The end of an era for Wells cinema pioneers Derek and June

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By abbie_wells | Wednesday, November 28, 2012, 11:39

Derek and June Cooper, Wells' own seasoned and locally cherished film and cinema pioneers, officially passed their business legacy onto their daughters last night in front of a crowd of local well-wishers, old friends and customers.

Local celebrity Kris Marshall even made an appearance to wish Derek and June the best, stressing that independent cinemas like Derek's should continue to be supported and valued by people in the area.

The Bishop of Bath and Wells also attended and spoke of the service Derek has done to the city, saying: "Derek has done such a service to Wells and he should know that everyone wishes him nothing but the best for his retirement."

Guests were welcomed into the faded glamour of the Regal Theatre in Wells, a fitting setting to say the least, as this building was the starting point of Derek's career in the magical industry of cinema and film.

Fondly looking back on how his love for the cinema began, Derek explained how it all started when he lived in West Pennard, and he would put posters out for his father in front of the house for which he and his friend would receive free cinema passes.

Derek said: "Every Friday evening my friend and I would cycle six miles, all the way from West Pennard to the Regal Theatre just so we could watch whatever film was showing that night.

"We would cycle back in the dark, and it wouldn't matter about the weather or whether or not we could actually see where we were going, all I would really be thinking about was the wonderful show I had just experienced.

Describing his passion for film as bordering on obsession, Derek says he truly believes that cinema is a form of entertainment "yet to be rivalled by any other art form in the world."

Entranced by the cinema, Derek later received a job at the Regal Cinema, helping the projectionist out, and following a stint working at the Odeon Cinema in Taunton, Derek returned to the Regal as manager. By then he had already met a couple of famous faces including Roy Orbison and Rita Tushingham.

"Back then it was different," Derek explained, "The stars used to tour around the cinemas of Britain to get publicity and meet their fans, it really added to the glamour of the era."

"In those days the opera used to be in the Regal as well, and it would be packed to bursting every night.

He went on to meet other big stars such as Desmond Llewelyn (James Bond), and has even mingled with the Royal family.

Bigger aspirations were starting form in Derek's head in the 70s however; he was desperate for a cinema of his own, and for four years from 1976 - 80 he started to live that dream, buying his own film emporium in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales. However rather than moving to the town, Derek and June decided an 80 mile commute would suit them best.

"It just worked out best for us at the time," said Derek, "It wasn't feasible to move up there so every weekend we'd make the trip and the locals really grew to love us up there.

He added fondly: "We used to kip on the floor of the projection room, June and I, and never did I hear a complaint from her. She really let me follow my dream, which I suppose makes it our dream."

"In 1980 three lads bought the Regal again and I returned there to help them run it. I think I'll always miss those four years in Wales though. Although I wouldn't do it now!"

When asked what he loves most about running a cinema, Derek simply replied: "The look on people's faces."

Expanding on the subject he said: "When you see a crowd of people come out, smiling or scared or thoughtful you know you've done your job because you've given them that magical and unrivaled cinema experience.

"Probably the most interesting reaction to a film I have ever seen was Schindler's List. Night after night, people flocked out of the cinema in silence, their faces shocked and worn by what they'd just seen."

Unfortunately for the couple, in 1980 the world of cinema was dramatically changing and independent centres like The Regal had to compete with state of the art multiplexes sprouting up across the country.

In 1992 the Regal finally gave up the fight and closed down.

June explained that the Regal simply was not of the same calibre as these modern multiplex cinemas: "It wasn't just that they had more screens and the fact that they could show a vast number of films every week rather than just one.

"They were cleaner and more attractive. The Regal, well, paint was coming off everywhere and in comparison it was a state and you just couldn't get away with that anymore."

Derek added: "It really was a dark time in my life and my career looked as though it had come to a dead end."

However, as luck would have it, the club just next door was up for sale and seeing its potential, Derek invested in it, starting up the still strong, well-loved and successfu,l Wells Film Centre.

Over 20 years Wells Film Centre has grown from one screen to three, Derek even employed (and fired) the famed director Edgar Wright at one point, who returned to premier his film Hot Fuzz at the Film Centre. A moment Derek describes as the true highlight of his career.

Now the business is being passed on to his daughter Sally, who has inherited her parents' love of film:

"It's hard not to love cinema with parents like mine," Sally said, "and I know I'll do the business they've built justice."

She added "Dad will still be there to help me IF I need it, it's not like he's turning his back on it."

And although many don't actually believe Derek when he says he's retiring, he has assured them it's true, saying: "40 years in the industry is enough for me,

"I'm looking forward to doing some jigsaws and having a holiday, it really is my time to retire."

As a thank you to all the guests who attended his retirement party, Derek invited them to a free pre-release screening of the new period blockbuster, Great Expectations.

      

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