‘There weren’t many like him’ – master of cinema projection dies, aged 84
PUBLISHED: 13:44 21 February 2017 | UPDATED: 13:44 21 February 2017
Glowing tributes have been paid to a Suffolk cinema projectionist – believed to have been the world’s oldest in his profession.
Neville Parry, who retired in 2014 but continued to work for a few hours every Monday at Aldeburgh Cinema, died after being taken ill on Saturday, February 18, aged 84.
Mr Parry left school at 14 for a job at the Playhouse in Felixstowe, before moving across town to the Ritz cinema.
After being rejected by the RAF due to his height, he travelled to Australia and sold Wurlitzer jukeboxes for three years, until returning home and marrying Jean – an usherette he met in Felixstowe.
For many years, he combined driving ambulances with working as a projectionist in the evenings, before taking a more permanent role at Aldeburgh Cinema aged 64.
Cinema manager Thomas Gerstenmeyer said: “It’s a well-used cliché to say ‘they don’t make them like that anymore’, but in Neville’s case it was spot on.
“The news hasn’t quite sunk in. I saw him only a week ago. He was chipper, upbeat and looking forward to warmer weather.
“Neville had a built-in ability to care. He was always cracking the same jokes and bringing smiles to our faces.”
Mr Parry’s last job at Aldeburgh Cinema was to present the first of a new season of Matinées Musicales with art broadcaster and impresario Humphrey Burton.
In 2015, a film about Mr Parry’s career premiered during Aldeburgh’s 20th documentary film festival. The cinema is planning to rescreen A Life Illuminated: Neville Parry, Cinema Projectionist in his memory.
The film’s director Jon Saward, a Suffolk New College media tutor, said: “Film was an integral part of Neville’s being. There weren’t many like him – if any.
“He was the last link in a chain that starts with a film being made. He was very careful to maintain traditions during a time of transition from film to digital projection.”
Leiston Film Theatre manager Wayne Burns, who learned the trade as Mr Parry’s apprentice for three years, said: “I met Neville as a teenager with an ambition of becoming a projectionist.
“He was gracious and welcoming. He allowed me to shut the curtains, which I did it too early – during an advert – and he marched me to the door and told me to go away – although those weren’t his exact words!
“When I returned at 18, he opened the door and said ‘not you again’. It was the start of a wonderful relationship. He was the best tutor anyone could have. He was a master at what he did, but made it look very easy.
“At times, Neville was very much a father figure to me. It’s a shock to hear of his passing. I’m thrilled a documentary was made about his life. It’s a nice tribute to him.
“Although he was concerned about the future of 35mm film, he really embraced the digital era. Despite certain restrictions, he still managed to put his personal stamp on each presentation.
“He was a showman and a perfectionist. He made a point of bringing the lights up and closing the curtains on the last frame of the credits.
“If I hadn’t received such a nice welcome from Neville, I wouldn’t be doing what I do today. I’ve passed on a lot of his traditions to other people.”
Andrew Clarke, Arts Editor for the East Anglian Daily Times, said: “Neville Parry was a man who spent his life conducting a love affair with film. In his own way, he was a showman. The presentation of the film meant a lot to him; the way that each print was checked for scratches and joins when it was first delivered, the way that the curtains opened at exactly the right point to reveal the evening’s film and to frame the screen. It was the little things and his attention to detail which made Neville the consummate professional he was.
“He embraced the digital era but his real love was the feel of 35mm film running through his hands. He loved the art, skill and discipline of running a feature film single reel and performing seamless change overs between two projectors, in an era when most multiplex cinemas were running on automated ‘cake stand’ projectors, which could contain a whole feature, trailers and adverts.
“He was a true gentleman, and during the course of 30 years, every time our paths crossed, he revealed himself to be a true enthusiast. My own treasured memory came in the mid-90s – he took me up into the projection box and showed me how to make-up a film print. That was a special day, and something Neville didn’t have to do, but he wanted to share his love for film, and that was the kind of man he was.”
In 2014, when Mr Parry officially retired, he recalled one of his most memorable experiences as a projectionist, during the screening of a Roy Rogers film. Having mistakenly joined two odd reels of film, he watched the hero switch from atop his horse in one frame, to the middle of a bar brawl in the next, and then back to his horse minutes later. “The phone nearly rang off the wall,” he said. “It was the manager demanding to know what on earth I had done to his cinema.”
The same year, he was granted lifetime honorary membership of the East Anglian branch of the National Association of Decorative and Fine Arts, which also commissioned A Life Illuminated: Neville Parry, Cinema Projectionist.