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Our Star of the Silver Screen

Birkenhead Town Hall can boast many treasures - stained glass windows, polished granite and Minton tiled floors and an impressive concert hall. 

Less well known, though, is its collection of historic cinema equipment which one man - Mike Taylor - has dedicated 27 years of voluntary service to, ensuring it remains in tip-top condition and ready to show the magic of celluloid to future generations of movie-goers.

As a schoolboy in Liverpool, Mike always wanted to work in the movies and helping out at his school’s film club gave him his first role in the business. 

Mike said: ‘When I left school I was one of four boys in my class to become apprentice projectionists, which shows how many cinemas there were back then - nearly 100 at one point. You could count the number of cinemas in Merseyside on your fingers now. 

‘In Wallasey alone there were seven; the Tivoli, Marina, Winter Gardens, Empress, ABC, Gaumont and Queens. Birkenhead had some smashers too, including the Super, the Argyle and the ‘Showplace of the North’ - the beautiful Ritz.

‘It wasn’t the technical or practical side of the industry that interested me - I’ve always loved the cinematography and the magic that is created through a simple piece of celluloid coated in emulsion – that’s the real art of motion pictures.’

After a career spent in cinemas across Merseyside, Mike has many wonderful memories. 

‘I was lucky enough to be working in the Paramount on London Road in Liverpool when it hosted the premier of Hard Day’s Night. John Lennon personally brought the projection team a few beers up to say thanks... I really wish I’d got him to sign the bottle now!’

Mike got involved in the cinema at Birkenhead Town Hall at the start of the 1990s when its Assembly Room was kitted out as a professional cinema for the opening of Wirral Museum. Much of the equipment was salvaged from elsewhere by the Projected Picture Trust, including two wonderful ‘Peerless’ projectors dating from the 1940s.

The cinema opened in 1993 and was run by Birkenhead Library Film Society, supported by Mike and other volunteers. They showed their last film, the Wizard of Oz, just before Christmas 2013. 

Now, after nearly five ‘dark’ years during which time Mike spent every Friday morning maintaining the equipment, he is delighted to be screening a classic film again.

Mike explains: ‘As part of Wirral Arts Festival, on 12th October we showed the 1933 version of the original King Kong. As with any film that age, there were some scratches and joins and a few ‘plops and bangs’ as we say, but it was full of texture and character. Before the main feature we had a lovely selection of old ads and trailers, including the original 1939 one for ‘Gone With The Wind’. 

‘We’re the only place in Wirral capable of showing classic movies on film, so I reckon we’re the borough’s best kept secret!’