Bradford - Oak Lane/Oriental Cinema

Oak Lane / Oriental Cinema
Oak Lane,
Manningham, Bradford.

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In Oak Lane on the north side between St Mary's Road and Sunderland Road next to (in 1912) the Northern Automobile Co Ltd garage and George Lewthwaite, cab proprietor. The cinema was opposite the Salem Congregational Chapel (between St Mary's Road and Rosebery Road on the south side).


On 1st August 1912 the Manningham Kinematograph Theatre Ltd was registered as a Company with £2,500 in share capital. The original Oak Lane Picture House was a conversion of the old 'tin shack' horse tram shed of the Bradford Tramways and Omnibus Co Ltd depot. A long narrow hall with raked floor. Newspaper reports were glowing in their praise of the conversion . . .

"Oak Lane represents the transformation of a tramshed into a cinema house. The old stone frontage has been painted to simulate marble, while the interior is a triumph of the decorators art. This is a single deck hall with gradual slope."


Oak Lane Picture House opened on Monday 18 November 1912 with a grand double feature programme . . .

"The Pseudo Sultan" - 1912 USA B/w Silent.
Starring John Bunny, Flora Finch and William Shea.
"Phillip Steele" - 1912 USA B/w Silent.
Starring Gertrude Robinson and Hector Dion.
The proprietor was Tom Kuner and his new "Palatial Electric Theatre" seated 519 people. T. Kenner was the manager.

The Bradford Daily Argus advertised . . .

Oak Lane Cinema
The most luxuriously fitted Electric Theatre in Bradford.
Continuous performances 6.30 to 10.30pm.
Saturdays 2 to 5 and 6.30 to 10.30pm.
Pictures changed Mondays and Thursdays
Prices 3d and 6d. Children 2d and 4d.
The Bradford Daily Argus enthused after the opening . . .
" . . . is a striking example of architectural compatibility. The hall, which is 114 feet in length, has been judiciously arranged in its accommodation and an attendance of some 600 (officially 519) can be comfortably seated."

"The scheme of decoration, the general furnishings and the upholstering all blend artistically, and the work of the designers in its effect won the highest encomiums (praise) at the opening performance."

"The ventilating and heating arrangements are of the most up-to-date type, whilst the machinery used is of the latest invention. The entrance hall is of picturesque appearance and the comfort of the patrons has been studied with great forethought in every detail."


Music and the War
The Bradford Daily Telegraph on Saturday 2nd August 1913 reported . . .

"A delightful ladies orchestra under the direction of Miss Agnes M. Robertson LRAM has been engaged for the Oak Lane Cinema and will commence duties on Monday 4th August 1913. The musical programme has been arranged so that each film will have its own appropriate music."
In January 1914 after redecoration and fitting of new screen and new heating plus a new management and proudly advertised . . .
"The Management cordially invites the public of Bradford & District to visit the Oak Lane Cinema. Redecorated, re-heated, new screen, new management. Run on West End lines."
It reopened as the New Oak Lane Cinema on Monday 19th January 1914 with . . .
The Film of the Century
"Sixty Years A Queen" - 1913 UK B/w Silent.
Starring Rolf Leslie in 27 different roles.
The life of the late Queen Victoria
3 performances daily 1.45,7.00 and 9.00pm.
Prices 6d and 3d. Booked seats 9d.
In 1914 William Edgar (Ted) Holland was to take over as manager and he met his wife-to-be at the Oak Lane. He later moved to the Pavilion de Luxe in Shipley thence to the new Saltaire Picture House. Holland's experience in the Bradford and Shipley area was to pave the way for his later rise with Odeon circuit and later North of England regional controller for Rank.

With the start of the First World War in August 1914, the cinema patriotically advertised in October 1914 . . .

"Great Britain for Pluck
Oak Lane Cinema for Pictures"
Films from the war front were to be shown regularly and became an important item in all cinema programmes - this was the start of the newsreels.


Name Change to Oriental
In 1920 the name was changed to Oriental. Proprietor and manager was Thomas Thornton who was also involved with the Idle Picture House.

Music continued to be an accompaniment to silent films and by 1925 it boasted an "Augmented Orchestra". Percy Richardson had become resident manager.

In January 1928 as a special event . . .

