Bradford - New Victoria/Gaumont/Odeon

Cinema History Researched & Compiled by Colin Sutton

Copyright © 1980/2010, Colin Sutton.

New Victoria / Gaumont / Odeon
Prince's Way (formerly New Victoria Street)

Part 2 - The Odeon Film Centre Era 1969 to 2000

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Odeon Bradford


Introducing Odeon Film Centre
The construction of twin cinemas under the new name of ODEON Film Centre - the old original Odeon Cinema in nearby Manchester Road having closed in March 1969 and the building subsequently demolished. The name Odeon was transferred to this former New Victoria/Gaumont building and has led to some confusion ever since particularly in people's reminiscences.


The Conversion
Architects for the internal conversion were Gavin Paterson & Sons (Lennox D. Paterson, B.Arch, FRIBA) of Glasgow.
Main contractors were Stephen Easten Ltd of Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
Interior designers were Trevor and Mavis Stone Ltd, FRCA, MSIA of London for Rank Leisure Services Ltd.
The Stones were a young husband and wife team who were responsible for many such schemes for Rank and who designed the new Nottingham Odeon - the first to be split into twin-screen operation in 1964.

The £370,000 conversion or 'twinning' of the former New Victoria/Gaumont was pretty unique in itself at that particular time in that the previously giant auditorium was split into three units. The former stalls area was converted into the Top Rank Bingo Club with capacity for over 1,000 players. This was the first such conversion in the Rank cinema chain to have a Bingo & Social Club under the same roof as a twinned cinema. The Bingo operation having been transferred from the Majestic (former Morley Street Picture House) a short distance away. The Bingo area was to open at the end of 1969 after the twin cinemas.

The upper part of the auditorium was levelled at front circle level and its giant width split into two separate fan-shaped auditoria with one significantly larger than the other. This side-by-side splitting of the original auditorium was the first in this country and only possible due to the exceptional width (150 feet at the rear of the stalls) of the original.
[Other cinemas were conventionally twinned by simply splitting stalls and circle areas by 'drop walling' as it became known or tripled by adding an off-centre wall to the rear stalls area creating two smaller screens as in the Ritz/ABC triple in Broadway.]

A complete new shell was built inside the old auditorium and damaging but not totally destroying all the original architecture. The false roof of the new shell is below the original New Victoria ceiling and dome, the steel frame of which still exists. Inside this shell two cinemas, Odeon 1 and 2 were created.


New Entrances
The original entrances in the octagonal domed towers were now used for entry to the Bingo with main access via the south tower nearest the Alhambra Theatre. The former restaurant was later converted to a machine bingo hall with its own entrance in Thornton Road at the northern end.

A new and enlarged entrance had been created for the Odeon twin cinemas in the same location as the original Ballroom entrance between the two towers. The entrance was to have a large illuminated canopy and a very large double width Read-o-Graph backlit advertising sign above. A new double staircase leading up to the new foyer following the natural curve of the original auditorium ending with a licensed bar in the former tea room area of the south tower. The lounge bar wall was decorated with bold 'op art' murals designed by Trevor Stone.

Contractors for the conversion . . .
Contractors Plant - Chippindale, Leeds.
Plasterwork - Decorative Plaster Co Ltd, Newcastle.
Decorations - R.F Thompson (Decorators) Ltd, Glasgow.
Screen & Curtains - Andrew Smith Harkness Ltd, Boreham Wood.


New Auditoria
The early plans for conversion showed the larger auditorium as No 1 and the smaller as No 2 as was the convention with divided cinema auditoria. Soon it was discovered that for technical projection reasons the numbering was reversed making the smaller auditorium now No 1 and to be equipped for 70mm presentations.

In both auditoria the stepped seating extended downwards from the former New Victoria/Gaumont balcony level and over the old circle down to the new screens positioned in front of the original theatre proscenium opening (now bricked up) leaving the original stage area, grid and flytower unused and in tact. The original circle is largely in tact safe in a building void but it still accessible via an access door in a storeroom between Odeon 1 and the later Odeon 3 addition.


Odeon 1
Odeon 1  ©MJB. Accessed by a single double door and steps arriving in the left-hand side of the very plain auditorium with 467 seats arranged in three blocks with two aisles. The curved theatre-style rear 15 rows steeply stepped for good sightlines with crossover at the entrance level and with 5 stepped rows in the front section. Luxury Pullman seats were installed at the front of the rear section.

