Archive for the ‘The Regent Cinema’ Category

The Leeds Shopping Centre in the ’20s and ’30s,Rugby and the Cinemas.By Stan Pickles.

October 1, 2012

For this month’s tale Stan Pickles takes us back even further than usual to the 1020s/30s. Stan who has contributed massively to our East Leeds memories is, alas, no longer with us but the good news was he lived to be a hundred and his great memories of Leeds will live on even longer in these pages. Maybe Stan’s tales may appeal more directly to the pre-computer literate generation. Perhaps if you know someone who would appreciate a trawl through the 1920s/30s you could print it off for them?

The Leeds Shopping Centre in the ‘20s and ‘30s,
Rugby and the Cinemas.
By Stan Pickles
What a difference there is in the Leeds scene today from the lovely atmosphere of yesteryear. Then the shops were all household names and readily come to mind: Walker’s and Geldard’s next door to each other at the top of Kirkgate fitted out all the families for years: Geldard’s for ladies and children’s wear and Walker’s for dads and their lads. They were busy all year round and full to capacity for the annual Whitsuntide ritual. Walker’s with their trade name ‘REKLAW’ also supplied overalls and aprons for all trades. I got my printer’s apron there. Around the corner in Call Lane was King’s footwear shop where you could get a good pair of shoes or boots for eight shillings (40p).
Ho! Those tailor’s shops: Thirty Shilling Tailors, Fifty Shilling Tailors, John Colliers, Burtons of course. Half a dozen are still hanging on with a new image. As I passed through the centre on my way to work many were the times I called at Braham’s Pork Shop on Duncan Street for a sixpenny pork sandwich for lunch, or across the way for a quarter of Wraggs famous polony. That shop was noted for its pork pies sausages and polony. Many were the times I called in there after the rugby game at Headingley for half a pound of best polony for Mam and Dad’s tea with cakes and Yorkshire Relish.
Rawcliffe’s, the school outfitters, also on Duncan Street did a roaring trade in special school jackets, ties, caps all with the many distinctive school badges. There were also: Woolworth’s, Marks and Spencer’s (still there) and so many other big stores such as Lewis’s Schofield’s and the rest.
In the days before the wars there was no one-way traffic systems and Briggate and City Square in particular were choc-a-bloc with traffic doing its best to force a way through and the drivers in these rough conditions trying to control their tempers. Of course there was not the quantity of traffic there is today and the one-way systems have been a great help
The Leeds Market held pride of place for shopping. The whole atmosphere around the stalls and the open market filled with its stallholder characters. It was an entertainment in itself to see: Jimmy Rhodes juggling with baskets of crockery and dinner sets. Ringing them like bells and gradually knocking them down to give away prices in front of big interested audiences was enough to fill a stranger with admiration. There was another chap filling a carrier with soap and washing powder, quoting prices all the time and then saying , ‘Come on give me a couple of bob (10p) for the lot.’ and putting an extra bar of soap in the bag as you passed the money over.
These clever salesmen could hold an audience for ages with their sales patter. Then there was the couple who sold sweets and chocolate bars who would fill a large bag with mixed confectionary, then the lady would take them around the audience and sell them at half the price. The patter went something like this, ‘Why pay fancy prices in the shops for their electric lighting and their gaily coloured bags and the smile of the girl behind the counter?’ There was a fellow selling hair clippers who had a bare patch at the back of his head where he had demonstrated his goods’
The final hour on Saturday night was a good time for bargains. Big bunches of bananas going for sixpence (2 and a half p). Fruit – almost given away.
How many of the past newly-married couples still living remember Wigfall’s and Jay’s furniture stores with the famous slogan: Yours today – four years to pay?’ Yes, things have certainly altered a lot from those far off days of yore.
Joe Dixon, the market bobby would keep things in order while in the entrance, Woodbine Lizzie asked, ‘Give us a cig, cock.’ Joe Dixon, incidentally, played for Leeds Rugby League in the 1923 Cup Final at Wakefield when Leeds beat Hull 28-3.
The highlight of my Leeds games was when I went to Wakefield in 1923 to see that Leeds and Hull in the Rugby League Cup Final. I was only eleven years old but by now knew what it was all about. How I had looked forward to it, catching the Wakefield tramcar at the Corn Exchange and travelling the long ride to the Bull Ring. The old Chantry Bridge was choc-a-block with people on their way to Belle View. I was delighted to see Leeds win the cup and Jim Bacon holding it aloft. After the match we got back to Leeds and waited on Boar Lane to see the victorious Leeds team come home in an open coach to huge cheering crowds all the way to the Griffin Hotel, where thee was a reception and the players came out onto the balcony. I was a very happy youngster.
It gives a sense of history that almost 90 years after that 1923 final we still find ourselves walking over Chantry Bridge to that grand old Belle View Stadium (now the Rapid Solicitor’s Stadium and soon to be something quite different altogether)
At Headingley we always stood behind the posts at the St Michael’s Lane end. And apart from my later years when I got a stand ticket that was my favourite spot. How times have changes, though. Now ninety percent go by car and the streets around the ground are packed every Sunday when there is a match. Going back to a time between the wars it was a common sight to see rows of private bus companies like, Wallace Arnold and Heaps, that had bussed loads from all over the north parked tail to tail. It was a regular occurrence to see 30,000 in the ground on big match days
