The Odeon is one of Bradford’s most loved buildings. Open between 1930 and 2000, the Odeon was once the Gaumont, hosting world-famous acts such as the Beatles, Cliff Richard, Shirley Bassey and Lulu.
But now this iconic building needs a future. For nearly 14 years it has stood empty in the city centre and it won’t last much longer. The building’s history is too rich for it to be demolished. It is the gem of the northern city and desperately needs modernising for the benefit of the citizens of Bradford.
At some points in life, it is best to look back on the history of what we knew, we loved and we remember. So, get a cup of tea in one hand and read the story of this fantastic and iconic building.
It was on Monday 22nd September 1930, that the biggest cinema outside of London was officially opened by the Lord Mayor of Bradford. Crowds of thousands of people gathered around the perimeter of the magnificent cinema to try and get in to watch the historic opening gala. But, the New Victoria as it was then called, goes further back in history than that!
In 1928, local brewery William Whitaker’s went into administration following an accumulation of bad winter sales. The iconic wine and spirit merchants which was founded in 1757, had halved their production in just two months and the brewery was going downhill quickly. Therefore, in June 1928 the brewery went bust and all local shareholders were devastated. Many local people from places such as Halifax, Huddersfield, Leeds and Wakefield were dismayed to hear of such news as its products were of such high quality and so popular because it was a city centre brewery. A decision was made by a local body of Councillors, MP’s and other important people that the brewery would be demolished and give way to a new cinema to rival the London stage.
Local architect, William Illingworth, a member of the Royal Institute of British Architects, was given the role of designing the theatre. He was given three conditions to the design; it had to look iconic, modern and had to have domes to complement Francis Laidler’s Alhambra, which was opened in 1914. Behind this rather ambitious project were two big leisure companies; Provincial Cinematograph Theatres (PCT) and the Gaumont British Pictures Corporation (GBPC.)
The brewery was demolished in late-1928 and construction began almost immediately afterwards. It took 500 Bradford workmen, six months, two million bricks and a thousand tonnes of steel to build what became England’s third biggest cinema. What made the cinema so great was that it was mostly built by materials from Bradford-based companies such as seating from L. B. Lockwood & Sons of Manchester Road and steel from Henry Barrett & Sons of Dudley Hill.
WELCOME TO THE “NEW VIC”
From its opening, the ballroom above the restaurant overlooking Thornton Road provided two dance sessions daily to its patrons. The first of the day was ‘the Dansant’ taking place from 3.30-5.30pm and would cost 2/- for the two hours. The other was ‘The Diner Dansant’ which cost 3/6 (and on Saturdays 5/-) and took place from 7pm until closing time (which was advertised as 10.30pm due to licensing laws but normally went on until 11pm and on Saturdays midnight.)
There was also a restaurant in the theatre which opened from 12-2.30pm daily. There was the option of a 4-course luncheon (costing 2/6), 3 course luncheon (2/-) or the special dish (1/6.) Patrons could also choose from an a la carte menu and there were also afternoon and high teas. Supper was also served from 7.30pm-10pm costing 2/-. The restaurant was often very busy and was a very popular place to go.
The ventilation system in the building was a new innovation in 1930 and was being tested across 32 picture houses across Yorkshire. It had to be specifically designed very carefully to deal with the thousands of people who could be in the theatre at any one time. The system could admit 60,000 cubic feet of air every minute.
A 3-manual 10-rank Style 220 Wurlitzer pipe organ was installed at the back of the huge orchestra pit. A lift allowed the organ to rise above the height of the stage, which was very useful in flooding such as in 1946. Many broadcasts of the organ live from the theatre were broadcast in the 1930s and 1940s.
The theatre attracted royal interest even before its grand opening. The Prince of Wales (who later became the abdicating King Edward VIII) had laid a wreath on the nearby war memorial on Wednesday 13th November 1929 and building work was in its early stages. The Prince of Wales showed a large interest in the theatre so much so that he came to visit Bradford again in 1933 after the theatre’s opening three years earlier had dominated the national headlines.
