Odeon Bradford

Odeon Bradford

Prince’s Way,

Bradford, BD1 2BS


Original Owner: Provincial Cinematograph Theatres/ Gaumont British Picture Corporation.

Archiect: William Illingworth.  FRIBA.

Main Building Contractor:  McLaughlin & Harvey Ltd.

Cost:  £250,000.

Original Seating Capacity:  Stalls~2065. Balcony~732.  Mezzanine Balcony:  509.  Total: 3317.

Date opened:  Monday 22nd September 1930.

First film shown:  “Rookery Nook” starring Robertson Hare, Ralph Lynn and Tom Walls.

Wurlitzer 3Manual/10Ranks Style 220 theatre organ.  Opened by organist Leslie James.

Present Status:  Extant.  Building at present being restored.







The New Victoria Cinema opened on 22nd September 1930 with Tom Walls in “Rookery Nook” on the screen, plus on the stage “Follies of 1930” which was specially produced for the New Victoria Cinema, ‘this sparkling novelty presentation included speciality dancers, catchy songs and dazzling dresses’. It was built for and operated by Provincial Cinematograph Theatres(PCT) and Gaumont British Theatres chain. An enormous and very elaborate cine-variety house, the New Victoria Cinema had a stage 70 feet wide and 45 feet deep, ten dressing rooms. It was equipped with a Wurlitzer 3Manual/10Ranks theatre organ, which was opened by organist Leslie James. There was also a café, a 200-seat restaurant, and above the restaurant was a large ballroom.

The style was done in Italian Renaissance and the total seating capacity of 3,317 was split between 2,065 seats in the stalls, 509 in the mezzanine circle and 732 seats in the balcony, the latter two were entirely different levels but the balcony did not overhang the circle. There were two boxes on each side of the mezzanine circle containing 5 movable seats in each box. An enormous dome dominated the ceiling with a frieze running around three sides of the auditorium just below the ceiling. The projection suite was located between the two upper tiers.

The architect of this ‘super cinema’ was William Illingworth, and when it opened it was one of the largest cinemas in the UK. It remained in the top 10 of the biggest cinemas until sub-division in 1968.

The stage was well used by companies such as the major touring Ice Spectaculars, the Royal Festival Ballet and pop stars from The Beatles to Buddy Holly.

It was renamed Gaumont in 1950 but closed for alterations 30 November 1968. The circles were amalgamated into one level and split front to back to form two new cinemas seating 467 in Odeon 1 and 1,207 in Odeon 2. The stalls became a separate 2,000 seat bingo hall. The stage remained intact but was never used again. The new complex re-opened 21 August 1969 and the name changed to Odeon after the closure of the original Odeon (closed and demolished immediately after closure).

Later in 1987 the former ballroom was converted into the 244 seat Odeon 3. The magnificent original decoration was no longer visible in the auditorium areas and the resulting cinemas were comfortable but extremely bland.

A new entrance was formed for the cinema in the centre of the façade whilst the bingo hall retained the original grand entrance in one of the two domed towers.

The bingo operation was the first to close and the ground floor was boarded up. In 2000, a new 13-screen Odeon multiplex was constructed out of the town centre on the edge of Bradford and Pudsey, and the 3-screen Odeon closed on 2nd July 2000. The building is now deteriorating rapidly. Even if it were to reopen as a live concert or performance venue (unlikely) the sumptuous interior is irreplaceable.

Had it survived intact for just a few years more it would undoubtedly been listed and gained some redevelopment protection. The building has been under threat of demolition and redevelopment for several years, but many local citizens have opposed this and are trying to save the building.

In October 2012, the property development owners of the building offered to sell it to Bradford Council for £1.00 (one Pound). The Council accepted this generous offer. In March 2015 work began on restoring and renovating the building to become a performing arts centre.

Bradford cinema historian Colin Sutton has compiled his own online chronicle of The Odeon ’s 82-year history, built on the site of Whittaker’s Brewery as the New Victoria between 1928 and 1930.

The shape of the city centre was utterly different in those days, before the planning orthodoxy of zoning separated places of work, entertainment and living.

Theatres, factories, shops, houses, schools, chapels and churches, existed in the same vicinity. The advent of a huge new place of entertainment was a major event.

In January 1929, the T&A proudly declared: “Soon we shall watch a magnificent picture palace grow, as it were, out of the ruins to gladden the eye and brighten the neighbourhood.”

