Bradford, BD1 2BS
Owners: Provincial Cinematograph Theatres (PCT).
Architect: William Illingworth FRIBA.
Building cost: approximately £250.000.
Seating Capacity: 3318.
Date opened: Monday 22nd September 1930.
First film shown: “Rookery Nook” starring Ralph Lynn and Winifred Shotter.
Date Closed: Sunday 2nd July 2000.
Organ installed: 3-manual 10-rank Style 220 Wurlitzer, opened by Leslie James.
Date Closed: Sunday 2nd July 2000.
Last film shown: “Chicken Run”
What was to become one of the largest cinemas in England outside of the capital was to be built on an island site that had been occupied by William Whittaker’s brewery on Brewery Street, which is now known as Princes Way. This huge structure was commissioned in 1929/30 by Provincial Cinematograph Theatres (PCT) who were on the cusp of being taken over by Gaumont British Cinemas. Claimed to be their first purpose built cinema for the “talkies” in proper acoustic specification.
Also providing a ciné-variety theatre of 3500 seats (reduced to 3318 before opening), also to include a vast ballroom, a café/tea lounge and a large restaurant that could cater for in excess of 200 diners. Two self-contained flats providing accommodation for the resident manager and chief engineer were integral to the structure.
The architect was Bradford Alderman, William Illingworth FRIBA, who designed this striking unique multi entertainment red brick building with an impressive budget of a quarter of a million pounds. The main building contractor was McLaughlin & Harvey Ltd. The company proudly boasted that two million bricks and a thousand tons of steel were used in its complex construction and secured employment for in excess of 500 Bradford builders who took just six months to construct this mega building and a further four months to fit it out. Most of the materials used were sourced from local companies.
The enormous fan shaped auditorium was to have seating on three levels, stalls, circle and balcony.
The Crescent Stalls Lounge spanned the 150′ width across the rear of the stalls there were six entrances and aisles, which were reduced to five aisles in the front stalls area. Both the circle and balcony had five aisles and side gangways.
To describe the Citadel style facade as impressive would be an understatement, with what was to become the iconic domed topped octagonal tower entrances that book-ended on left and right the huge central sweeping curve of Flemish Bond brickwork and white terra-cotta blocks at ground elevation and similar faced tiles and supports adding rich decoration to windows, columns, etc, at higher levels.
Internally, these two entrances led into a fabulous crush hall/ stalls foyer that spanned the length of the rear stalls with an ornate marble fireplace positioned midway. Stalls, circle and balcony foyers were superbly fit out with walls richly decorated in Italian styled damask paper with pillars placed at intervals. Huge settees, deep pile carpets with lashings of polished brass handrails, ornate mirrors and potted palms completed the luxurious theme. To speed access, lifts were provided on all levels.
The architect, William Illingworth set about designing a spectacular and luxurious auditorium that could be enjoyed by all members of the audience, no matter how much they had paid for their seat. The stalls accommodated 2065 patrons, the mezzanine circle had 509 seats, with a further 732 seats in the balcony. He took extreme care that the circle and balcony overhang over the stalls area was kept to a minimum, so that everyone had a splendid view of this magnificent auditorium with its beautifully decorated walls and ceiling.
The central modelled illuminated dome, was 70′ in diameter, coloured orange at the base and disappearing into a variety of subtle tints at the crown. This arrangement also helped with the acoustics that sometimes could be troublesome in such a vast area. To further assist good acoustics, the auditorium walls were fully lined with hair felt before the top layer of rich rose-coloured damask was applied. Subtle tones of Bath stone tints and pinks completed the quality ambience. The uniquely brilliant design of the balcony being split into a front section (called the circle) and then at another level a much higher rear section (called the balcony) giving two separate circles with minimal overhang to the stalls area. The projection room was positioned under the front of the circle level with a distance (throw) from the projectors to the screen of 140′.
The splay walls were embellished with six pilasters that framed the intricate grill work and illuminated niches on each wall. Between the splay walls and circle were a series of high arches that formed exclusive boxes. Attention was drawn towards the magnificent gilded three tiered bordered proscenium. Each section illuminated with concealed lighting that changed colour. Perfect sightlines of the stage and orchestra pit were achieved from all view points of the auditorium.
The stage area was fully equipped, including a fly tower, safety curtain, scenery dock, a hand cranked full width moving stage platform that moved from the rear of the stage towards the footlights, capable of carrying a complete orchestra forward. There were twelve dressing rooms that included orchestra and chorus rooms.
The stage area was huge, with a total width (including the wings) of 70′, and a depth of 45′. The proscenium was 50′ wide with a height of 35′.
A massive two and a half ton screen frame with variable masking control was fit to give an “expanding” effect, the original screen was an impressive 50′ x 30′. The frame could be lifted (flown) by means of a counter weight system. The screen was set 10′ back from the footlights with a distance of nearly 170′ from the furthest row of seats in the rear of the balcony.
The installation of stage and auditorium lighting was under the supervision of E.C Nicholls, AMIEE, the chief engineer for the owners.
A 3-manual 10-rank Style 220 Wurlitzer pipe organ was installed in the deeply-curved orchestra pit. The console was on a lift that raised it to stage level. The organ chambers were located in the roof void with the sound entering through the grill work above the stage.
The large projection room was equipped with three Kalee projectors, two follow spots and a slide lantern. British Acoustic Sound equipment, capable of reproducing sound from either disc recording or film (optical) recording. British Acoustic used a special type of light sensitive selenium cell resulting in a pure and crisp sound with amplifier power of 90-100 watts output to twelve moving coil loudspeakers in the auditorium. A duplicate amplifier could be switched into action if the main amplifier failed.