The proscenium opening of 34 feet with a festoon-type 13-line reefer curtain with batten lighting opened to a shallow stage only 8 feet deep. The 6-tower screen frame at 23ft 6ins high with overall screen size 33ft x 17ft 6ins. With 3-stop variable side and top masking giving 28ft x 15ft 7ins (1.75:1 aspect ratio) on widescreen and 32ft x 13ft 8ins (2.35:1) on 'Scope setting. For 70mm presentations the size was 32ft x 15ft 7ins. The projectionists log shows that for 16mm presentaions a screen size of 17ft 11ins x 13ft 6ins.

The newly constructed projection room at the highest rear point was 24ft wide x 15ft 3ins deep and 9ft 6ins high with two projectors for 35mm and 70mm with a throw distance of 104 feet and downward rake of 10 degrees.

Adjoining were projection staff toilet, battery and rectifier room which then connected with the new projection room for Odeon 2. Effectively these rooms were created in the rear of the balcony of the original New Victoria/Gaumont auditorium. Close to the Odeon 1 projection room was the original passenger lift adjacent to the north tower and now used for carrying equipment and films to the projection suite.


Odeon 2
Accessed from the first floor foyer by two double doors and steps to a central vomitory and crossover. The theatre-style curved 15 rows of the rear steep-stepped section arranged in four blocks with three aisles with crossover at back to exit and toilets built into the previously balcony lounge/waiting area of the south tower.

The front section of seating of 20 rows on gentle stepping again in four blocks with three aisles leading to a large flat carpeted area in front of the new stage with exits at either side. Total capacity of 1,200 including Pullman luxury seats at rear of front section and front of rear section.

The proscenium opening was virtually wall-to-wall at approx 50ft wide with wall-to-wall curtains comprising side legs and a festoon reefing curtain with batten lighting. The tower frame and screen with adjustable masking and overall size of 47ft wide x 20ft 6ins high giving 32ft x 17ft 7ins on wide screen and 41ft 11ins x 17ft 7ins on 'Scope anamorphic projection.

Odeon 2 Auditorium and Projection Room

The projection room at rear highest point was 22ft 10ins wide x 11ft 6ins deep at its mid-point and 10ft 6ins high with two ventilated circular downlights in roof. Access internally with Odeon 1 projection room also steps and door into Odeon 2 rear. Provision made for two projectors. Throw distance was 147 feet with a downward rake of 6 degrees.

The projectionists logbook shows that on Monday 29th April 1991 new screens were fitted in both Odeon 1 and 2 but it was found that the larger screen of Odeon 2 was marked and unacceptable so on Thursday 6th June 1991 a replacement screen was installed.


Gala Opening
The Gala Opening of Odeon 1 & 2 on Thursday 21st August 1969 with . . .

Odeon 1
"Funny Girl" - 1968 USA Technicolor 151 mins.
Filmed in Super Panavision 70mm.
Starring Barbara Streisand, Omar Sharif and Walter Pidgeon.
Prices: Deluxe seats at 16/-d with other seats at 12/10d and 8/-d, all bookable.
Odeon 2
"Chitty, Chitty, Bang Bang!" - 1968 UK Technicolor 144 mins.
Starring Dick Van Dyke, Sally Ann Howes and Lionel Jeffries.
More 70mm Super Panavision films were shown, eg. 'Oliver' in December 1969 and each lasting for a short season but the 70mm facility was eventually withdrawn as the supply of new 70mm prints dwindled.
'Oliver' advertisment

Derek Mann was the manager of the new Odeon twins, he had previously been manager of the Gaumont immediately prior to its conversion.


A Social Gaffe!
The opening of the new Odeon Film Centre created one of the biggest social gaffes the city has witnessed. It is famously reported that the Gala Opening invitation cards carried the words 'Black Ties' which meant that men should wear dinner jackets and black bow ties. Bradford men, however, concerned more about a free film show than either sartorial elegance or etiquette actually turned up in sports jackets or lounge suits along with funeral black ties.

A feature of Odeon 1 and 2 at its opening was that it pioneered (at least outside London) the concept of advance booking for a cinema seat - quite a novelty in 1969. However historical research shows that several Bradford suburban cinemas had a booking system for their 'best' seats on Saturday nights as far back as the 1920's. The new Odeon provided a cloakroom for patrons in the new foyer though this did not last very long and soon became the handyman's room. Additionally, the Odeon had its own licensed bar in the former tea room/café (in the south octagonal tower facing the Alhambra) exclusively for its patrons.