" . . . also gigantic attraction on the stage - personal visit of Herbert Langley, the British National Operatic Baritone from the Albert Hall, Covent Garden Opera House, London; also with Beecham's Opera Company."
In May 1930 with 'talkies' becoming popular it was "Freedman and his Orchestra" who continued to accompany any silent films. The Western Electric sound set had already been installed and on 3rd August 1931 advertised . . .
"Just installed the latest Westone Screen. The clearness is amazing. The most perfect talkies in Bradford."


Closure for rebuilding
The Oriental in is former tramshed building closed on Saturday 10th October 1936 with the film . . .

"The House of Rothchild" - 1924 USA B/w + colour seq. 87 mins.
Starring George Arliss, Loretta Young and Boris Karloff.

"Closed from Monday 12th October 1936 for extensive alterations, watch for opening date."

In fact, the cinema was to be almost rebuilt.


Rebuilding as New Oriental
New Oriental 1937 For nearly four months the huge rebuilding project was to enlarge the cinema and provide the latest facilities - some unique to the city. The old corrugated roof of the former tramshed building was removed - it used to rattle during winds and rain; the side walls were raised and topped by a pitched roof.

The building was limited by its site and still provided a long narrow auditorium. The rebuilt frontage of brick and faience tile had a central stepped entrance with canopy over and large advertising panels at each side. The upper part art-deco with stepped façade and a large vertical fin down the centre carried the Oriental name on both sides. The angled front corners of the façade had large vertical similarly angled windows.

The New Oriental stood out from the surrounding soot-darkened Victorian properties of the densely populated neighbourhood. This became even more so after dark when it was ablaze with neon and other spectacular lighting effects and could be clearly seen from Manningham Lane (a major thoroughfare) 300 yards away.


Wherever possible, local firms, materials and labour were used . . .

Main Contractor - Alfred Robinson, Idle, Bradford.
Steelwork - Henry Barrett & Sons, Bradford.
Bricks and Tiles - George Armitage & Sons Ltd, Rothwell.
Canopy/Rails - Sutcliffe Bros. (Bradford) Ltd.
Central Heating - Charles Howroyd, Bradford.
Electrical Contractor - Harold Carr, Leeds.
Seating/Carpets - L.B Lockwood & Co, Bradford.
Wall Tiling - T. Illingworth & Son, Bradford.
Sanitary Fittings - Oates & Green Ltd, Halifax.
Decorations - Frank Wood, Huddersfield.
Door Fittings - Williams & Turpie, Bradford.


New Interior
The addition of a small balcony accommodating 150 modern tub chairs with comfortable rubber arm rests arranged in a single block with an aisle at each side. The ten rows of seats were stepped providing unobstructed views of the new larger screen. The projection room was now sited at the rear of the balcony offset to the right hand side. Although making good use of electricity there was also secondary gas lighting installed.

The stalls had a single central entrance at the rear to its 543 seats in two blocks with centre aisle. At the front another 50+ could be accommodated on wooden forms set just 12 feet 10 inches from the screen. The total capacity was circa 750.

At the time it was described as . . .

"Decoration is carried out in warm tones to harmonise with the new seating. A warm and cosy atmosphere pervades the hall and large electric fans in the ceiling ensure a constant flow of clean air."

"A pretty effect was obtained by the use of "a plastic substance" in silver tone finished in gold and relieved in black. Thick carpeting and liberal use of rubber covering elsewhere ensured quietness while the seat has plenty of 'leg room'. A beautifully appointed lounge had been added and the retiring rooms (toilets) were hygienically and tastefully walled with tiles."

"The Western Electric sound system is entirely up-to-date, for new devices which increase clarity of tone are continually being added and lifelike reproduction is assured."

It is not surprising that will all these features it was described by the Telegraph & Argus as "Bradford's Wonder Cinema".


Holophane Lighting
The biggest feature of its interior was the new Holophane lighting installation extolled as . . .

"An ingenious apparatus which blends, harmonises and contrasts three primary colours (red, green and blue) to produce with scientific exactitude some wonderfully effective rainbow and more colour combinations. Delicate shades appear like magic on the walls and beams shading gradually through a range of fairy-like tones - over 300 changes can be produced in a few moments. The effect on the silver satin festooned curtain in front of the screen is superb."

"The foyer is also lighted in this, more than 200 lamps being used to achieve the effects. Outside the hall, more than 100 small lamps and extensive use of neon lighting make the cinema a landmark."


Grand Reopening
The Grand Reopening of the New Oriental Cinema was by the Lord Mayor of Bradford, Alderman George R. Carter JP accompanied by City Council and Corporation officials on Monday 25th January 1937 at 6.30pm with the film . . .