On Monday 22nd September 1930 people started to gather outside the new cinema at 10am. Mounted police were brought in to manage the huge crowds that had quickly assembled. The Lord Mayor of Bradford, Alderman Angus R. Rhodes together with other civic dignitaries and distinguished guests were present at the Grand Opening Ceremony. The spectacular stage and screen presentations marked the occasion. The magnificent Wurlitzer organ was played by Leslie James.
The first movie shown was “Rookery Nook” starring Ralph Lynn, Winifred Shotter, Tom Walls and Robertson Hare.
On the outbreak of WWII the stage performances ceased with concentration on screen entertainment and organ interludes providing the entertainment to the enormous audiences that the New Victoria enjoyed during the heady heyday era of British cinema. However, the live stage performances returned in the 1950s & 60s. The cinema was the largest indoor concert venue in the north of England and was a popular choice for touring singers and groups.
The building was re-named Gaumont during September 1950, followed by a refurbishment four years later when the interior decoration was rejuvenated and seats and carpets were replaced. A fabulous chandelier was installed, suspended from the huge central ceiling dome. In the same year (1954), at a cost of £6.500, the Gaumont became the first cinema in the city to have Cinemascope installed together with stereophonic sound that gave three channels (left, centre, right) behind the screen. The surround channel was not used as Twentieth Century Fox decided against the high cost of subsidising the installation of surrounds speakers on three levels in such a large auditorium.
“HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE”~Click on the above frame to view the trailer
The first film shown in the new ratio was on Tuesday 2nd February 1954- “How to Marry a Millionaire” starring Marilyn Monroe. A new tubular screen frame was installed for CinemaScope which was too heavy to be ‘flown’ up. The solution was to mount the frame onto rollers so that it could be pushed back when stage presentations took place. During the 1950s there was a revival in the stage shows.
Despite the success of the stage shows which saw top international and UK artists appear in front of capacity audiences, the Gaumont’s business in general went into sharp decline. The decision was taken by it’s owners, Rank, to convert the building into twin cinemas and bingo.
“Prudence and the Pill” starring Deborah Kerr and David Niven and “Rio Conchos” starring Richard Boone were the final films to be screened on the original big single screen auditorium on 30th November 1968. Work commenced on the £370.000 project and the new Top Rank Bingo and Odeon screen’s 1 & 2 were constructed within three individual shells, the first conversion by Rank to have twin cinemas and bingo under one roof. Architects for the internal conversion were Gavin Paterson & Sons. Main contractors were Stephen Easten Ltd of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Interior designers were Trevor and Mavis Stone Ltd, FRCA, MSIA.
Bingo took over the original stalls, whilst the two cinemas were formed when the circles were made into a single level and divided. This side by side arrangement was made possible by the extreme width of the rear stalls of 150′. The alteration took nine months to complete.
The octagonal domed towers were now used for entry to the 1000 seat Top Rank Bingo. The former restaurant was later converted to a machine bingo hall with a separate entrance in Thornton Road.
The cinema entrance, dominated by a giant illuminated Read-O-Graph was formed centrally between the towers where the former entrance to the ballroom was previously accessed.
A new double staircase led customers up to a new foyer lounge that followed the curve of the original auditorium. On this level the former tea room that had been located in the south tower was now the licensed bar, decorated with futuristic murals by Trevor Stone. The new auditoriums seated 1200 & 467.
The Odeon Film Centre Gala Opening took place on Thursday 21st August 1969 with ~
Screen 1: “Funny Girl” starring Barbara Streisand, Omar Sharif and Walter Pidgeon.
Screen 2: “Chitty, Chitty, Bang Bang!” starring Dick Van Dyke, Sally Ann Howes.
The bingo operation at a later date, after the cinemas.
The ballroom became redundant. However, during February of 1988 plans had been drawn up for this large area to be transformed into a third cinema. Work commenced to strip out many of the original detail and fittings that included the removal of the large centre piece pendant houselight fitting. Stud walls partitioned the areas to form the auditorium, proscenium, projection room, and ancillary rooms. A suspended ceiling hid most of the original plasterwork, although some of the ornate pilasters were retained, re-gilded and incorporated into the new third cinema’s design. A new wooden raked/stepped floor was installed to ensure good sightlines for all the 244 seats that were arranged in three blocks. The screen was of a moderate size of 25ft x 11ft 5″.
Odeon 3 opened on Thursday 23rd June 1988 with “Crocodile Dundee II”starring Paul Hogan, Linda Kozlowski and John Meillon. To focus attention to the opening of the new screen, both Odeon 1 & 2 closed that evening. Derek Mann who had been the General Manager since the late Gaumont days was still in charge at this time.
The bingo operation ceased in the Summer of 1997 when the business transferred to a new Mecca Bingo on Little Horton Lane. Three years later the cinemas closed on Sunday 2nd July 2000. The final film “Chicken Run” was shown on the largest screen (Odeon 2).
A new Odeon 13 screen cinema opened on 7th July 2000 at Gallagher Leisure Park, Thornbury.
The building was left derelict and under constant threat of demolition when plans were put forward to build offices and apartments on the site. In 2002 local residents came together to fight to have the building preserved or restored. In 2019 it was reported that a new future for the Odeon as a live music venue was in the offing. Bradford Live, a not for profit charitable company, founded in 2012, was granted the right to redevelop the building in 2014, and in March 2018 they secured initial funding and together with the NEC Group have been working on the plans for the regeneration of the building back into a single large space capable of seating 3,500, or 4,000 with standing in the former stalls area. Work commenced on the restoration of the former New Victoria’s massive auditorium late 2018.
click on the above frame to check out the progress on AN ICON REBORN
BRADFORD LIVE~ THEN & NOW video
click the above frame to view
The restoration story~ reintroducing an auditorium
click the above frame to view