THE GRAND OPENING
It wasn’t until 2pm on Monday 22nd September 1930 that the cinema flung open its doors to the 3,500 people who had been invited to the grand opening of The New Victoria Theatre, Ballroom & Restaurant. This major milestone in the cinematic history of England would finally be added to the history books.
The first part to be opened was the restaurant at 12pm which served the meals before the grand opening of both the theatre and the ballroom at 2.30pm. The man who got the honour of opening the theatre, ballroom and restaurant was the then Lord Mayor, Alderman Angus H. Rhodes J.P. Thousands of people congregated outside the building to hear the wonderful sounds of the orchestra playing and all the other new and innovative things that were going on inside.
The New Victoria was born.
1. Opening Ceremony by Alderman Angus Rhodes
2. Mickey Mouse Cartoon
3. “Scotch” – a comedy
4. Gaumont Sound News
5. Leslie James on the famous Wurlitzer organ
6. Sydney Phasey & The London Symphony Orchestra
7. Follies of 1980 – a stage show specially produced for the opening
8. Rookery Nook – a film starring two popular actors, Tom Walls and Ralph Lynn – the premiere of the film in Bradford.
1930-1950: DISASTERS STRIKE
On the night of Saturday 31st August 1940, the German Luftwaffe bombed Bradford destroying Lingard’s department store, the old Rawson Market and the Odeon on Manchester Road. Ballroom dancing was taking place when a thud occurred. The band stopped momentarily but continued within a few seconds. Although extra precautions were taken, the New Vic suffered no war damage. The Odeon on Manchester Road re-opened on Monday 11th November 1940.
After the New Vic opened in 1930, many cinema chains expanded to Bradford and two of these became the New Vic’s biggest rivals. The Odeon on Manchester Road opened on 17th December 1938 and the Ritz (later ABC and Cannon) opened on 8th May 1939. The rivalry between the three was strong and especially the Ritz would try and steal the New Vic’s customers with strong advertising campaigns. The rivalry occurred until the Odeon moved to the New Vic in 1969 and when the Ritz (then Cannon) closed in September 1987.
At 8am on Friday 20th September 1946 following torrential downpours and two inches of rain in less than half an hour, the Bradford Beck burst its banks and overflowed into the city centre and onto the streets of Bradford causing £1m of damage. The front stalls and orchestra pit were both beneath street level and therefore flooded. However, an exceptional member of staff made a split second decision, which saved the iconic Wurlitzer organ.
Films continued to be shown but the audience was sat in the rear stalls for a few days until the front stalls were dried out. The tidemark on the wall showing the height of floodwater remained for a couple of months. On the same day, the Ritz on Broadway was devastated by the serious damage to its Compton organ meaning that the New Victoria became the only city centre cinema with a working pipe organ.
1950-1968: THE GAUMONT DAYS
In September 1950, the name of the New Victoria was changed to the Gaumont to fit in with the popularity of the Gaumont cinema circuit. Gaumont British Pictures Corporation (GBPC) were one of the two parties who put the money into the project.
The 1950s and 1960s saw Bradford put on the tour map as the Gaumont was home to stars such as The Beatles, Tom Jones, The Rolling Stones and Shirley Bassey (see the next page for dates.) The Beatles came three times – the first time as a backing act to the singer, Helen Shapiro who was famous for her hit ‘Walking Back To Happiness.’ Christmas concerts were a big thing and in 1963 the line up included the best in the industry such as The Beatles, Cilla Black and Rolf Harris.
On Saturday 22nd September 1951, the Gaumont celebrated its 21st birthday with a big celebration. Up and coming stars from across the film industry attended the programme but it was up and coming star Joan Rice who was given the honour of cutting the 21st birthday cake.
In 1954, the Gaumont became the first cinema in Bradford to install CinemaScope – a new innovation in the world of ‘talkies’ or talking films. It is believed that it cost the Gaumont between £6,000 and £7,000 to install it. The first CinemaScope film to be shown here was on 2nd February 1954 and was “How to Marry A Millionaire” starring Marilyn Monroe.
Sadly after 31 years of heavy success, on Saturday 30th December 1961 the Gaumont Ballroom closed down. The last waltz to be played there was “Sea of Heartbreak” by Don Gibson and played by Bert Bentley and His Orchestra.