"Captain January" - 1936 USA B/w 74 mins.
Starring Shirley Temple, Guy Kibbee and Buddy Ebsen.
Shown for three days, for the remainder of the week . . .
"The Prisoner of Shark Island" - 1936 USA B/w 95 mins.
Starring Warner Baxter, Gloria Stuart and Joyce Kay.
Prices 6d, 9d and 1/-d.
The proprietors were now registered as Manningham Kinematograph Theatres Ltd headed by Percy Richardson.


Hammond Organ
Following this 1937 rebuild, A Hammond 2-manual electronic organ with tone-bar generation was installed on a track. Bobby Gee was the popular resident organist and his performances were very much enhanced by the effects of the Holophane lighting. The organ was removed two years later at the outbreak of war.


Searchlight on Roof
As if the Holophane lighting were not enough - a powerful searchlight was fixed on the roof and, as seen on the opening night, capable of throwing twenty-mile beam of light to 'play' into the night sky.

Although the New Oriental used the town 230v AC supply it also had a generator to supply DC for the projector carbon arcs and the searchlight. Unfortunately the searchlight could only be used before, after or between performances as the generator could not supply enough current for both searchlight and projectors to work together.

The searchlight was switched off in 1939 and later removed following the outbreak of the Second World War.


Anecdotal Story
Gordon Clark, an octogenarian Bradfordian, now living in Cyprus recalls . . .

"When I started work at age 14 it was as apprentice mechanic at Oak Lane garage, next door to the Oriental cinema, it was owned at that time by a man named (Percy) Richardson, he had a big car and I used to fill it with petrol for him. When the war came in 1939 we had to do fire watching, it was worked out that one night the garage would look after both buildings, and in rotation the cinema would watch for us, it was asking a lot of a young lad to be all on his own in a big empty building but they put a camp bed for me up in little room with the fridge full of ice cream and drinks. Of course I never sampled any."

"I remember very clearly roaming round the building at about three in the morning and looking in on the generator room (it had to have DC for the carbon arcs in the projectors) also for a big searchlight on the roof which in peacetime used to sweep the sky as an advertising gimmick; finally I pulled back the door curtains and entered the main auditorium, it was all in darkness but for four gas lamps, two down each side with a low flickering flame, as I stood there in the dark looking at the screen all the movie monsters I had ever seen seemed to be coming toward me. I fled to the safety of my ice cream room and pulled up the covers over me in my camp bed."

Cinema and theatre buildings often do produce strange phenomena in the dead of night.
Gordon Clark continues his reminiscences . . .
"The projectionist was a chap by the name of Jack Slingsby who also worked the searchlight (on the roof) before starting the performance; he also came mornings to do his rewinding.
The commissionaire was Ernest Gardener who appeared on mornings to 'see to' the boilers dressed in old hat and mack (raincoat), and later in the day was to be seen in the foyer, resplendent in cap with gold braid and frock coat with epaulets, a truly impressive figure. Remembering Ernest in old hat and mack stoking the boilers brings to mind that wonderful old film 'The Smallest Show on Earth' (1957) - a great movie of which I never tire."


CinemaScope Extensive alterations were made in 1955 to accommodate a new curved CinemaScope widescreen with adjustable masking together with the full stereophonic sound system as required by 20th Century Fox. The four-track magnetic stripe system included the ambient (surround) track with speakers around the hall.

Only three Bradford cinemas had the full system installed - Essoldo in Manningham Lane for first-run Fox releases and Carlton in Manchester Road and Oriental both for second runs.

The new system opened with much publicity on Monday 14th March 1955 with . . .

C i n e m a S c o p e
New wonder screen presentation
Amazing Stereophonic Sound
C i n e m a S c o p e
brings to life for the first time with its
spectacular action and breath-taking colour
"The Robe" - 1953 USA Technicolor 135 mins.
Starring Richard Burton, Jean Simmons and Victor Mature.
Can only be seen and heard at this cinema in the district.
Most Fox releases were to play here, many for the full week instead of the usual two changes per week.


Closure and Demolition
Despite the earlier success of CinemaScope business did decline rapidly and the Oriental closed on Saturday 13th December 1958 with the final film . . .

"The Vikings" - 1958 USA Technirama 116 mins.
Starring Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh.
The building was subsequently demolished and a mini-supermarket built on the site which still functions today in 2010.

Copyright ©2007, Colin Sutton.
May not be copied or reproduced without permission.


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