WHEN JB Priestley paid homage to the Bradford Civic Theatre in his 1934 book English Journey he described it as one of the “small intelligent repertory theatres organised on various lines, stretching across the country”.

“The people who work for these theatres are not by any means people who want to kill time,” he continued. “They are generally hard-working men and women...and they are tremendously enthusiastic.”

Founded by the Bradford Playhouse Company in 1929, the theatre was initially at Jowett Hall. JB Priestley was president of the theatre from 1932 until his death in 1984. His sister Winnie was the theatre secretary.

When Jowett Hall burned down in 1935 JB donated royalties from several plays and the company bought premises in Little Germany, where the theatre stands today, as Bradford Playhouse.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: The Little Germany theatre pictured in 1973The Little Germany theatre pictured in 1973 (Image: Newsquest)

It has been, JB wrote in English Journey, one of the theatres that “have opened little windows into a world of ideas, colour, fine movement, exquisite drama, have kept going a stir of thought and imagination for actors, helpers, audiences.”

The theatre was the starting point for several big names in film, stage and television, not least Duncan Preston, George Layton, Billie Whitelaw, Peter Firth, Gorden Kaye, Mary Tamm, and film director Tony Richardson.

But the historic venue has suffered off-stage dramas over the years. It survived a fire, in 1996, and a series of financial crises, leading to its closure and near closure several times.

In 2001 the theatre faced an uncertain future, with debts of £14,000. The Telegraph & Argus launched a campaign, Save the Priestley (at the time, the venue was called the Priestley Centre for the Arts), and a total of £25,000 was raised to keep it going.

The T&A campaign was supported by JB Priestley’s son, Oscar-nominated film editor Tom Priestley, who was Honorary President of the theatre.

This week it was announced that Tom has died, aged 91. President of the JB Priestley Society, he started work in the film industry as assistant film librarian at Ealing Studios. “I wanted to try and find something that my father hadn’t done,” he said. His breakthrough film was Morgan: A suitable Case for Treatment (1966), for which he won a Bafta for best editing.

In the Sixties Tom was known as one of the best young editors in the industry and he worked with directors such as Derek Jarman, Lindsay Anderson and John Boorman. He was nominated for an Oscar and won a Bafta for his work on Boorman’s Deliverance in 1973.

He spent a year working on the documentary about his father, Time and the Priestleys, broadcast just after JBP’s death in September 1984.

Following his father’s death, Tom took on some of the responsibilities of managing his literary estate, including lecturing to the cast members of Priestley plays, and writing the introductions for new anthologies and editions of Priestley works.

A statement from the Priestley family said that “through his advocacy of his father’s writing, he came to a resolution of some of the tensions in his relationship with his father.

“JBP wrote to him in 1971 to say ‘It’s not easy to be the children of a well-known father - I have always realised that, but equally it is not easy to be the well-known father’.”

Bradford writer Irene Lofthouse said first met Tom Priestley when he came to Bradford Playhouse as Honorary President. “I was involved as volunteer and trustee. He was always interested in how the theatre was progressing, what events were happening and how he could support them,” she recalls.

Tom’s support was a great boost for the T&A’s Save the Priestley campaign.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Tom Priestley at the launch of a new edition of JB Priestley's novel Bright Day Tom Priestley at the launch of a new edition of JB Priestley's novel Bright Day (Image: Newsquest)

Following a brief closure in 2003, the theatre was saved once again with a £40,000 loan and donations of £20,000.

In 2008 it went into administration and the following year it was re-launched, by a new team, under the name Bradford Playhouse. Vintage costumes were sold to pay debts and a development programme was supported by a £51,000 Arts Council award.

In 2011 the venue went into liquidation with historic debts of around £300,000. Shortly after liquidators took hold of the property, it was bought and leased by a company.

In recent years the theatre has been well used by local theatre companies and touring productions, as well as an annual pantomime, and its long tradition of children’s drama classes has continued.

Now run by Megan Wilson, Bradford Playhouse has a main stage with seating for 265, a studio theatre, cabaret space and a basement bar.