Going to the Pictures
Starting in the early twenties after I had graduated through my ‘penny rush’ days at the Easy Road Picture House I ventured further afield with cinema visits all over the city My earliest memories were of stars like, Douglas Fairbanks (the acrobatic one), Mary Pickford (the world’s sweetheart), Charlie Chaplin (the little tramp) who introduced Jackie Coogan as ‘the kid’, Lon Chaney (the man with 1,000 faces), Tom Mix and William S. Hart (the first cowboy stars). Richard Bartholomew and Alice Terry were probably the biggest attractions in the twenties. Rudolph Valentino (he was the sheik) riding off over the desert with his dancing slave girl, Oh that Vilma Banky! The big silent films of the time were: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, The Gold Rush, The Black Pirate, The Sea Hawk, Blood and Sand, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Way down East and that great epic, The Ten Commandments. To add to the drama and effect there was a pianist who did a good job giving atmosphere to the occasion. Now and again a singer would be engaged to give extra entertainment. For the film, The Volga Boatman at the Coliseum half a dozen singers were engaged to pull a rope across the front of the screen chanting the boatman’s song, ‘Ho’er, Heave Ho’ pretending to be pulling a barge as in the film provided a very effective overture before the film started. By this time I was a fanatic and interested in anything about films. I bought the weekly magazine: The Picture Show, two pence every week, which was full of interesting topics and pictures of the big films, the big stars and all the latest gossip. By the time the ‘talkies’ arrived in 1928 singing and dancing films were all the rage; The Broadway Melody, Hollywood Revue, On With the Sow. Desert Song, Rio Rita, Gold Diggers and the first talking and singing film: The Singing Fool with Al Jolson drew big crowds at Briggate’s Rialto Picture House.
The thirties carried on with new stars arriving on the scene, child star, Shirley Temple was the biggest sensation of them all. As for the men: nobody could match Clark Gable who went to the top with films like: It Happened One Night, Mutiny on the Bounty, San Francisco and finishing the thirties with the Masterpiece: Gone With the Wind. Gangster films were very popular: The Big House, Up the River, Fugitive from the Chain Gang and Public Enemy Number One, made stars of: James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson, Paul Muni, Humphrey Bogart, and many more.
I saw lots of films, going at least twice a week. Night school didn’t help but on one of the nights our lesson on practical work was broken to go across Cookridge Street to the Art School (I hated it) for the 8 p.m.–9 p.m. session. I could not stand drawing letter characters as it was of no use to my trade and a waste of time (My old
school teacher, Mr Archie Gordon, once called me, sarcastically of course, ‘Our lightening artist’). Anyway I thought it was a better idea to stay at the back of the group and nip into the Coliseum for the last show. It came off until I had been absent
three times, then I was found out and had to pay a visit to the Head, Mr Bottomley, who was very sympathetic to my cause but asked me to play the game, so that was that.
The biggest night in the history of Leeds cinema was the opening of the luxurious theatre: The Paramount, Briggate, in February 1932. The Smiling Lieutenant featuring Maurice Chevalier was the big film followed by a wonderful stage show. A friend and I went straight from work but couldn’t get near the place for the huge crowds never mind getting in. However we were successful on the Thursday evening. I will always remember it was like entering a royal palace and the wonderful show on stage, I had never seen anything like it.
The opening of the Shaftsbury a few years earlier in 1928 offered really good stage shows. I think it was the only cinema to have double seats for young couples. It was my favourite cinema and held many happy memories. I took my future wife on our first date to the Shaftsbury and I remember the film: The Barrett’s of Wimpole Street (1935). Going back even earlier still to 1923 – The Princess Cinema opened in Pontefract Lane. After being quite happy visiting the ‘bug hutches’ like: The Easy Road, The Victoria, The Premier and then The Regent you can imagine how we felt going into a lovely new picture house. The seats were all very comfortable and the cinema itself was kept spotless. The price of admission was: 3d, 6d, and 9d. Wednesday night was ‘jazz night’. When the lights went up the audience were invited to join in a sing-song following a bouncing ball on a song sheet on the screen while a small orchestra played the popular tunes of the day: I Like Ice Cream, Toy Drum Major, California Moon and Constantinople were songs I recall. Oh and those serials in fifteen episodes with…to be continued next week finishing at the most exciting part and holding you in suspense until the next week. I remember them well: Bride 13, Hidden Dangers, The Masked Rider, Fantomas, Houdini and the most famous and evil of them all Dr. Fu Manchu, who terrified everyone with his torture chamber and the evil deeds, carried out on his adversaries. Pearl White was always in danger, fighting him in films like, The Ebony Block and The Perils of Pauline.
In the thirties I was on the ‘Big Five’ mailing list, a little booklet of monthly programmes at: The Majestic, The Scala, The Coliseum, The Assembly Rooms and The Parkfield in Jack Lane, Hunslet. On Saturday nights you had to book early to be sure of getting in. Yes, cinema going was the main entertainment before the war. Unfortunately, people lost interest after World War Two. Those lovely cinemas were closed and many turned into ‘bingo halls’. I rarely go to the pictures now- a- days but those grand golden days of the cinema hold a special memory for me.