Odeon 1  and 2 in 1971

Later, Odeon 2 had its seating capacity reduced to 1000 to meet new fire regulations.


1982 More Flood Damage
Overnight on Saturday 5th through to Sunday 6th June 1982 following heavy storms the Bradford Beck unable to take the excess surface drainage overflowed (yet again) and flooded Thornton Road including the Top Rank Bingo. Inside the bingo hall, the murky waters around 12 inches deep and still rising as bewildered staff looked on helplessly. The octagonal entrance/exit and machine bingo (in former restaurant area) at the Thornton Road end were similarly flooded.

1982 Floods at Odeon and Top Rank Bingo

The Bingo & Social Club closed for a few days for a massive clean-up but the Odeon Film Centre upstairs continued without interruption as power supplies and access were not affected.


Dolby Surround Sound
April 28th to May 7th 1986 saw the installation of first generation Dolby Stereo Surround Sound in both Odeon 1 and 2 and the first Dolby Test Film run on 8th May 1986 followed by several realignments of the Dolby system over the next month. Speakers were placed around the walls of each auditorium. Interesting to note that the large centre loudspeaker behind the screen of Odeon 2 was that used for many years as the main speaker in the Gaumont days and was to stay in service until closure in 2000.

In February 1989 new screen tabs (curtains) were fitted in both Odeon 1 and 2 and on 15th November 1989 Odeon 1 was enhanced by the installation of new Lansing JBL8330 surround speakers for the Dolby system.


Adding Odeon 3
Odeon 3  ©MJB. It was not until 1988 that a use was found for the empty and unused former New Victoria/Gaumont Ballroom. In February 1988 the large pendant houselight fittings were carefully removed and the Ballroom measured up for conversion and final plans drawn.

In April exterior re-roofing work and internal lightweight construction work of dividing the space to form auditorium with wooden raked floor, proscenium for screen, projection room and ancillary rooms. A suspended ceiling was fitted but the ornate wall pilasters of the former ballroom were retained and gilded as part of the new decor. Between the pilasters where once were huge showpiece mirrors now removed and replaced by blue drapes to match the blue screen curtains and blue patterned wall-to-wall carpeting.

Above the new white false ceiling was the original and spectacular ornate decorated ceiling with glass roof lights of the ballroom left virtually untouched. By early June the projection room was fitted out with a single projector and platter with plain Dolby surround sound and the 25ft x 11ft 5ins screen and frame installed.

The blue-themed auditorium now had 244 rich red seats arranged in three blocks with two aisles. The side blocks angled slightly towards the screen and luxury seats were included at the rear of the centre block making Odeon 3 a comfortable and more intimate cinema.

Concurrent with this conversion was the creation of a 'bridge' from first floor foyer to the corridor leading to Odeon 3 and extensive redecoration of foyers, a new larger shop space and refurbished licensed bar.

Contractors for Odeon 3 conversion were . . .
Electrical Installation - The Electrical Installation Co Ltd, Gateshead.
Floor Covering - Sharps Floor Furnishers, Legrams Lane, Bradford.
Heating & Ventilation - H. Morfitt & Sons, Leeds.
Decorations - Raymond Long Ltd, Saltaire.

Odeons 1, 2 and 3 were now to be totally non-smoking cinemas.


Odeon 3 - Gala Opening
The new Odeon 3 opened on Thursday 23rd June 1988 with the local premier of . . .

"Crocodile Dundee II" - 1988 Australia/USA Color 110mins.
Starring Paul Hogan, Linda Kozlowski and John Meillon.
A celebrity at the opening was actress Caroline Munro, one of James Bond's girls in 'The Spy Who Loved Me' and former '3-2-1' ITV hostess along with a specially invited audience.

The remaining Odeon 1 and 2 closed that evening to give maximum prominence to the new cinema's gala opening. The manager was still Derek Mann who had been in post since its late Gaumont days.

Thereafter as an Odeon triple unit it has shown most of the major top films to Bradford audiences including special lettings to the Asian community for their own films and visits by 'Bollywood' screen stars.

Later managers of the Odeon triple have included Dale Burton, Cliff Baillie and Phil Westhead.


Odeon used for Church Worship
A little known fact is that for a short while in the mid 1980s the larger Odeon 2 was leased by the Church of Abundant Life for their Sunday Worship until their own new purpose-built centre was completed. Odeon 1 was used for their children's Sunday School and a crèche was set up in the foyer. The ALM (Abundant Life Ministry) provided its own music in the cinema with guitar, bass, drums, keyboards and six singers. An overhead projector was used to project the song words onto the screen. ALM have now have their own premises to accommodate up to 2000 worshippers.


