West Yorkshire market town of Pontefract
 
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Pontefract Local History

CINEMA AND THEATRE
ENTERTAINMENT IN PONTEFRACT


by NORMAN BLACKBURN

Local cinemas and theatres were the mainstay of entertainment in Pontefract during the early to mid 1900s. The 1930s, 40s, and 50s were the heyday for great films and film star’s and Pontefract was well served, having four cinemas to satisfy the appetite of its cinemagoers.

The Playhouse cinema in Gillygate was on the site of the former boys school. It stretched from the Pineapple public house to almost the end of Gillygate stopping short of the Turks Head public house, which still operates to this day.

The Crescent cinema still stands at the west end of Ropergate. No longer a cinema but in its day arguably the plushest picture house in town. In the late 1940s, the cinema had an interior facelift carried out by the decorating company of R.E. Priestley. Shortly before completion a fire broke out during the night and destroyed the interior works. This called for a major restoration. Mr. Priestley’s manager, a gentleman from Lancashire who was a talented artist and a specialist in design and colour schemes, produced a futuristic scheme for the Crescent which proved a great success. He became known to everyone in Pontefract as the artist William Shone.

The manager of the Crescent Cinema, known affectionately as ‘Uncle Tom’ to everybody, could once again proudly patrol his foyer directing operations.

The Premier picture house stood on Front Street, directly opposite Halfpenny Lane on the site now occupied by Haribo. This was probably the smallest of the four cinemas in town but still provided equal entertainment for its patrons.

Last but not least was the Alexandra, formerly the only theatre in town, which stood on a site opposite the Queens Hotel and which now houses a nightclub. The interior was ornate and well designed as you would expect of a former theatre. It had a comfortable feel to it, which proved very popular with local people. The Alexandra had a commissionaire on duty in the foyer, a Mr. Thompson, who stood over six feet tall and was resplendent in his uniform and peaked cap. He controlled the crowds, and crowds there were at all the cinemas in those days.

The programme at all the cinemas was usually a main feature film, a B film, and in between there were the newsreels, Gaumont British, Movie Town or Pathe News along with a cartoon or two. There would also be a short interval when ice creams would be sold.

Each week the programmes ran on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, then changed for Thursday, Friday and Saturday with another change for Sunday. With six films per cinema at each of the four cinemas in town it provided a total of 24 films per week. Sometimes a special film would be shown all week long.

Queues were a regular thing at all the cinemas. Large queues would form from the Crescent all along Ropergate while Gillygate was often full from top to bottom. The small sweetshop opposite the Playhouse did a roaring trade. Each cinema had a sweetshop either opposite or nearly next door. You could of course avoid the queues by booking your seats beforehand for a small additional charge.

On certain days of the week there would be two houses - the first one at 4.30-5.00pm and then the second house at about 7.30pm.

Mr. Eric Beaumont, an avid cinemagoer as a boy, recalls he would set off from his home in Old Church for the first house performance with a packet of sandwiches under his arm and a drink provided by his mother. At the end of the first show he would quickly dash to the next cinema of his choice for the second house performance. Once settled in his seat he would then have his drink and sandwiches and settle down for the next show. Four films and all the supplements in one evening – that was living!

Who supplied the thousands of films shown up and down the country? Well America was the main distributor with the studios of M.G.M, Paramount, Warner Brothers, R.K.O, 20th Century Fox, Universal and United Artists. England had the studios of J. Arthur Rank, Ealing Studios and Gainsboro.

Film stars were contracted to a studio of their choice and fans could write to them with requests for photographs. They would usually be rewarded within a couple of weeks with a postcard size photograph from either England or America.

Now for the stars of the films. Almost everyone went to the pictures. Do you have a story to tell? Many couples did part of their courting at the cinema. Did you meet your wife or husband there? Who was your favourite film star and which was your most memorable film? Let us know and we will endeavour to publish your favourite film star and bring back those memories from years ago.

Norman Blackburn


 

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