Nearly 500 Bradford workmen constructed it – two million bricks, a thousand tons of steel – in six months. Only another four months were needed to equip, supply and furnish the building which combined a cinema with 3,500 seats, a ballroom, restaurant and tea-room cafe. The cost was £250,000.

Sunbridge Road-based architect William Illingworth designed the building. Colin says the building he created was the “very latest in cinema construction and a striking example of what was to become an internationally acknowledged theatre/super cinema to rival the classical style of the great American movie theatres.

“Illingworth realised the importance of providing luxury throughout of the highest technical standard in making the New Victoria the complete centre of entertainment and, unique for its time, each area adaptable for multi-purpose usage.”

Mark Nicholson’s Picture House article about the history of the Odeon contains the following optimistic quote from Illingworth, who told the civic dignitaries at the opening: “I know I am voicing your opinion when I say that a citizen of Bradford has erected an everlasting landmark in his native city.”

The New Vic, as it became known, formally opened on Monday, September 22, 1930. The programme included a Mickey Mouse cartoon, a recital at the Wurlitzer organ, a variety show with dancers and a screening of Rookery Nook, a comedy starring Robertson Hare, Ralph Lynn and Tom Walls.

As a generation of Bradfordians know from personal experience, after the New Victoria became the Gaumont in1950 (the interior had a facelift in 1954); its 45ft deep stage hosted a variety of concerts by the world’s greatest stars.

In the early 1950s, from the United States came Billy Daniels with his song That Old Black Magic. The London Symphony Orchestra under Leopold Stokowski played there. Organist Arnold Loxam learned his craft there. The Italian operatic tenor Benjamino Gigli sang there – without requiring a microphone.

For the remainder of the1950s, Bill Haley and the Comets, Count Basie, Paul Anka, Frankie Laine and Buddy Holly sprinkled their own stardust on Bradford. Sixty years ago Bradford still had a wool textile empire that spanned the world, from Australia to Peru.

In the 1960s, The Everly Brothers, Bo Diddley, The Kinks, Shirley Bassey, Cilla Black, Little Richard, Del Shannon, Tom Jones, The Animals, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones thrilled audiences and irritated Bradford’s constabulary which had to police excited crowds of thousands. In his autobiography, Rolling Stones’ guitarist and songwriter Keith Richards remembers the late Brian Jones being pursued by enthusiastic girls up Bridge Street towards Wakefield Road.

When The Beatles first played the Gaumont on Saturday, February 2, 1963, they were bottom-of-the-bill support for the chart-topping teenager Helen Shapiro. For their third and final appearance on Friday, October 9, 1964 – John Lennon’s 24th birthday – they played two shows for £850.

Television impacted on cinema audiences. At the end of the 1960s, the Rank Organisation spent an estimated £370,000 restructuring the Gaumont, converting the single cinema into Odeon 1 (467 seats) and Odeon 2 (1,207 seats). A chunk of the building accommodated the 1,000-seat Top Rank Club for bingo. In 1988 a third screen was added. Odeon 3 seated 244.

With the development of out-of-town multiplex cinemas, in1994 Rank drew up plans to include three more screens at a projected cost of £750,000.

But in the summer of 1997 bingo ended at the Odeon, and in April 2000 the announcement came that the Odeon was to be replaced by a new 13-screen cinema at Thornbury .

The Odeon’s last picture show was on Sunday, July 2, 2000. As the T&A reported the following day, Norman Scurrah, who had been there at the first screening in 1930, was there at the last nearly 50 years later.

Odeon Uncovered is at Thornton ’s South Square Arts Centre from Saturday until September 30. Opening hours are noon to 3pm, Tuesday to Sunday. Mark Nicholson can be contacted on odeonbook@mail.com.

Theatre Auditorium
The New Victoria was big by any standards. Its huge fan-shaped and domed auditorium originally designed for 3,500 seats at its opening but later reduced to 3,318 for more comfort. Its width of 150 feet at the back of the stalls was such that the rear stalls had six entrances and six aisles (gangways) and five in the front stalls. Whilst the circle and balcony each had seven aisles including the side aisles

The huge proscenium opening 50 feet wide and 35 feet high with a theatre stage at 70 feet wide (including wings) and 45 feet deep with a flytower and complete with 10 dressing rooms capable of accommodating large spectacular touring shows. The New Vic, as it quickly became known, boasted a moving stage, not a rotating stage but a full width platform which moved (hand cranked) from the back to the footlights carrying a full orchestra with it. Facilities included a safety curtain, band and chorus rooms and scenery dock.

