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Movie heaven right here in Bradford
n the 26-year history of the National Media Museum in its various guises, June has been a special month.
On June 16, 1983, the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television opened in former white elephant Wardley House.
On June 16, 1999, the museum was formally reopened by actor Pierce Brosnan after a £16m refit, which added 25 per cent more space. The building’s new glass frontage, curved like a piece of cine-film, corresponded beautifully with the curved domes of the Alhambra and Odeon.
And then on June 12 this year, the National Media Museum, renamed in 2006, announced that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation in Paris had designated Bradford the world’s first City of Film.
Yet without the imagination and drive of former Bradford Council chief executive, the late Gordon Moore, neither the museum nor the £7.4m refurbishment of the Alhambra in the mid-1980s would have happened. Although a dominant force at City Hall, Mr Moore empowered and encouraged his officers to go after schemes that would make a difference – such as weekend breaks for tourists. Central Government policy in the 1970s was that museums should be located in the provinces rather than London. The National Railway Museum opened in York in 1975 and has proved a massive draw since.
In December, 1980, the announcement was made that the half-empty Wardley House building was to be the site of the National Science Museum’s new enterprise: a museum for photography, film and television.
Bradford was under the hammer of the first recession that was decimating manufacturing industry. Unemployment was roaring along to the 30,000 mark. Something needed to be done. Gordon Moore encouraged the Council’s Economic Development Unit to pursue the idea of the scheme, proposed by Science Museum director Dame Margaret Weston.
The museum cost £1.8m. Bradford Council won grants from the European Regional Development Fund of £550,000 with the help of Yorkshire West’s-then Euro MP Barry Seal; £25,000 from the English Tourist Board and £10,000 from the now-defunct West Yorkshire County Council.
Ian Page, the Economic Development Unit’s co-ordinator, said at the time: “It is extremely significant for us that Bradford was chosen. It has helped us change the city’s image and won national and international recognition. The museum will have a major effect on the city, not just by bringing tourists from all over the world but in other spin-offs such as industries which may develop from it.”
The museum had the advantage of a huge novelty: Britain’s first IMAX screen. Bradford was showing that, with energy, imagination and commitment, it really could be a surprising place.
Arts Minister Lord Gowrie, photographer Lord Snowdon and Dame Margaret Weston were among the guests at the opening. Harry Ramsdens at Guiseley served up 400 fish-and-chip dinners and champagne.
Lord Snowdon said: “Hopefully people will come from north, south and outside the country to visit the museum, which will be marvellous for the city. It has been done with enormous skill and professionalism.”
From 1983 until 1992 the only cinema in the museum was the IMAX. Bradford generally has been enriched by the opening of the 306-seat Pictureville and later the 108-seat Cubby Broccoli cinema. In 1993 a Cinerama screen was installed in Pictureville, the only one in the UK, expanding the range of choice on offer to the public.
In spite of the closure of ten screens at the ABC, Broadway, the Odeon and Unit 4 at Shipley, this particular medium is well-served. Where else can you see films in 3D, Cinerama, 70mm, 35mm and IMAX? The answer is you cannot. But showing films past and present from all over the world is only part of the picture.
Throughout the year, the seven-floor NMM hosts numerous workshops, lectures and talks on cinema, photography, writing, animation, acting, as well as exhibitions.
TV Heaven has an archive of more than 900 programmes encompassing the last 60 years of television broadcasting. There is a real BBC radio studio, which opened in 2003. The museum’s photographic collections include the Daily Herald Picture archive. Martin Parr, David Bailey and Don McCullin have had photographic exhibitions. The cafe-restaurant and bar serves its own food and specially-made cakes and pastries.
Since June, 1983, the museum has had three directors. The first was Colin Ford, who nurtured the place, persuading David Hockney to spend three days there in the summer of 1985 demonstrating his joiner photography and giving a public lecture on his theory of reverse perspective.
Mr Ford was followed by Amanda Nevill. Under her care the museum underwent a £16m refit which took from August, 1997 to June, 1999. The IMAX cinema was adapted for 3D.
As though to emphasise that the museum was licensed to thrill, James Bond actor Pierce Brosnan officially opened the new building.
And under Colin Philpott, the National Media Museum has continued to evolve and has won its greatest accolade.
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