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When cinema was right on your doorstep
We’ve had a fascinating missive from MICK CROSSLEY of Haworth Road, Bradford, who is sharing with us what he refers to as “the golden years of cinema”.
So, without further ado, take it away, Mick: My first visit to a cinema was as a schoolboy while living in Menston. It was to see a black and white silent film in the late Twenties at the Picture House in Kirkgate, Otley – Henry Edwards and Chrissie White in The Flag Lieutenant.
When our family moved to Bingley in 1936, my local cinemas became the town’s Myrtle and Hippodrome cinemas, up the road to the Gaumont at Saltaire, or to Shipley’s Prince’s Hall at the Branch, and the Glenroyal in Briggate.
All the districts of Bradford had the same type of small picture houses, most usually a walking distance from one’s home and all showing their film programme twice nightly, with a matinee on Saturday afternoon. Some put on a special programme for children on Saturday mornings.
There was the Arcadian Cinema in Legrams Lane; Baildon’s Picture House; Birch Lane Cinema in West Bowling; the Carlton in Manchester Road; the Coliseum in Toller Lane; the Cosy Cinema in Wibsey; the Coventry Hall Cinema in Wakefield Road; the Picture House at Dudley Hill; the Elite in Toller Lane; the Empress on Legrams Lane; the Grange Cinema in Great Horton Road; the Picture House at Greengates; the Picture House at Idle; the Lyceum at Thornbury; Low Moor Picture House; the Marlboro in Carlisle Road; the Oriental in Oak Lane; the Oxford Cinema at Undercliffe; the Plaza in Great Horton; the Queens Hall Cinema in Laisterdyke; the Roxy up Barkerend Road; the Rialto in Clayton; the Tennyson Cinema in Otley Road; the Tivoli Picture Hall in Leeds Road; the Towers Hall Cinema in Manchester Road; the Picture House at Thornton; the Victoria Cinema in Girlington; the Western Talkie Theatre in Park Road; and Wyke Hippodrome.
In the city centre we had, on Manningham Lane, the Theatre Royal and the Regent, later to become The Essoldo, The Picture House on Morley Street, the New Tatler in Thornton Road, ABC’s Savoy in Darley Street, St George’s Hall, the ABC’s Ritz Cinema (with Compton organ) on Broadway, the old Empire Theatre showing films until 1952, and the Civic Playhouse in Chapel Street.
It was 1930 when Oscar Deutsch started his chain of modern designed, big seater, Odeon cinemas throughout Britain – the letters ODEON standing for “Oscar Deutsch Entertains Our Nation” – and almost 260 being built before his death in 1941.
Bradford’s first Odeon Cinema was opened in 1938 by film actor Clive Brook and was at the bottom of Manchester Road, on the east side, and about opposite to the short back street which went past the Palace Theatre into Little Horton Lane.
Its glass-fronted tower – some 50ft high – with coloured lighting was quite a sight on a dark evening.
The war years brought a setback when, during an air raid in 1941, a German bomb dropped through the roof at 10.30pm one night, but luckily the audience had just left. Closure of the cinema came in 1969.
The largest cinema entertainment venue in the city was always the Gaumont British New Victoria, known as our ‘New Vic’, which was opened in 1930. Its lovely interior has been well documented and illustrated through these pages since its closure as an Odeon several years ago.
I danced in its ballroom, dined in the restaurant and never can forget, for the cost of one shilling, sitting in the 3,500-seater auditorium, enjoying a short film, a cartoon, the Pathe newsreel, Sydney Phasey and a 30-piece orchestra on its stage and then an interlude on the Wurlitzer organ – all before the main film!
The orchestra broadcast regularly on radio at midday from this stage. Though Leslie James played the Wurlitzer on the opening weeks, the resident organist was to be Kenneth Bygott, to be followed by Norman Briggs, Arnold Loxam and a host of famous guest organists.
I also remember seeing an ice show on its stage, Bruce Forsyth and many other top celebrities of the day.
In 1969, when the Odeon closed, the group took over the Gaumont British New Victoria cinema, carried out extensive alterations, creating Screens One and Two. It then became known as the Odeon Twin Cinema in the August of that year.
When television became established in Britain in the 1950s, all those small picture houses, apart from the odd one or two, were to closed to become bingo halls, clubs, restaurants or supermarkets. Most were demolished.
Sad in a way, but like other undertakings, it was just the end of an era.