Thanks for those great memories. Stan.
The central Leeds cinema I remember were: The Odeon (previously The Paramount), The ABC (previously The Ritz)the Tower, The Assembly Rooms, The Gourmont – Cookridge Street (previously the Coliseum), The Scala and Majestic who always showed the same film for some reason and The News Theatre and Tattler near City Square. And our local cinemas: The Picture House (Easy Road), The Princess, Star, Shaftsbury, Regent, Hillcrest and in Hunslet: The Premier, Strand and Regal – all within walking distance and many more just a tram ride away. I’m sure you, our readers will remember many more.

Right, out last picture was of course The Market District Boys Club. Eric got it right how many more? And what about this months picture? All East Leedsers should recognise this one.

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The Flicks

July 31, 2009

The Flicks is another of Eric Sanderson’s great tales this time about the cinemas of East Leeds in the 1940s/50s. And also the characters who ran them. Particularly Abe White at the Easy Road Picture House and Big Ernie at the Princess. Was Big Ernie’s the best known voice in East Leeds? Blog Flicks 

The Flicks

By Eric Sanderson

Cinemas (picture Houses – or even more colloquially ‘the Flicks’) were numerous right throughout the city and East Leeds had its fair share. During the 40s and 50s my favourite establishments were: The Shaftsbury and The Star, both on York Road; The Regent in lower Torre Road; The Princess in Pontefract Lane and The Easy Road cinema.

