Bradford's Essoldo cinema used to stand on Manningham Lane, across the road from the Theatre Royal.

At least, the Essoldo was what it was called between 1950 and 1965 when it closed as a cinema to reopen for a while as the Lucky Seven Bingo Club before showing Asian films between 1968 and 1976. Then fire damaged the building and it had to be demolished.

In its early years, though, from its beginnings in 1914 it was called The Regent - an impressive brick building designed by architect H W Rogerson to seat 1,377 people, with a café upstairs and a stage with two dressing rooms. It was described as being "a handsome elevation in the French Classic style"

The Regent had a civic opening on September 30, 1914 when the audience was entertained by a stage show, a "Grand Patriotic Concert". The following day the cinema screenings began, with continuous performances daily from 2pm, prices 6d and 1s.

Over the next decade it functioned mainly as a cinema, with a brief foray into stage shows in 1925.

It was leased to the ABC group in 1926 and stayed that way until 1938 when it was owned by the Emery circuit. The Essoldo organisation took over in 1949 and the Regent became the Essoldo - one of many in the third-largest cinema group in the country.

Meanwhile, in Ilkley the New Cinema in Railway Road, which had opened in 1928, was also taken over by Essoldo in 1949 (it closed in 1969).

By the mid-1950s Keighley had two Essoldos - one in the former Oxford in Oakworth Road, the other in the 1,250-seater Picture House cinema in Skipton Road, which had opened in 1913 and been taken over by Essoldo in 1954.

That second Keighley Essoldo, after a spell as the Classic twin cinema in the 1970s, is now once again the Picture House. Which brings us neatly to Charles Morris, its proprietor, who is co-author of A Family Business - Sol Sheckman and the Essoldo Circuit; a glossy, well-illustrated publication from the Cinema Theatre Association.

The book traces the history of the Sheckman family from their arrival in South Shields from Russian Poland in 1901, through the purchase of Sol Sheckman's first cinemas in 1919 and chronicles the growth of the company to its ownership of 196 cinemas - of which only nine are still functioning under various ownerships.

Essoldo cinemas were characterised by the flamboyant use of neon lighting outside, with the double S' of the name styled in what Charles Morris describes as "a languorous" fashion with an "air of fallen grandeur" inside.

He explains: "Essoldo spent a good deal of money on the cinemas they acquired in the 1940s, including the Regent in Bradford, but in 1954 they almost doubled their size by the acquisition of a circuit of some 70 cinemas, and within a year had to install Cinemascope equipment round their entire circuit, so finances must have been tight, to say the least. This was also a time when television was starting to bite, so perhaps they can be forgiven for making a few economies. In the late 1960s, though, they did spend quite lavishly on some of the cinemas before they suddenly sold out to Classic in 1972."

Sol Sheckman ran a tight ship. There's a memo of his quoted in the book which is worthy of Hi-Di-Hi's Joe Maplin.

Offering his supervisors his views on managers' duties he declared: "When I visit my cinemas it always annoys me to invariably find the managers in their offices. I have previously stressed upon you the importance of managers being fully conversant with their duties, particularly during performances, and I want you to ensure that these instructions are adhered to in future. During performances their time should be divided between the front of house checking on the correct halving of tickets and greeting patrons and on the sales intervals.

"There should be no necessity for them to be in their offices in the evenings until 9pm when the pay box closes as their clerical work can be done after this time or in the mornings. Between 6pm and 9pm managers must be about in the theatre, in evening dress."

His senior managers passed the message down. In 1956, speaking to northern area managers in Newcastle, circuit supervisor Tom Massicks told them: "A manager's first job on arriving at his theatre is not to settle down to his paper and a cup of coffee, but to go and see to it that his cleaners are really cleaning. Some of you don'tI know, and I want you to know that I know. It may be that you are denied at the present the new carpets and fittings that you feel you should have to make your theatres attractive. But there is no reason why they should be dirty if you are doing your job."

That told 'em.

  • A Family Business: Sol Sheckman and the Essoldo Circuit retails at £7.50. It is obtainable from Jeremy Buck, Sales Officer, 34 Pelham Road, London N22 6LN (e-mail: