Bradford - Savoy Cinema

Savoy Cinema
Darley Street,

Savoy Picture House
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Occupying a prominent position on the eastern side of Darley Street next to the original and smaller Marks & Spencer store in one of the busiest shopping streets in Bradford city centre. Immediately opposite was the Kirkgate Market and Central Library. In the period just after the First World War, Darley Street was laid with cobbled stone setts.


The Building
A purpose-built brick building with stone frontage rising five stories high and designed by Moore and Crabtree of Keighley of which E.G Moore was the cinema's first owner. The auditorium followed the natural slope from Darley Street through to Piccadilly. The site was approx. 60 feet wide and 120 feet long.

The simple but elegant façade has a central entrance with steps up to the foyer. A canopy projected out over the pavement, above which was a half-moon central window with similar half-moon ornamentation above. Two central columns rising through the second and third floors to form an apex on the façade of the fourth floor. The name Savoy was picked out in neon at third floor level.


At the time of its build in 1920, it was the largest city centre cinema with a seating capacity of 1593 in its stalls, circle and gallery. The rake of the stalls followed the slope of the land eastwards to Piccadilly at the rear. The horseshoe shaped circle with 'side wings' and a straight-fronted gallery above. Seating arranged in three blocks with two aisles.

Savoy Orchestra

The shallow stage had little room for anything more than the screen and house tabs. The orchestra pit could accommodate the ten-strong Savoy Cinema Symphony Orchestra conducted by Harold Gee with his Stradivarius violin - he was also a favourite at the Theatre Royal when he played there. Timpanist was Gilbert Webster who later joined the BBC Symphony Orchestra and succeeded by Billy Stean, the dance band drummer. Arthur Clark, violinist, succeeded Harold Gee and he later (along with Norman Constantine and Margaret Mountain) formed the Palm Court Trio at Collinson's Café.

As there were no pillars to obstruct views there were the sides of the circle which were described in the Bradford Daily Argus as . . .

"Inside, the arrangements for seating are on the most modern and up-to-date principles. The area gives ample opportunity for a center view of the picture and the seats in the side galleries are angled towards the screen so that one does not need to screw oneself sideways".

Furnishings for the new cinema were provided locally by Thomas Taylor & Co of the Colonnade in Westgate.


Projection Room
Despite having a circle and a gallery above, the projection room was constructed at the back of the stalls under the circle. A boast of the Savoy was that its projectors were "set in concrete to ensure a very steady picture". The rewind, storage and generator rooms were below. The projection room was fireproof but not explosion proof as was discovered later in 1936. The Western Electric sound set was installed in 1929.

At the opening Alfred Howarth was an assistant projectionist but only for a short while until he heard that the Theatre Royal was changing over to films in 1921. Howarth was later to own the Clayton Rialto cinema and also became a director of the Theatre Royal cinema.


No expense was spared on the ventilation plant designed and installed by J. Jeffrey's & Co Ltd of London SE. Fresh air was taken in at the rear of the building then heated and spray filtered. Clean warm air was blown to numerous inlets around the theatre.

The plant also had exhaust ventilation to remove vitiated air and smoke continuously, with a capacity of almost 2,000 cubic feet of fresh air per hour which was equivalent to completely changing the air of the theatre once in every five minutes.

The large curtained windows in Darley Street allowed plenty of daylight to flood the hall during its daily clean when "seats and floors are subjected regularly to the work of the latest and most effective vacuum cleaner plant for healthy surroundings".


Savoy Café
The new cinema incorporated a café at 20 Darley Street next to the cinema entrance. It was to become very popular with cinemagoers and shoppers; the local newspaper Bradford Daily Argus advertising proclaimed in September 1920 . . .

"Savoy Café open from 11.30am to 9.30pm.
Bradford's most luxurious and up-to-date Café.
Orchestral music at Luncheon, Afternoon Tea
and in the evening."

And in November 1922 . . .
"The Savoy Café and Restaurant provides an excellent
businessman's lunch at the moderate inclusive price of 2s 6d."


The Opening
The Savoy opened on Monday 29th March 1920 with . . .

"The Canadian Tour" - 1920 UK/Canada B/w Silent
The Prince of Wales visit to the Dominion.
Together with a brilliant and unusually
delightful programme including the five-act drama
"The Tar Heel Warrior" - 1917 USA B/w Silent
with that sterling character actor Walt Whitman
together with Ann Forest and William Shaw.
A change of programme for the following Easter holiday weekend with . . .
"In Bondage" - 1919 UK B/w Silent
from the novel by Roland Pertwee.
Starring Sydney Fairbrother, Haidee Wright and C.M Hallard.


The manager at the opening was P. Hebden, later H. Moore when registered as New Central Picture Houses (Yorkshire) Ltd. By the mid-1920's, proprietors were the newly formed Savoy Cinemas Ltd with resident manager Clarence H. Hurst who was later to take charge of the Empire. Prices at this time were 6d to 1/3d.


First with Talkies?
There is a myth that the Savoy was the first Bradford cinema to show sound films; this is not strictly true as the Elite showed a part talkie film with synchronised sound in January 1928 and the Theatre Royal showed the part-talkie "The Jazz Singer" a week prior to the Savoy entering the sound era.

However, the Savoy can claim to have been the first to show a full-length all-talkie film using a synchronised sound-on-film optical soundtrack via its newly installed Western Electric sound system.

From Monday 4th March 1929 enormous queues formed to see . . .