            They all followed a similar schedule, having a programme Mon to Wed, a different one Thurs to Saturday and a further change for a single house on Sunday evening (after Sunday opening started in the early fifties) They were without exception, well supported, often necessitating queuing outside and gaining access only after the show had begun such that you had to stay for the ‘second half’ to see the beginning of the film – seeing it back to front so to speak. Who would stand such nonsense today? They were also heavily smoke laden to the equivalent of a ten fag inhalation; you’d only to look at the beam from the projection room to see a swirling nicotine mist of eye watering density. The modern day elf ‘n safety Nazis would have a fit of vapours if confronted with such conditions.

            THE  SHAFTSBURY, known as ‘The Shaffs’ was the northern boundary of my cinematic circuit at the junction of York Road and Harehills Lane boasted a magnificent marble frontage (which in fact remains) atop several steps and leading to an impressive gilded vestibule and ticket office. It was probably the most modern cinema in the area, also the most expensive, but usually had the most recent films. The seating was red plush upholstery, many double seated but it suffered from the unpleasant characteristic of an absolutely scorching temperature. The building must have had its own uncontrolled nuclear reactor because by the interval, many had discarded their outer clothing and would dash for one of the several queues for ice creams and drinks, sold by strategically placed attendants from trays hung around their necks. The first ten minutes of the resumption of the film was drowned my the sucking and slurping of Kia Ora and orange flavoured lollipops, every last drop being siphoned up to quell the raging thirst induced by the tropical temperatures.

            The STAR (which had been built in the late 20s on the site of an earlier cinema called The Victoria), further down York Road, opposite Victoria School was also a fairly modern art deco style building. It had a peculiar feature in that while most cinemas sloped downwards from the rear towards the front, the Star reversed direction and began to slope up towards the screen. I suppose this was to reduce neck strain on those in the wooden, unupholstered cheap seats at the front when staring up at the screen. A very modern innovation or a cunning way to save building costs? It also boasted a balcony with very plush seating for its wealthier clientele but I only visited the balcony once and only then because my favourite aunt took me there for a birthday treat.

                        The staff were magnificently attired in maroon uniforms, the usherettes sporting little pillbox hats, strictly tilted to one side whilst the ‘fireman’ with his peaked cap boasted enough gold braid to impress an Admiral of the Fleet his chest was adorned with so many medal ribbons that he must have campaigned in: The Crimea, Rorkes Drift, The relief of Mafeking and all major encounters since. However, the manager was the man. He was always to be seen in black tuxedo with silk face lapels, had a tiny clipped moustache and gleaming slicked back hair with central parting, resembling a silent movie star. Now I come to think of it I believe that all the cinema managers possessed these handsome, sultry movie style features. maybe they went into the job believing it was just the first step on the road to Hollywood stardom! The manager also had a magnificent furnished office to one side of the entrance vestibule. Oh yes a cinema manager was indeed as job to aspire to in those days. In fact many years later (about 1965) I came across an old school friend who’d become manager of the Pavilion, near Stanningley. Sure enough, the black tuxedo and hairstyle were all there and the icing on the cake was the complimentary passes to the best seats. I was still convinced this was a job to die for 

The Star also started around 1950 a Saturday morning children’s matinee. The programme was invariably, a cartoon, a serial of Flash Gordon (not the same Gordon as our revered leader whom I’m sure history will treat favourably – if only because he intends to write it), followed by the main feature which was usually a western staring, Hopalong Cassidy or Roy Rogers, These matinees were often so rowdy that the film would be interrupted, lights thrown up and the manager (still in his black tuxedo) would clamber onto the stage and threaten to suspend the programme and expel all and sundry unless the racket was terminated. It never worked and I never remember wholesale expulsions. The Star also had an integral sweet and tobacco shop (as did the Shaftsbury) encouraging you to stock up on the necessities so as to maximise your enjoyment of the evening.