The stage lighting had to be of the latest and most powerful type for a stage of this size and was installed using local labour but under the supervision of Provincial Cinematograph Theatres own Engineering Department and the Gaumont British Picture Corporation. The scheme of planning of the lighting was supervised by E.C Nicholls, AMIEE, chief engineer to the companies.

The Theatre also had twelve Dressing Rooms

The screen was positioned about 10 feet upstage from the footlights which meant a “throw” of almost 140 feet from the projector. As the balcony seats extended back over the projection room, it meant that the rear seats of the top balcony were 170 feet from the screen. The screen was described as an “expanding screen” (a similar screen was installed at the Rialto in Leeds around the same time) and would automatically expand and contract according to the action and was quite impressive when at its full size. The new screen was huge by 1930 standards and comprised a steel frame 50 feet wide and 30 feet high on which was mounted the pourous screen which together with its lines and counterweights weighed 2.1/2 tons. I was operated by a small switch in the projection room. All the seats in the auditorium had a clear unobstructed view of the stage and screen.

The rectangular three-cove “picture frame” proscenium arch was surrounded by hundreds of coloured lights which could dissolve from one hue to another. Indeed there were so many light bulbs around the stage and the giant circular dome that it must have been a nightmare renewing them for the house electricians. Special lighting also enhanced the decorative recesses and grills which adorned the highly sculptured sides of the auditorium. The design was based on earlier Regent cinemas of the PCT group with rounded arches along the side walls of the balcony with columns extending down to the rear stalls floor. The decorative recesses in the splay walls originally housed statues and illuminated glass fountains.

An important design feature of the circle and balcony which was considered markedly different, if not unique, was the balcony being split into a front section (called the circle) and a much higher rear section (called the balcony) this arrangement effectively gave two separate circles but with quite minimal overhang. The break in height between these two sections provided the ideal position for the projection room and the back row of the circle did not feel to be in a ‘pocket’ under a balcony.

The spacious projection suite at the rear of the circle housed three Kalee film projectors (most cinemas usually only had two), lantern slide projector used for showing large glass slides with song words for audience to sing along with the organist. There were also two carbon-arc spotlights for stage shows and picking out the featured organist. The British Acoustic Sound (BAC) system installed for the opening had twelve loudspeakers around the acoustically perfect auditorium producing a “pure and clean” sound. The suite of rooms included office, store rooms, rewind room and a large battery room providing emergency power for evacuation during any interruption to the mains power supply.

The original projectors at the opening were supplied fitted with British Acoustic Sound system and the entire installation was designed to meet the exacting requirements of modern motion picture projection and 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 clear sound. The amplifier system produced 90-100 watts undistorted output. A switched duplicate amplifier was also fitted in case of any possible fault. Twelve moving coil loudspeakers were arranged behind the porous screen so that every part of the vast theatre was filled with sound. Later models of Kalee projectors and Duosonic sound were to be installed.

The spectacular afternoon opening performance at 2-30pm on Monday 22nd September 1930 comprised by the Lord Mayor, Alderman Angus R. Rhodes in the company of other distinguished guests, civic officials and managers of other Bradford city centre cinemas.

The Restaurant
The entrance in Thornton Road just to the right of the domed tower of the cinema entrance and opening into a lofty and very large rectangular room with massive square pillars down either side and windows overlooking Thornton Road.

Decorated in the modern French manner with primrose, lime green and gold to create an atmosphere of “eternal spring”. Walls and ornate plaster ceiling were highlighted by a huge glass pane chandelier plus suspended smaller units of similar design. Matching uplighters surrounded the tops of the square pillars adding a distinctive note. A polished wood and carpeted grand staircase connected directly with the Ballroom above.

The restaurant was capable of accommodating over 200 diners and soon became a fashionable and elegant place to eat with attentive waitress service resplendent in their crisp black and white uniforms.

The Ballroom
The ballroom was situated above the restaurant on the Thornton Road side of the building. Although there was staircase access between the ballroom and restaurant for combined meal/dance functions, the principal entrance to the ballroom was double glass doors with canopy situated midway between the two domed towers in New Victoria Street (later renamed to Prince’s Way after road widening). This entrance was later enlarged in 1969 to become the entrance to the new twinned Odeon 1 & 2.