7-Screen Multiplex Proposals
In 1991 provisional plans were drawn up Northern Building Design Associates (NBDA) for a possible 3 screens in the Top Rank Bingo area of 200, 140 and 200 seats. The Bingo operation could then be combined with Rank owned Mecca Bingo in Little Horton Lane. The plans included retail areas in the towers and former New Victoria/Gaumont Restaurant area on Thornton Road. Odeon 1 with 467 seats would remain as would Odeon 3 but Odeon 2 could be split into two screens with 340 seats in the rear section and 540 in the front section.

By 1994 revised plans showed Odeon 1 split into two with screens in front and rear sections. Similarly, the larger Odeon 2 split into three screen with a single screen in the front section and the rear section divided into two side-by-side screens. The proposals did not develop any further.

In the late 1990s Rank were looking at other ideas involving the Leeds Headrow Odeon whiich, if closed, could be seen as a prime development site. meanwhile Gallaghers were building the new complex at Thornbury roundabout which included a 13-screen multiplex. The original cinema operator withdrew from the scheme and Odeon took the lease resulting in the swift closure and sale of both the Leeds and Bradford Odeons and the cinema operation to be concentrated on the Thornbury site.


Senior Citizen Film Shows
A highly successful innovation was the establishment in July 1996 of the Senior Citizens Film Shows on Wednesday mornings in the small Odeon 3 where you could see a recent new film with tea or coffee and biscuits and a warm welcome from the friendly staff all for a modest £1.50. The brainchild of Assistant Manager Christine Schofield, the shows soon built up into a major weekly attraction with huge support necessitating a move into the larger auditoria of Odeon 1 or Odeon 2.

In fact, the shows and their simple concept were so successful they have been copied by many other Odeon cinemas across the country. Bradford was the first in exploring this new field and many of its regular senior citizen supporters also had fond memories of when it was the New Victoria and Gaumont.

The final Senior Citizen performance on the morning of Wednesday 28th June 2000 was preceded an electronic organ recital and sing-a-long by Dr. Arnold Loxam once a resident "Mighty Wurlitzer" organist (click here for more details of the Wurlitzer organ) back in the New Victoria/Gaumont days. The large audience in Odeon 2 gave Arnold (then a sprightly octogenarian) a standing ovation then settled down to enjoy the film . . .

"The Sixth Sense" - 1999 USA Technicolor 107 mins.
Starring Bruce Willis, Toni Collette and Haley Joel Osmet.
This nostalgic finale achieved much press, radio and television coverage much to the annoyance of Odeon/Rank senior management who preferred a quiet closure - clearly they had totally underestimated the feelings of local people who wanted to finish in style.

Since the closure of the Odeon triple, senior citizen shows have continued at the new Odeon 13-screen multiplex at Thornbury and also at the nearby Pictureville cinema in the National Museum of Photography, Film & Television.


Final Closure
The Top Rank Bingo below the cinemas in the former stalls area of the New Victoria/Gaumont had already ceased operation in the Summer of 1997 and bingo transferred to the Rank owned Mecca Bingo in Little Horton Lane. The closure of the Odeon triple cinemas in June 2000 was a sad day for many not least of which the staff who had done so much to keep it going in difficult times. As a cinema it has outgrown its usefulness as the younger audiences shifted to the popcorn and coke swilling multiplexes offering a greater choice of film titles. Perhaps the Odeon's final performance should have been another 'Black Tie' - the funeral tie - event where we could properly mourn the passing of Bradford's most important piece of cinema heritage.

In the final week the Odeon's three screens were showing . . .

"Chicken Run" - 2000 UK Technicolor 84 mins.
Voices of Mel Gibson, Jane Horrocks and Timothy Spall.
"Big Momma's House" - 2000 USA/Ger Deluxe-color 98 mins.
Starring Martin Lawrence, Nia Long and Paul Giamatti.
"Frequency" - 2000 USA Deluxe-color 118 mins.
Starring Dennis Quaid, James Caviezel and Shawn Doyle.
"Gladiator" - 2000 Uk/USA Technicolor 155 mins.
Starring Russell Crowe, Joaqhin Phoenix and Oliver Reed.
The very last film to be shown was "Chicken Run" in Odeon 2 (the largest auditorium) on Sunday 2nd July 2000. An invited guest in the audience was 77 year old Norman Scurrah who as a 7-year old boy had been brought to the opening of the New Victoria in 1930. Mr Scurrah completed his cinema hat-trick by being a guest at the opening of the new Odeon 13-screen multiplex at Thornbury the following week.


