Bradford - Elite Cinema

Elite Cinema
Toller Lane,

Former Elite cinema

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A stone purpose-built cinema prominently sited at the top of Toller Lane on its south side at the junction with Fairbank Road and adjacent to the slightly older Coliseum Picture House. The two cinemas were to both compete and be run in conjunction with one another throughout their working lives. This is the only incidence in the Bradford area of two cinemas being virtually next door to each other.


The Interior
As this was a purpose-built cinema, considerable care had been taken in fitting out the hall where the seating accommodation for over 700 persons in its stalls and a straight fronted balcony was said to be the last word in comfort. The Bradford Daily Argus commented prior to the opening . . .

"The plush tip-up chairs are all arranged in conformity with the recent regulations of the Licensing Committee and a good slope of the floor ensured each spectator an uninterrupted view of the screen. The ventilation is also good and special attention has been paid to the lighting which consists of 'Equiluxe' ceiling lamps. An efficient band will provide music and matinées will take place every Saturday afternoon at 2.30pm."


Civic Opening
Opened on Friday 1st August 1913 at 7-30 pm with a Civic Opening performed by the Lord Mayor of Bradford, Alderman Frederick Foster, with the City Surveyor, W.H. Dawson, also in attendance.

At this time there were already twenty-six picture houses, including church halls licensed for films, in Bradford (the Scala was to open the following day) and plans prepared for ten more. The Elite was the first (and believed to be the only) cinema to be opened by this particular Lord Mayor for he only agreed on condition that proceeds went to charity. The Bradford Daily Argus reported that "he had no interest whatever in the house; he hoped it would be conducted along proper lines and that the pictures would have a moral influence for good".

The rival Bradford Daily Telegraph reported that the seemingly disinterested Lord Mayor also said "that until he arrived he did not know to whom the hall belonged, he did not know the gentleman who owned it". In fact, the owners were the Elite Picture House Co Ltd with W. Walmsley as Chairman who moved a tactful vote of thanks to His Worship. The Manager of the new cinema was Arnold M. Crowe.

Films for the Civic Opening included . . .

"Lord Mayor of London's Visit to Harrogate" in which Bradford's Alderman Foster could be plainly seen.
"Children's Sports at Park Avenue" again featured the Lord Mayor.
"Trout Breeding" - a documentary.
"Sally in our Alley" - a comedy, and
"La Dauphine" - a coloured drama of old France.
The Elite Orchestra played appropriate music.
The advertising proclaimed . . .
"Entire proceeds for distribution among the Bradford Charities.
Reserved Seats 1/6d. Unreserved 1s and 6d.
Following the opening the Bradford Daily Telegraph described the Elite thus . . .
"The ceiling is (barrel) vaulted and moulded with 'Equiluxe' lamps inset and the walls are coloured in delicate spring shades and ornamented with festoons of roses and painted floral panels. Seats of 700 (in stalls and circle) in brown plush tip-up chairs . . . rich red carpets. The Programme and Chocolate girls are distinctive in their costumes of the Puritan Maid type".

The Bradford Daily Telegraph continued in another article . . .
"Entering upon its career under auspicious circumstances, the Elite Picture House is a worthy addition to the entertainment of the city. Mr Arnold Crowe, the manager, has had no small experience of the cinema world and he can be relied upon to secure the best."


New Owner and Rebuilding
By the early 1920's the Elite Picture House Co Ltd was controlled by Eddie Anderton, a haulage contractor turned cinema proprietor, along with Charlie Blagborough as the white tie and tails resident manager. Anderton also had interests in the Coliseum next door to the Elite across Fairbank Road, the Grand Picture House in Manchester Road and the Picturedrome in Bridge Street.

Eddie Anderton temporarily closed the Elite in 1924 to carry out rebuilding work and greatly enlarging the hall by providing 1,304 seats including many double 'love' seats and a fully equipped stage. The stalls and circle seating was arranged in three blocks with two aisles with the front row 20feet to the screen and the circle has an extra two blocks of seats with centre aisle in a recess at the rear. The new Elite re-opened on Thursday 5th February 1925 at 6-30pm with the film . . .

"Behold This Woman" - 1924 USA B/W Silent 70mins.
Starring Irene Rich, Marguerite de la Motte, Charles A. Post.
Billed as "Bradford's latest and most up-to-date cinema, luxurious seating, beautiful lighting effects. Pictures projected from behind the screen. No eye strain - no risk of fire. The only cinema in Bradford with all this improvement". Films were accompanied by the Elite Symphony Orchestra with Norman E. Rouse as Musical Director.