The lofty ballroom of 450 square yards with decorative pillars, mirrored walls and ornate ceiling with art-deco chandeliers. It boasted a sprung maple “Valtor” floor installed by Hollis Bros & Co. The spring mechanism (by Francis Morton Jnr & Co) was capable of being ‘locked’ into a rigid state when being used for other purposes. The mirrored walls with lunettes connecting wall and ceiling striking a modern note with a colour scheme of rose, oatmeal and gold.

The Gaumont Ballroom, as it was now known, finally closed on Saturday 30th December 1961 when Bert Bentley and His Orchestra played the last waltz and DJ Dal Stevens brought the evening to an end with the last record Dan Gibson’s “Sea of Heartbreak”.

The Gaumont was the first cinema in Bradford to be fitted with CinemaScope in 1954 at a cost of over 6,500 GBP with half the cost going into installing the three channel stereophonic sound – Left, centre and right speakers behind the screen. The fourth ‘ambient’ surround channel was not fitted due to much increased cost for such a huge auditorium with three levels. 20th Century Fox anxious to promote their new CinemaScope would not financially subsidise the ambient sound.

A new tubular frame for the screen was fitted with motorised masking to change between simple ‘widescreen’ and true CinemaScope aspect ratios and all controlled from the projection room. The full width movable stage platform which traversed from the back to front of stage was removed at this time. The new CinemasScope screen and its steel frame was too heavy to be ‘flown’ up, so it was mounted on rollers with securing bolts. It could then be unbolted and moved to the back of the stage and double as a cyclorama background for stage shows and then moved back by hand to its new postiion behind the stage tabs for films. The three stereo loudspeaker units were wheeled off into the wings during stage shows.

Anamorphic lenses were fitted to the Kalee projectors but the impact of the wide screen was not quite as impressive to the spectator as could be seen later in some of the smaller cinemas. Perhaps the huge fan-shaped auditorium did not do justice to the new screen format.
The first CinemaScope film to be shown here was . . .From Tuesday 2nd February 1954
First time in Bradford – CinemaScope
“How to Marry a Millionaire” – 1953 USA Technicolor 95 mins.
Starring Betty Grable, Marilyn Monroe and Lauren Bacall.

In September 1950 it changed its name to Gaumont with its staff wearing the smart new uniforms of blue and gold livery. A refurbishment in early 1954 rejuvenated the interior beauty with decoration and the seemingly endless task of re-carpeting and the installation of a gigantic chandelier suspended from the centre of the massive dome. Many speculated how you would change the bulbs in such an enormous centre piece and at such a height. The answer was all too simple – the complete chandelier was lowered on chains from a winch in the roof down the stalls seats where it could be then be managed with relative ease.

After a period of audience decline, 1968 saw the closure of the Gaumont. Hurried recording sessions were set up to capture the sound of the Wurlitzer organ before it was stripped out. More details of this can be found on the New Victoria/Gaumont Wurlitzer Organ page together with organ history and specification.

The Gaumont closed its doors on 30th November 1968 – a sad end to an exciting era of entertainment in the city. The final film in this vast auditorium was . . .

“Rio Conchos” – 1964 USA Color de Luxe 107 mins.
Starring Richard Boone, Stuart Whitman and Anthony Franciosa.

The Theatre’s Circles were made into one level and then split down the middle to create two new cinemas. And the former stalls area of the Theatre was turned into a 2,000 seat Bingo Hall. The Theatre’s stage area was left untouched but would not be used again. The work was done by Glasgow’s Gavin Peterson & Sons.

Sadly most of the internal decorations to the auditorium were lost in the conversion. The Cinemas opened on the 21st of August 1969 under the Odeon name. A third Cinema was later incorporated into the Theatre’s former ballroom in 1987.

In 1997 the Bingo Hall closed down and the three Cinemas followed suit in July 2000 leaving the vast building unoccupied and under threat of demolition. Since then, local residents have fought to have the building preserved or restored but the building has long been seriously endangered and under threat. However, in 2019 it was reported that a new future for the Odeon as a live music venue is 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 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. And then at Christmas 2018/19 work actually started on the restoration of the former Theatre’s giant auditorium so the building’s future now looks a lot more secure. 

Since the New Victoria started life in 1930 and through the Gaumont period there have been a succession of different managers but none have been so popular as G.W. ‘Phil’ Ridler (previously he had been manager at the Electric Theatre in Halifax) and joined the New Victoria for its opening and to be followed by John S.G Philcox. Other at the helm included Dave Spary, Sidney Ramsey, David Wilmott, Peter Davies and Charles Close.

The building was closed for nine months for conversion into 2 smaller cinemas and a bingo hall.