Following Francis Laidler’s death, Bradford Council bought the neighbouring Bradford Alhambra Theatre in 1964 for £78,000.
On the left, is a poster advertising a show on Saturday, 30th January 1960. Performing was Rockabilly star Gene Vincent backed by The Fabulous Wildcats and then Eddie Cochran. Three months after performing at the Gaumont, Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran were travelling on the A4 in Chippenham, Wiltshire when they were involved in a serious car accident. Due to the injuries Cochran sustained, the day after he sadly passed away at the age of just 21. Gene Vincent sustained life-threatening injuries which limited his performing capabilities for the rest of his career and later died in 1971 aged 36.
SPECIAL FEATURE 2: CLIFF RICHARD
Anyone who went to the Gaumont in the 1960s went to see Cliff Richard & The Shadows. He was the only singer who had a Top 40 hit to visit the Gaumont five times – he visited on 27 Nov 1959, 29 Apr 1960, 25 Feb 1961, 31 Mar 1962 and 15 Dec 1962.
The tour information from above is from 25th February 1961 l over England, Scotland, Wales .3 hit, “When the Girl in Your Arms is the Girl in Your Heart.”
Many of his fans will have memories of getting up on the stage and having a sing-along with Cliff after the show had finished. He was one of the only singers who would allow the public to get up on stage and have a sing-a-long with him!
1960’s: RELATIONSHIP WITH THE LOCAL PRESS
The Gaumont had a good relationship with the local press, especially the Telegraph & Argus which they used to place regular adverts in for both stage shows and for films.
The Gaumont had a regular daily spot in the entertainment section of the T&A normally stating films that were showing on the day with showing times.
1968-1969: CLOSURE & CONVERSION
In 1968, after a period of declining numbers in the audience, the management at the Gaumont chose to close the cinema. Many musicians flocked to the cinema to record the sounds of the iconic Wurlitzer organ before it would be stripped out forever.. The Gaumont finally closed its doors on Saturday 30th November 1968 to the film “Rio Conchos.” It was a sad end to this exciting and iconic cinema, which the people thought had closed forever.
It was announced soon after that the Odeon Cinema in Manchester Road would close down on 22nd March 1969 and that the Odeon’s operations would be moved to the former Gaumont cinema which caused confusion because of the Odeon brand changing hands.
It was also announced that this new era in the cinema’s history would involve a conversion. The £370,000 conversion of the theatre into two cinemas and a bingo hall was something that had never been seen before in the North or in fact the UK.
The interior designers were husband and wife Trevor and Mavis Stone of London who were hired by Rank Leisure Services Ltd to convert the building. They were experienced in the field after designing the new Nottingham Odeon – the first cinema to be split into twin-screen operation in 1964.
The former stalls area was converted into the Top Rank Bingo & Social Club with the capacity to sit over 1,000 players. The entrance to the bingo hall was through the octagonal domed towers. The former restaurant was later converted into a hall with machine bingo.
A new and bigger entrance was made to the Odeon Twins between the twin towers. Above the entrance was a huge double-width Read-o-Graph advertising board which would usually display the names of the films showing on them in giant black letters. A new double staircase led up to the newly built foyer which followed the curve of the former auditorium. The same phone number was kept from the former Gaumont – BRADFORD 26716.
In the original plans, Odeon 1 was to be the biggest twin and Odeon 2 was the smallest one but because of the way the films would be projected onto the screens then had to be swapped around. Odeon 1 seated 467 people and Odeon 2 seated nearly triple that amount at 1,207 seats. However after new fire regulations were passed, Odeon 2 seats were reduced to 1,000 also providing extra comfort.
SUMMER OF ’69-1988: THE GRAND OPENING NO.2
It was on Thursday 21st August 1969 that the new innovative twin cinema opened its doors for the first time. It was a gala opening to an invited audience that had been decided around a week before by a specially selected committee. The committee included Mr Derek Mann who had been the last manager of the Gaumont and was chosen to be the first manager of the Odeon Twins.