The Yorkshire Evening Argus of 2nd March 1925 advertised . . .

Bradford's finest cinema
Don't delay your visit to Bradford's
newest and most up-to-date cinema.
Every modern improvement
Beautiful lighting effects
Luxurious setting. Spacious lounges.
Orchestral music by first class musicians
under the leadership of Norman E. Rouse (solo violinist).
Popular prices 6d, 9d and 1/-d.
The back projection used was one of only three in West (Riding of) Yorkshire and only seven such installations in the country. The others locally were at the New Pavilion in Morley and the St Thomas's Hall in Sutton-in-Craven. The Elite projectors were made by Powers with high magnification (ie. short focal length) lenses and the image reversed by mirrors.


The Organ
As this was still the period of silent films, Eddie Anderton installed a 3-manual Andrews pipe organ in the Elite later in 1925. The organ, with console positioned central below the screen, was based on the successful 'Cathedral' organ in the Theatre Royal in Manningham Lane and was constructed at the Andrews City Organ Works in Crampton Street, Bradford. During its installation the Elite advertised . .

"Wednesday Matinées at Coliseum 2.30pm during erection of Elite Grand Organ."
Installation continued through March/April and completed in early May with the first advertised Grand Organ performances from Monday 18th May 1925. For over 20 years (1930's - 50's) the organ was played by Eddie Barstow previously the resident pianist at Betty's Cafe in Darley Street. The organ was removed in the 1950's and transferred to a school in Wales. In the late 1920's Anderton was also busy with the building of his new Shaftesbury Picture House (1603 seats) in York Road, Leeds in October of 1928.


First with Sound
Eddie Anderton was the first to install synchronised sound in a Bradford cinema for in 1928 engineers from Wembley came to Bradford to install the Phono-Film now reincarnated as the British Talking Pictures (BTP) system of synchronised sound optically recorded on the film. So the very first real 'in sync' talking pictures were shown at the Elite on Monday 7th January 1929 with . . .

First Presentation in Bradford of British Talking Pictures
"The Armistice Film" - Entire ceremony at the Cenotaph with full sound effects, including playing of the bands, singing etc.
Exclusive to the Elite. Cannot be seen elsewhere.
Also good programme in addition and gripping drama.
Good turn on stage: Charlie and the Valencia Trio Continental Act.
The Telegraph & Argus revelled in this new novelty and struggled to find the right words to describe this new technology with . . .
"The first 'talking film' to be shown in Bradford will be screened at the Elite Picture House tonight at 6.45pm and 8.45pm. The film which is produced by British Talking Pictures employs the 'Phono-Film' principle of sound reproduction namely the recording of sound names at the side of the film and their subsequent translation into sound again simultaneously with the screening of the film. The subject 'The Armistice Film' with military commands etc have been secured. The directors of the Elite have spent over £1000 in getting this latest machine installed."
Subsequent talking and singing "shorts" shown at the Elite have included:
"Regents Park Zoo" - a documentary
"Scrooge" - 1928 UK B/W 9mins
Starring Bransby Williams.
"The Sentence of Death" - 1927 UK B/W 9mins.
Starring Dorothy Boyd, Owen Nares and Peter Evan Thomas.
[For the record: the first full length sound-on-film talkie (rather than 'shorts') was "The Singing Fool" starring Al Jolson and shown at the Savoy in Darley Street on 4th March 1929 - three months after the Elite's foray into synchronised sound-on-film.]

Around 1932 Anderton had changed back to normal forward projection from a 'box' at the rear of the balcony. This freed up the stage area for shows. Kalee No 12 projectors by Kershaw's of Leeds were installed.


Films and Variety
Throughout the 1930s the Elite made good use of its large stage with variety acts and films. Charlie Blagborough, the manager, regularly booked the Ernest Binns 'Arcadian Follies' concert party for a week's show usually following their popular summer season at Morecambe. A local talent agent Eric Martin once put on his 'Mother Goose' pantomime in place of films over a Christmas period. Betty Driver (later in Coronation Street TV soap) has appeared on the Elite stage as a girl singer. The stage performances came to an end with the Second World War during 1939-45.


