Memories of Morecambe cinema boss ‘Uncle Mac’

Douglas 'Mac' MacGregor with Bond girl Caroline Munro outside the Empire Cinema during a run of The Spy Who Loved Me in 1977.
Douglas 'Mac' MacGregor with Bond girl Caroline Munro outside the Empire Cinema during a run of The Spy Who Loved Me in 1977.

Back in the days when Morecambe thrived with multiple cinemas and theatres a man affectionately known as ‘Uncle Mac’ was at its entertainment heart.

Douglas MacGregor was the popular manager of the Empire Cinema on the seafront – a friendly face known to thousands of adults and children alike.

A newspaper cutting of Douglas 'Mac' MacGregor and children from his kids club at the Empire Cinema in Morecambe.

A newspaper cutting of Douglas 'Mac' MacGregor and children from his kids club at the Empire Cinema in Morecambe.

As crowds queued down the promenade to see the blockbuster movies of the late 60s, 70s and early 80s, Douglas was in charge of making sure the films were ready to roll.

Now approaching his 97th birthday, ‘Mac’ has reflected on those days with affection.

“It was quite a thing to go to the cinema in those days,” he said.

“The Empire was a very busy cinema.During James Bond films queues would reach all the way to the Promenade Station (now the Platform). Sometimes we even had Bond girls there to promote the films.

Douglas 'Mac' MacGregor with his daughters Deirdre Percival and Karen Jones at his home in Bare.

Douglas 'Mac' MacGregor with his daughters Deirdre Percival and Karen Jones at his home in Bare.

“There were children’s matinees every Saturday afternoon. Some 400 children would attend.

“Back then I had to go up to Scotland to collect the films, to make sure they didn’t get into the wrong hands.

“I used to do all the banking, the paperwork, make sure that everything was in place for shows, all the advertising. I worked a lot of hours.

“Back then we had the Morecambe Composite Card. This listed all the shows in all the venues in Morecambe. This went all around the town, to all the boarding houses. We had all our films listed on there.”

Douglas ran the Empire from the late 60s until it closed in August 1985.

Prior to that, he also worked at a number of Morecambe’s other cinemas including the Odeon, Plaza and Palladium.

Born in Dalrymple near Ayr, Scotland in October 1920, ‘Mac’ had a great love for Morecambe from a young age.

As a child he holidayed in the town, enjoying shows at the Central Pier, the fairground and the Arcadian theatre.

His first job was in 1936 at the ABC Cinema in Camden, London. The family had moved down south several years before.

“When war broke out I was working at the Euston Cinema opposite Euston Station,” he said.

“I left there to join the RAF. Three weeks later a bomb was dropped (near Euston Cinema) as patrons were coming out and people were killed.”

Douglas served for six years in the RAF, stationed in the Outer Hebrides, then was sent to join the 5th Army and the Desert Airforce in Naples.

After he was demobbed, in 1946 he took a job with theatre boss Ernest Binns at the New Pavilion in Redcar, painting and also playing small parts.

Mr Binns also ran the Arcadian theatre in Morecambe. ‘Mac’ would later work as a scenery artist at the Arcadian’s depot on White Lund.

At that time he met his future wife Dorothy who was performing on the West End Pier as a principal ‘soubrette’ singer and dancer. They were married in 1952.

‘Mac’ also worked as a trainee and relief cinema manager at that time. His first job in Morecambe was at the Odeon on Euston Road. Then in 1955 he took over as boss of the Plaza on Queen Street. Later, he moved to the Empire.

As a cinema boss, ‘Mac’ was at the centre of town life. He twice helped to judge the Morecambe Bathing Beauties contests at the Super Swimming Stadium, was secretary of the Morecambe Managers Association for four years and even drove the Empire’s 
Morecambe Carnival float.

In his spare time Douglas loved working on cars and built his own bungalow at Overton with his own hands, doing all the plumbing and electrics himself after learning from DIY magazines.

After the Empire closed, Douglas went to work for Granada Bingo in Morecambe and further afield, before retiring in 1987. After 64 years of marriage, his wife Dorothy passed away last year.

Douglas now lives in Bare, surrounded by his happy memories of his career and his family including his two daughters Deirdre and Karen, four grandchildren and six great grandchildren.

But like many of his generation, he wishes Morecambe was still like those exciting days when there was entertainment around every corner. Most of the places where he worked: the Palladium, the Arcadian, the Plaza, the Odeon and the Empire, are all long gone.

“The way I see Morecambe at the moment is that it’s a lovely shop window but with nothing in it,” he said.