               The Regent was at the lower end of Torre Road and for us always a slightly intimidating journey because we had to go to it via Saville Green. This was an area at the lower end of York Road opposite the swimming baths and had a notorious reputation as a cross between Hogarth’s Gin Lane and New York’s Hell’s Kitchen. Between Saville Green and Torre Road was an old quarry, local legend had it that unwanted or inquisitive visitors were disposed of by being tossed into its slimy green water filled depths. Until you were much older this horror story sustained the fear that most young people had of this district and was a good reason to give it a wide birth.

Digressing slightly, I once had to retrieve a football nicked from my younger brother by some Saville Green urchins. I had been informed just who and where the culprits were and so I fearfully entered the amphitheatre deciding that ‘boldness be my friend’ was the best approach. I was convinced that I would be beaten up and thrown to the swine in the nearby piggery, but completely unexpectedly they handed over the football without a murmur. Saville Green was never such a fearful place for me after that.

Back to the Regent, it never became my favourite venue as it always had a peculiar aroma inside the building. It may have been the product of the industrial strength insecticide in use coupled with boiled pigswill from the nearby pigsties and, it was always a chilly place. Not a good combination for an evening’s light entertainment.

The PRINCESS in Pontefract Lane was probably my favourite venue. It was older and smaller than the others so far mentioned but it always seemed a cosy place and as far as I know free of anything nasty. The cheap seats at the front were accessed from an ally down the side of the cinema. After paying you entrance fee you were greeted by ‘Big Ernie’ who would allocate your seat, often starting on the front row towards the side. This location resulted in a very distorted view of the screen with elongated characters and severe eye strain, but as the evening wore on you could usually move further inward and towards a more comfortable viewing position, hoping that your recently induced swivel eye condition would improve before the end of the film.

           Big Ernie who in fact lived quite close to me, was a dustbin man by day and a fairly quit person to boot- nothing like the fearsome character maintaining order in the cheap seat area by bellowing, ‘QUIET’ if the background murmur became too loud for his taste. Otherwise he would sit under the screen noisily munching his sandwiches and slurping his tea until it was necessary to evict anyone who offended his code of behaviour, which only happened about six times a night.

The Princess had a much steeper gradient back to front  the most other cinemas which meant you still had a good chance of seeing the screen even if sat behind a trilby toting man or lady with large feather trimmed headwear. The more expensive seats at the rear usually encountered children when accompanied by adults, otherwise it was the cheapies at the front which cost, if I remember correctly sixpence. Money well spent.

        The final cinema on my circuit was The EASY ROAD venue. I never knew its correct name (if it had one) but I guess at some time it had been called something like The Palace or Rialto but which had now fallen into disuse.   [In fact it was just called The Picture House, Easy Road and claimed to have the best ‘talkie’ in Leeds].

                This was, I believe the oldest cinema on my circuit and usually showed the oldest films, only after they had been shown everywhere else. It may have been privately owned because I always understood it to be run by a man [Abe] and his two sisters. The entry price was also the lowest which in itself was a considerable attraction when scraping up the entrance fee was a challenging proposition. Behind the cinema was some derelict land and nearby pigsties so it doesn’t need a quantum leap in imagination to guess the probability of local wildlife just there. Rumour had it that feral cats were allowed to roam the cinema so at to control the uninvited guests from across the way and I never felt too comfortable here because an involuntary itch often accompanied each visit, on a couple of occasions something furry brushed against my legs. I always hoped it was one of the feline species and not the long tailed, buck toothed, Rattus Norvegicus. For this reason many sat with their feet on the seat in front.

            During and just after the war, the local cinema was, for many, a heaven sent escape for a couple of hours from the hardship and worries of those years. The entertainment was by today’s standards often corny but this is exactly what people wanted. To spend a couple of hours in the fantasy of a Hollywood musical with a bag of liquorish allsorts and maybe five Woodbines was a welcome and necessary break from reality.