:04 16 April 2009 | UPDATED: 09:17 11 May 2010

CENTENARY SOON: The Empire on Great Yarmouth's Golden Mile, seen here in 1988 when it was a cinema, will be celebrating its 100th birthday in 2011.

CENTENARY SOON: The Empire on Great Yarmouth's Golden Mile, seen here in 1988 when it was a cinema, will be celebrating its 100th birthday in 2011.

A NAME that occasionally finds its way into this column is that of Mr E V Barr - Ernest Valentine Barr, to give it in full - a businessman with financial involvement in various enterprises, big and small, in Great Yarmouth and Gorleston in the first four decades of the last century.

A NAME that occasionally finds its way into this column is that of Mr E V Barr - Ernest Valentine Barr, to give it in full - a businessman with financial involvement in various enterprises, big and small, in Great Yarmouth and Gorleston in the first four decades of the last century.

He was a man known to many of the borough's residents, and he probably employed many of them, or met their requirements as regards goods or services, albeit indirectly through the companies in which he had invested. The local entertainments industry was one of his favourites, it appears. But my wish to tell you about his life and times has been thwarted. Despite his long, influential role I cannot discover much about him. Historians whom I have approached have been unable to help. Presumably his obituary occupied a large, deserved space in the Mercury, but I have no idea when he died so I cannot look it up.

One slender clue is that my 1937 Kelly's Directory lists his home address as 11 Trafalgar Road, Yarmouth - today Tudor House - in that elegant terrace of bed-and-breakfasts facing the green. And his name is perpetuated by inclusion in the electrical engineering firm of Bowers and Barr, still trading from Hall Plain and a century ago sharing 25 Regent Street with the local press office; the Mercury and its sister publications moved last year to King Street, and the upstairs of that old office is being converted into apartments.

Inserting “E V Barr” into an internet search engine reveals: “The Gem (formerly the Windmill) was leased by E V Barr Limited. Barr was a local trader with interests in several cinemas in the Lowestoft and Yarmouth area; he was the lessee of the Empire (opened in 1911) on Yarmouth's Marine Parade, not far from the Gem, and had a stake in the Gorleston Coliseum, opened August bank holiday 1913 and demolished 1970.” Also, Ernest Barr was chairman and managing director of the new Regal Cinema that opened 75 years ago. His fellow directors included others who were also shareholders in local companies, such as Douglas Attree (the Coliseum, for one). I believe Mr Barr had money in the Gorleston Super Holiday Camp that opened in the late 1930s.

I would be grateful to any reader who can help me to flesh out those scanty details about a man of some influence in the local business scene. Cecilia Ebbage, of Lovewell Road, Gorleston, now 92 but with a sharp memory for people and events long past, told me recently: “I used to write the synopses of the feature films for the four cinemas (plus the Coliseum) for Mr Barr. His 'chief chap' used to bring back the information from London so it was easy to condense it.”

Another correspondent, former Yarmouth police sergeant John Calthorpe, of Gorleston, writes: “In 1941 I got a job as fourth operator at the Empire Cinema for about 15 shillings (75p) a week. Most cinemas had up to four operators, in order of seniority.”

His manager, a Mr Bowles, made him do other jobs, like wearing uniform to collect tickets on the door. On Fridays, he mixed fish glue from a barrel and cycled around 50 locations in the urban borough pasting up posters advertising the next week's film programmes. One day the trade cycle fell over, drenching him in smelly fish glue!

“In those days, operating boxes were very basic. There were twin projectors, each film reel ran for about 20 minutes, and operators had to watch out for the marking spots 10 seconds before the spool ended, ready to switch to the preloaded other projector. Occasionally there were hiccoughs when the join was not seamless, causing the audience to shout and jeer.”

At the end of each night John had to rewind all the spools, kept in large aluminium containers, checking them for bad spots that he excised, rejoining the film with a special solution. The films were moved around from cinema to cinema during Wednes-day and Saturday nights, when most cinemas had a change of programme.

“I also had to change the 'stills' - large black and white photographs of scenes from films to be shown on the following days, displayed in glass cases outside the cinema.”

As it was wartime and he was only 15, his manager ordered him to take his turn at fire-watching. This meant staying alone in the large cinema every fourth night in case there was an air raid and the building caught fire.

John recalls: “I realise now that I had no idea at that time of what action I would have taken had there been a fire, and in any case, at my age, I should never have been there at all. We were supplied with a manually-operated stirrup pump and a few pails of water.

“There were many bombing raids on Yarmouth while I worked there, and most were at night when I was alone in the building. I realised the danger and always left the building during a raid. I felt much safer lying flat on the promenade or crouching behind a nearby building.

“The benevolent manager had to provide sustenance for his fire-watchers or pay them for a meal. He always gave me a tin of soup and a pint of milk - what a skinflint! After one night raid I can remember cycling home to Southtown at 7am to see the trail of devastation and a gas-producing works not far from my home had been bombed. A very large circular gasholder had been flattened and looked like a very large crooked frying pan.

“Millions of gallons of water, released from the bottom of the gas-holder, flooded the surrounding area. Fortunately, my parents were OK.”

John adds: “I wasn't sorry to leave that job after 18 months to be trained as an electrician with Bowers & Barr. I met Mr Barr, who, incidentally, was partner with Mr Attree, running the Coliseum Cinema in Gorleston, at that time.”

Years ago, most cinemas had continuous programmes; today, the norm is for everyone to enter for the start of

the film and leave at the end. People who entered during a film under the old system would leave when they recognised that they had caught up and seen everything, including the

B-picture, newsreel, cartoons, travelogue and adverts. “This where we came in,” couples would say to one another, as they prepared to get up and shuffle out.


If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Great Yarmouth Mercury. Click the link in the orange box above for details.

Become a supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Latest from the Great Yarmouth Mercury