In Odeon 1, the smallest one, the first film to be shown was American film “Funny Girl” starring Barbra Streisand and Omar Sharif whilst in Odeon 2, the first was “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” starring Dick Van Dyke and Sally Ann Howes.
A stand-out feature was that for the first few years, all seats in Odeon 1 and 2 had to be pre-booked. Normally in other picture houses in Bradford, the best seats would be pre-booked but not really the whole cinema unless it was a premiere. Continuous performances ran in the Odeon for years to come.
Overnight between Saturday 5th and 6th June 1982, following heavy rain and storms, the Bradford Beck burst its banks again and flooded Thornton Road. The Odeon and Top Rank club were both flooded out completely. Inside the Top Rank, it was reported that 12 inches (30cm) of water flooded in. The Odeon carried on within hours whilst the Top Rank took around a week to re-open after a huge clean up operation took place.
1988: OPENING THE THIRD CINEMA
It was only 19 years after the opening of the Odeon Twins that a use was found for the abandoned ballroom. It was to be turned into a third cinema!
It would be smaller than the others seating just 244 people. In order to do this, Odeon 1, 2 & 3 had to become non-smoking cinemas. Contractors for Odeon 3 included Raymond Long Ltd of Saltaire and Sharps Floor Furnishers of Legrams Lane, Bradford.
On Thursday 23rd June 1988, Odeon 3 was officially opened at a gala by Caroline Munro, the Bond girl from ‘The Spy Who Loved Me.’ Odeon 1 & 2 were closed for the occasion. The manager was still Mr Derek Mann. The first film to be shown was “Crocodile Dundee II” starring Paul Hogan and Linda Kozlowski.
1990-2000: THE ODEON’S FINAL DAYS
The 1990’s were full of events – Princess Diana’s death, Thatcher’s resignation and Blairs’ landslide victory and the end of the millennium. In Bradford, it was also eventful, Bradford’s centenary as a city, City’s promotion to the Premier League, the 1995 riots and the end of Philip Smith’s pie shop in Ivegate.
But at the Bradford Odeon, questions had to be asked about the future of the cinema after plans were leaked in 1991. The management had drawn up plans to convert the 3-screen cinema into a 7-screen multiplex. The Top Rank Club would move up to the Rank-owned Mecca Bingo on Little Horton Lane and the club would be split into three smaller cinemas – Odeon 4 with 200 seats, Odeon 5 with 140 seats, Odeon 6 with 200 seats. Odeon 1 (with 407 seats) and 3 (with 244 seats) would remain the same whilst Odeon 2 would be split into two smaller cinemas – Odeon 2 with 540 seats remaining the largest screen and Odeon 7 with 340 seats.
The new “7-screen multiplex” idea never came into fruition because by the late-1990s the audiences at the 5-screen Leeds Odeon on the Headrow were declining and there were plans for a new shopping centre to open in Leeds called “The Light” which would have a 13-screen cinema meaning the Odeon’s customer numbers would only further decline. Gallagher’s were opening a leisure complex in Thornbury which would include a 13-screen multiplex as well as a fitness centre. After a few months and many tough decisions, the plans were approved by the management to buy the plot at Gallagher’s and close both the Bradford Odeon and Leeds Odeon. Vue Cinemas bought the multiplex at The Light which opened in 2001.
Also in the 1990s, a highly successful venture for the cinema was the launch of the ‘Senior Citizen Film Shows’ on Wednesday mornings in Odeon 3 where you could watch a recent film with tea or coffee for just £1.50. Launched in July 1996, the scheme was so successful that many other Odeon’s up and down the country copied the shows in their cinemas.
In the summer of 1997, the Top Rank Bingo & Social Club closed for the final time and moved to the Mecca Bingo on Little Horton Lane as the plans had suggested.
SUNDAY 2ND JULY 2000: THE DAY OF DEATH FOR BRADFORD’S FAVOURITE
On Wednesday 28th June 2000, the final Senior Citizen film show was shown. Before the film started, Dr. Arnold Lomax, now in his eighties who had played the famous Wurlitzer organ in the New Vic/Gaumont days played the organ for the final time in the crowded Odeon 2 before the screening of ‘The Sixth Sense.’ This nostalgic ending had attracted the press from all over the country much to the dislike of the Odeon Management who had wanted a quieter send off. They had been so successful that the people didn’t want to see them go
The closure of the Bradford Odeon after seven decades since the opening was a sad day in the city’s history. It was a sad day for the patrons as well as the staff who had worked so hard to keep the cinema open even when times were tough.
