Hemel Hempstead Old Town Hall Memories

Film & Pianola

By Alan French

Going through my old e-mails, I found a submission made to a journal whose name I shall keep anonymous. It was in response for memories of the Old Town Hall. After some searching, I did not find that my memories were published. Upon re-reading the article, I feel that people, who, like me, are interested in films and pianos, may enjoy the article. So in view of the fact that my memory is an unpublished item gathering microchip dust within a computer e-mail file, why waste it? There now follows the unpublished work:

Film and pianolas  

The emphasis in the recent article regarding the Old Town Hall, seems to be that of live entertainment. But oddly enough my entertainment memories are that of film and pianolas. One of them involved a film which projected on a screen placed flat facing upward on a floor. The audience entered a small curtained enclosure and gazed at aerial views specially filmed and which now were projected by some mirror refracted system onto the screen. I am not sure who presented the event.

Hemel Hempstead Cine Society

Two other film events that I recall were presented partially or wholly by my film and video club. As Hemel Hempstead Cine Society, we had on occasion, presented the results of an international film competition called The Ten Best. The last time that we did this was in the Old Town Hall. The other event, was presented either just prior or after we changed our name to Hemel Hempstead Movie Makers. This was an all day event. We, on behalf or in conjunction with another club, presented films made on the single eight gauge. The other club specialised in this gauge. Single eight was a rival and similar gauge to super eight. However, where more than one company manufactured super eight, only Fuji made single eight film.


However, there is one event that I attended one Saturday morning or afternoon that did not have anything to do with films. It was to do with mechanical piano playing. On display there was a pianola. The hammers were external and placed over a real piano’s keyboard. A paper roll was placed inside the pianola and one could pedal away and allow the pianola to play the real piano.

Mechanical Pianos

However, someone did take this invention further and invented a player piano, which was both a real piano and a mechanical one. Inside were two special pedals which when operated by foot, again, a paper roll would be operated, and with a combination of bellows pipes, cog wheels etc…… (hidden from view), a tune could be played. As years progressed, someone invented electric versions so that the pedals moved without the assistance of human feet. Now that the coming of everything being done by one piano, which could be played both by a pianist or a mechanical paper roll, many of the earlier pianolas were destroyed. These I gather are rare and very valuable.

Today the system is computerised. The player pianos were operated while the audience sat, listened and enjoyed tea, cakes and scones in the Old Town Hall. It was very enjoyable.

This page was added on 24/11/2010.

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