New Post-War Owner
The war had caused Eddie Anderton to dispose of his cinemas (which now included his Shaftesbury in Leeds) and retire to the Lake District. The Elite and Coliseum next door were purchased by C & H (Cawthorne & Hyde) Cinemas part of the A.S Hyde Circuit of cinemas in Shipley, Bradford suburbs, Horsforth and Batley. More details of Shack Hyde and his cinema circuit can be found in the Shipley cinemas section. Shack Hyde already ran prestigious houses such as the Glenroyal Shipley, Glenroyal at Horsforth and the ultra-modern Arcadian at Lidget Green along with several more average suburban cinemas. Under Hyde's control the films were booked from his office in Briggate, Shipley.

The Elite was retained as a quality house whilst the adjacent Coliseum was rather more down market. In 1950 the Elite was refurbished to again be able to take live stage shows and productions by the Heaton Amateur Operatic & Dramatic Society. However, its use as a theatre lost popularity and was soon phased out.


Star Takeover
By the early 1950's the Elite had come under the control of Star Cinemas of Leeds and headed by Walter Eckhart and his sons of Harrogate. Star were to take control of several cinemas in Bradford as part of their expansion and the Elite was to undergo more changes.


Widescreen - Less Seats
During the last weekend of January 1954, Star installed a new panoramic widescreen complete with Star Cinemas own . . .

"Ionised reflective Star Colour Tone Surround"
One of the latest developments in picture presentation
direct from the London's West End!
The only "Colour Tone Surround" in Bradford!
The effect was similar to the Ionic "floating" screen having diffused dark blue lighting emerging outwards from behind the black masking surrounding the picture and supposed to enhance the viewing experience. The new screen was unveiled to the public on Monday 1st February 1954 with . . .
"Hans Christian Andersen" - 1952 USA Technicolor 112 mins.
Starring Danny Kaye, Farley Granger and Zizi Jeanmaire.
Three weeks later, Star were to fit a similar screen at their Roxy cinema in Barkerend Road. However, this floating screen gimmick did not seem to capture the imagination of the public and the light effect was soon switched off and so reverting to normal panoramic widescreen with black surround. Later the screen was adapted for use with CinemaScope with motorised masking for changing the aspect ratio.

The large screen necessitated the removal of some front stalls seats and the height of the screen made viewing impossible at the rear of the stall due to the overhang of the balcony with the result that part of the rear stalls was drop-walled off from the rest of the auditorium and so creating a useful waiting area on the now open rear raked floor.


End of Films
Whilst surviving many other Bradford suburban cinemas, the Elite planned to close on Saturday 24th February 1968 with . . .

"To Sir with Love" - 1967 UK Technicolor 105 mins.
Starring Sidney Poitier, Christian Roberts and Judy Geeson.
"Kiss the Girls and Make them Die" - 1966 USA Color 106 mins.
(aka "Se Tutte le donne del Mondo" in Europe)
Starring Mike Connors, Dorothy Provine and Terry Thomas.
In actual fact it ran its final films the following day on Sunday 25th February 1968 with . . .
"The Yellow Teddybears" - 1963 UK B/W 88 mins.
Starring Jill Adams, John Bonney and Victor Brookes.
"Beast with a Million Eyes" - 1956 USA B/W 75mins.
Starring Paul Birch, Lorna Thayer and Dona Cole.


Later life for Elite
The Elite re-opened on Monday 4th March 1968 as the Star Bingo Club in the main auditorium whilst the former huge stage area and dressing rooms were walled off and leased to Five Cities Films Ltd (Peter Ward, D Roebuck and A.G Ogden) for use as film studios for producing mainly television commercials. During the early Bingo period children's film matinées were still held on Saturday afternoons.


Mosque use then Fire
Former Elite Early in December 1986 the Elite was sold for £50,000 to Bradford's largest Moslem organisation, the Jamiyat Tabligh-Ul-Islam with planning permission to turn the former stage area into a mosque whilst bingo continued in the main auditorium until it was partially destroyed by fire in 1987 resulting in that end of the building being demolished in August 1988.

Despite all this, the original projection room at the rear of the balcony still remained in tact with two GB Kalee No 12 machines gathering dust after twenty years being forgotten about.

The late 1990's saw the rebuilding of the former auditorium area again for use solely as the Jamia Mosque and its offices. The original stone built front entrance still remains in use.

Copyright ©2004, Colin Sutton.
May not be copied or reproduced without permission.


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