It was on Sunday 2nd July 2000, that Bradford’s favourite city centre cinema closed its iconic blue doors for the final time.
Four films were showing on the week of closure –
“Chicken Run” starring the voices of Mel Gibson and Jane Horrocks
“Big Momma’s House” starring Martin Lawrence
“Frequency” starring Dennis Quaid
“Gladiator” starring Russell Crowe
The management chose Odeon 2, the largest cinema, to show the last film and “Chicken Run” was chosen to be the very last film. Crowds of cinema-goers, young and old, returning customers and new, politicians and the public flocked to the Odeon to see a film on the last day.
An invited guest at the closing was Mr Norman Scurrah who had been there at the first showing in 1930. He then completed the hat-trick by appearing at the opening of the new Odeon at Thornbury.
A touching message was displayed on the giant Read-o-Graph outside. It read:
NEW VICTORIA FROM JULY 7
GAUMONT NEW ODEON
ODEON CINEMAS 13 SCREEN
1930 TO JULY 2000 MULTIPLEX
THANKS FOR THORNBURY
The closing day was described as a funeral and many men turned up in black suits and ties and women came in black dresses. Many people shed a tear as the credits rolled for the final film and paid their respects outside as the crowds chanted “For she’s a jolly good cinema.” They knew that this time the cinema had closed forever.
From 1930 to 2000, the cinema had served the public continuously. Whether it had been snowing, flooding or heatwaved, the cinema had provided its invaluable service to the people of Bradford who turned up in their hundreds and thousands to attend the latest films. It was the city’s premium cinema for 70 years and 25,467 days and the cinema had created thousands of priceless memories to the people of the city. In 1930, the New Victoria, in 1950, the Gaumont and in 1969, the Odeons had brought leisure and community together to provide the ultimate cinematic experience.
Now, in 2000, the iconic blue doors had shut for the final time. The cinema, after seven momentous decades said goodbye to the city. The Odeon had closed forever.
2000-2010: THE AFTERMATH
On Thursday 6th July 2000, the Thornbury Odeon (branded as the Odeon Leeds-Bradford) opened at a gala opening. The day after it was opened to the public as promised at the Bradford Odeon read-o-graph. The Leeds Odeon and Bradford New Victoria had been merged to open the Odeon Leeds-Bradford which has 13 screens and a Virgin Active fitness centre (formerly Esporta.)
After the Bradford Odeon closed, it was bought by Grange Estates who obtained planning permission to demolish the building and turn it into a contemporary leisure complex including an 86-bedroom hotel, casino and bars. However, the company pulled out at the last minute blaming ‘Bradford’s weak economic climate.’ In 2003 at an auction, Yorkshire Forward purchased the site for £2m. The people of Bradford hoped that the regional development agency would redevelop the site to its former glory. But in the meantime they signed an agreement with Langtree to knock it down and turn it into a £55m mixed use scheme to build a public square framed by four new buildings consisting of 80,000 sq ft of Grade A offices to let, studios and one, two and three bedroom apartments and a 100-bedroom hotel.
However, the coalition government of 2010 disbanded Yorkshire Forward and therefore the building was passed onto the government’s Homes and Communities Agency and therefore the agreements still stood.. On 20th September 2012, the local press reported that the agreement between Langtree and the HCA had been scrapped and that all viable plans would be looked at.
In November 2013, the sale of the iconic building to Bradford Metropolitan District Council took place and it was transferred to the Council for the cost of £1. They are currently open to bids from groups to redevelop the building for the good of the district.
Written by James Slater with photos and history from Phil Robinson. If you have any questions or comments, please comment on this page to help. We are also looking for photographs for our website.
We also support the plans for the Odeon put forward by BradfordOne Limited. Please take a look at their website at www.bradfordone.com