A touching finale was outside on the giant Read-o-Graph display sign above the entrance with the message . . .

New Victoria
Odeon Cinemas
1930 to July 2000
Thanks for
the Memories.


. . . and the future?
Plaque Now over ten years later (Aug 2010) there is much speculation as to what will happen to this unique landmark building. Plans are approved to demolish it to make way for more bars, offices and apartments which many feel is quite inappropriate on this valuable and prestige site in Bradford's 'West End' entertainment quarter. For several years after closure the building proudly displayed its Bradford City Heritage plaque and now removed for safe keeping.

Equally there are many who feel this building should be saved and restored to its former self by stripping out all the internal conversion work and restoring the original 3000+ seat muti-purpose theatre/cinema/ concert hall and conference centre and large enough to attract big-name orchestras, bands and world class performers on their UK tours that our present city theatre and halls cannot accommodate. After all, Sheffield has seen the light and has invested in a multi-million Pound refurbishment of its City Hall and retained the dance hall underneath as was demanded by its citizens.

This is Bradford's last chance to save the building and recreate a prestige showpiece building of which the city can again be proud and to compliment the Alhambra and St George's Hall and so attract more visitors to our city.

The Bradford Odeon Rescue Group (BORG) was set up in 2004 to liase with Bradford Centre Regeneration Company and Bradford Council to represent the many thousands of people who wish to save and restore the building and its fight still continues in 2010.


Origins of the Cinema Names
New Victoria - In the 1920s PCT (Provincial Cinematograph Theatres) originally called their cinemas Regent - as at Bournemouth, Brighton, Bristol, London (Regent Street), Hanley, Ipswich, Preston, Sheffield and Stamford Hill. However 1930 saw a change of name to New Victoria at Bradford, Edinburgh and London - the latter is now called Apollo Victoria Theatre. The Regent Preston was also renamed as the fourth New Victoria of the PCT circuit. So that is how it got its name.

Local tales that the Bradford New Victoria was named after the nearby statue of Queen Victoria and Victoria Square are quite erroneous. New Victoria Street was named after the newly built cinema as the street was previously called Brewery Street when Whittaker's Brewery was on the site.

Another rumour was that New Victoria was so called to distinguish it from the Victoria cinema further up Thornton Road at Girlington. This is likewise incorrect! Interestingly the Girlington cinema was actually advertising itself in the Telegraph & Argus as New Victoria on the very day that the city centre New Victoria opened but soon changed to just calling itself Victoria Girlington.

Having explained all that, most Bradford folk simply called their new theatre "New Vic" for short and that affectionate name is still talked and written about today.

Gaumont - Cinema name originated in France after the French film pioneer Léon Gaumont (1869-1946). The Gaumont British Picture Corporation and associated companies controlled by the Ostrer Brothers (Isidore, Mark and Maurice) sold out to J. Arthur Rank in the early 1940's and later became part of CMA - Circuit Management Association the U.K cinema circuit. For the record: Gaumont is pronounced as in 'go-mont' and not 'gorm-ont'.

Odeon - Based on the Latin 'Odeium' and Greek 'Odeion' as in the famous Odeion of Herodes Atticus, the huge open air theatre at the foot of the Acropolis in Athens. It had been used earlier as a theatre name, eg. Odeon in Paris. A business friend of Deutsch had also seen the name Odeon in Tunis and recommended it particularly as it started with the initials of Oscar Deutsch. Thus the name was adopted by Oscar Deutsch (of Birmingham) founder of the Odeon Cinemas circuit.

The name Odeon has been jokingly used as an acronym for "Oscar Deutsch Entertains (or Entertaining) Our Nation" and as such is fairly well known. The fact is that the first Odeon at Perry Barr was opened before the chain of cinemas grew and long before someone thought of the acronym which actually turned out to be quite appropriate in later years. After the death of Oscar Deutsch in 1941 the Odeon circuit was sold to J. Arthur Rank and later joined with Gaumont to become CMA - Circuit Management Association and the largest circuit in the country.

Copyright ©1980-2010, Colin Sutton.
May not be copied or reproduced without permission.


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