Taffy… a rare old bird!

Billy Bell reminds us that cinema presentation standards aren’t always as high as they should be ­— and that projectionists didn’t always concentrate fully on the job in hand.


Carrying out one’s monthly routine cinema servicing commitments often engendered a feeling of pleasure at the thought of seeing some projectionist friends once again. It must be stated, however, that some service visits failed to produce this feel-good factor.

One projectionist, who always created a feeling of apprehension, was old Taffy, whom I met on a regular basis, due to the fact that his projectors were always breaking down. At least, that’s what Taffy would tell his bosses in order to cover up his many mistakes in the projection room. Taffy’s bosses finally succumbed and decided to buy new projection equipment.

As a general rule the installation of new projection and sound equipment would take one whole week, and the cinema would still remain open during this period. Taffy would carry on with the usual routine of making up the film programme and putting on a picture
show whilst trying to cope with the inconvenience of having engineers and
the new equipment cluttering up his projection room. On the first day of this confusion, Taffy, mistakenly, laced up the wrong film and started the afternoon film performance with the cowboy picture, instead of the supporting detective “B” film. The manager was quick to point this out to Taffy, who immediately changed over, from the middle of the cowboy film, on one projector, to the middle of the detective film on the other machine. The film programme, as advertised, was now back on track, and a much relieved Taffy told us that he didn’t expect the audience to complain. He said that they would just think that it was a complicated storyline and would blame themselves for not being able to follow the plot.

One morning during the installation, the manager came into the projection room with two wing mirrors for his new car. He told Taffy that the car was parked outside and asked him if he would attach the wing mirrors to the shiny new vehicle. Taffy borrowed an electric drill and a hole cutter in order to do this. After drilling the holes he came back to collect the mirrors and then went back again to finish the job. Moments later he returned in a state of shock and told us the manager’s new car had been stolen. When Taffy broke this to the manager, he told him he must have drilled holes in someone else’s car, as his was still outside the cinema!

Taffy was also interested in making extra money on the side. He would do this by buying defunct television sets in Petticoat Lane Market, and would bring them back to his projection room. He would then ask the service engineer, on his regular visit, to repair the sets, so that he could sell them on at a profit.

The installation of Taffy’s new projection equipment was carried out during the summer months — and during this time he asked me if I would like to buy a turkey for Christmas. He explained that his brother had a turkey farm in Wales and that he would fatten a bird especially for me in time for the festive season. I agreed to this and paid a deposit on the bird. I saw Taffy again several months later and asked about the turkey’s progress. He told me that he had recently visited his brother’s farm and recognised my bird immediately, because it had a label with my name on it tied to its neck. When I conveyed these graphic details to my daughter, she declared “I’m not going to eat it”. Taffy was a likeable old rogue, but in all probability, the turkey, like his dodgy TV sets, was more likely to come from Petticoat Lane Market than a remote farm in Wales. We bought a freshly plucked goose instead.