THERE was a time when every neighbourhood in Bradford enjoyed an abundance of local cinemas.

On the front page of the Telegraph and Argus was a list of every cinema in the city and the pictures being shown that night.

In my neighbourhood, Barkerend Road, we had a cinema called the Hippodrome. It was built in the early 1920s, prior to becoming a cinema it had been a skating rink. It was huge inside with a wooden floor, when people walked on it, the sound echoed through the building. At the start of 1950 the Hippodrome closed and the building was renovated. It was bought by Star Cinemas which owned other cinemas in the city, including the Marlboro and one in Cross Lane, Great Horton.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Bradford's Arcadian in 1979Bradford's Arcadian in 1979

On August 28, 1950, the old Hippodrome was re-opened by the Lord Mayor, Alderman Alton Ward. Its new name was the Roxy and it was a real attraction to the area. It was fitted with new seating, and the floors were carpeted. A new entrance was at the rear of the building, on Butler Street, complete with a ticket office. There was a new corridor alongside the main part of the cinema and new toilets.

We lived on Harewood Street and the cinema was at the bottom of the street. My mother took me to the opening night of the new Roxy. The film that night was The Best Years of Our Lives, starring Myrna Loy. It was billed as a great opening attraction and ran all that week. From then on films only played for three days.

When the Hippodrome closed for refurbishment cinemas were forbidden to open on Sundays. But during the renovations there was a campaign in Bradford to have cinemas opened on a Sunday. In the early 1900s, as movies became popular, some Roman Catholic parishes opened their own cinemas, possibly to offer ‘wholesome’ entertainment to parishioners. St Mary’s on East Parade built a large hall adjacent to the church, it was called the Scala, later to become the parish hall. St Peter’s parish in Leeds Road opened a hall/cinema called the Tivoli.

By the time the Roxy was ready to open the ban on Sunday cinemas had been abolished. During the campaign I remember billboards at the main entrance, which normally advertised films, carrying instead huge signs: ‘Vote for Sunday Cinemas’.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Vincent's programme from the opening night of the Roxy in 1950Vincent's programme from the opening night of the Roxy in 1950 (Image: Vincent Finn)

The first Sunday film was September 3. It was Black Swan starring Maureen O’Hara and Tyrone Power. Later in the month it was Buffalo Bill with Joel McCrea. The programme changed twice a week: on Mondays and Thursdays. The Sunday showing was continuous from 4.30pm.

An oddity of that era was the ‘continuous performance’. You could go into the cinema at any time and watch the programme until it came back to the point where you’d joined it. So if you weren’t in your seat at the start of the film you would often see the end before you saw the beginning. If you enjoyed the film you could stay in and see it one and a half times, from middle to end, then from start to end again. An exception to this continuous rule, was Gone With the Wind. There was only one showing each night because the movie was so long.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Billy Liar was the main attraction at the ABC on Bank Street in 1968Billy Liar was the main attraction at the ABC on Bank Street in 1968 (Image: Newsquest)

In the late 1950s the manager, Mr Concannon introduced a new idea to the Sunday evening programme. There was a small stage area in front of the screen and he allowed a skiffle group to perform there. The groups included the Dingos and John and His Saints. The groups were on stage between the news and cartoons and the start of the main feature film. They were very popular, I think they performed at other Star cinemas. There were also hula hoop and yo-yo competitions.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: The New Victoria was an entertainment palace when it opened in 1931The New Victoria was an entertainment palace when it opened in 1931 (Image: Newsquest)

Roxy ticket prices were 1s. 9d for the rear section and 1s. 3d for seats in the front section, with children allowed in for 9d. On the right of the expensive seats (1 s and 9d) was a section of double seats, with no arm dividers, these were the favourites of courting couples. The programme for each evening consisted of a B picture followed by the newsreel, a cartoon then the Big Picture. There was an interval between the news reel and main film, the lights were lit and an usherette with a tray filled with ice-cream bars would walk from front to rear.The back of each seat was fitted with an ashtray.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: The Ritz in 1939The Ritz in 1939

All movies were issued with a certificate according to content. The certificates were: U, G for general audiences; A for adult audiences and nobody under 16 unless accompanied by an adult; and X-rated strictly for adults only. I remember one X film was The Thing, it was about a giant ant discovered in the Arizona desert that was destroyed by the army. Why it was rated X would be difficult to explain in today’s world.

Children had to leave the cinema at 9pm. The usherette/manager would go up and down the aisle and make all the children leave. At the end of the evening/second showing between 10.30-11pm, the screen would show a picture of the Queen or a military band playing the national anthem, the audience would stand until the end then everyone left.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Confectionery kiosk at Bradford's Odeon cinema Confectionery kiosk at Bradford's Odeon cinema (Image: Newsquest)

Also in the area were the Tennyson Picture House and the Coronet in Otley Road, the Oxford at Undercliffe, the Tivoli and Lyceum on Leeds Road and the Queens Hall at Laisterdyke. My 1950 souvenir programme advised to book seats for Saturdays to avoid disappointment. I never knew anyone who booked in advance. It also states that a ‘spacious car park adjoins the theatre.’ I never knew anyone who went to the Roxy by car.

That August night the Roxy opened nobody would have imagined that within a relatively short time it would become just a memory. Television was one reason, and the popularity of Bingo which many of these halls were converted to.

Some cinema buildings survived but many were demolished. The Roxy building is still standing but the front façade that once had billboards advertising coming attractions have all gone.