"The Singing Fool" - 1928 USA B/w 110 mins.
Starring Al Jolson, Davey Lee and Betty Bronson.
The captions outside the cinema proclaimed . . .
"Hear Jolson's Golden Voice on our Silver Screen".
Jolson's legendary rendering of "Sonny Boy" was the talk of Bradford and the 'talkies' were now firmly established.

The Savoy Orchestra continued for a while longer as not every new film was talkie and many supporting films were still being made as silent. The success of synchronised sound-on-film rapidly replaced the earlier non-synch sound-on-disc system used in some other cinemas. The Savoy now advertised as "The Home of Perfect Talkies".


ABC Takeover
The Bradford Savoy was the first to be registered as a company to be called Savoy Cinemas Ltd which eventually embraced 16 cinemas around the country. The whole Savoy circuit was one of the very early acquisitions of John Maxwell's new ABC (Associated British Cinemas) circuit around 1928.

Films were now booked by ABC in conjunction with the Regent which was also leased to ABC at the time.


Jardine Organ
Savoy Jardine Organ The first unit type of cinema organ to be installed in Bradford was the 2-manual 8-rank Jardine Orchestral Organ in 1927. This was the only Jardine ever to be installed by the ABC circuit who preferred Compton as was later installed at the Ritz in Broadway.

The organ was mounted on a motorised lift to rise to stage level. The organ was opened by Norman Cocker. In later years the Jardine was played by Reginald Liversidge who previously was assistant organist at the Astoria in London's Charing Cross Road.

It is interesting to note that the Savoy Jardine was carefully removed when the cinema was closed in 1939 and stored locally by Driver & Haigh of Snowden Street. After the war in 1945 they overhauled the orchestral style organ and installed it at the home of Gerald Busby, head of the department store Busby's in Manningham Lane. In later years it was removed and installed in the main hall of Nunthorpe Grammar School in York.


Patriotic Display
ABC Advert 1930 The Savoy held a special performance on Sunday 28th February 1932 at 7.45pm . . .

Joint Disarmament Committee
Grand Film Display
"Tell England" - 1931 GB B/w 88 mins.
(aka "The Battle of Gallipoli" in USA)
A British Instructional film starring
Fay Compton, Tony Bruce and Carl Harbord.
Plus: News Gazette
Support Peace and Charity
Speakers: Mrs J.M Shaw, G.N.S.C. and
Alderman Kathleen Chambers.

The film "Tell England" was not liked by the critics who "laughed at this stiff-upper-lip charade".


1932 Major Refurbishment
As ABC's premier showplace in Bradford, the Savoy had been completely overshadowed by the luxurious and huge 3,500 seater New Victoria Theatre (PCT/Gaumont British) opened in September 1930 and which was attracting large audiences.

In an effort to compete and attract more patrons, the Savoy closed from Monday 11th July 1932 for three weeks for extensive alterations which were described as . . .

"Re-seating, carpeting, decorating and general overhaul. The Savoy will be, when completed, Bradford's most comfortable theatre".

The cinema re-opened on Bank Holiday Monday 1st August 1932 with . . .
"Josser Joins the Navy" - 1932 UK B/w 69mins.
Starring Ernie Lotinga, Cyril McLaglen and Jack Hobbs.
"The County Fair" - 1932 USA B/w 71mins.
Starring William Collier Jnr. and Herbert Bosworth.
Pathé Sound Gazette, Pathétone etc.
No alteration in prices - 7d to 1/6d.


1936 Explosion and Fire
On the evening of Saturday 18th January 1936 just before 10pm, the film jammed in the projector and caught fire. An asbestos blanket was thrown over the projector but then an explosion occurred flinging the two projectionists, John H. Hewitt and John Lavelle out of the operating room and down a flight of stone stairs leading to the rewind room. The third operator John Scott was in the rewind room under the projection room and was blown out of the small room by the force of the explosion.

Around 1500 people were in the auditorium watching the main feature . . .

"Casino de Paree" - 1935 USA B/w 89mins.
(aka "Go into Your Dance" in the USA)
Starring AL Jolson, Ruby Keeler and Glenda Farrell.
The projection room at the rear of the stalls had one of its side walls separating the operating room from the pit area completely blown out and huge chunks of plaster and concrete were flung into the theatre. Several patrons suffered cuts, burns and shock. Several seats were damaged. The manager, Robert Burns, said "there was no panic and the place was cleared in a few minutes". Due to closure, the film programme was transferred the Regent in Manningham Lane - on lease to ABC at the time.

Repairs were quickly carried out and the Savoy re-opened on Monday 3rd February 1936 with . . .

"Anna Karenina" - 1935 USA B/w 95mins.
Starring Greta Garbo, Fredric March and May Robson.
"Thicker than Water" - 1935 USA B/w 20mins.
Starring Laurel & Hardy, Daphne Pollard and James Finlayson.
Seating capacity was now 662 in the stalls arranged in 3 blocks with 2 aisles; circle 489 and gallery 374 also in 3 blocks. The total was 1525 which later reduced to 1517.


In 1939 ABC were busy building their new Ritz super-cinema on Broadway and had planned the closure of the Savoy with the final performance on Saturday 15th April 1939 with . . .

"Hold My Hand" - 1938 GB B/w 76 mins.
Starring Stanley Lupino, Sally Gray and Fred Emney.
"Mysterious Mr Moto" - 1938 US B/w 62 mins.
Starring Peter Lorre, Henry Wilcoxon and Mary Maguire.
The new Ritz was to open on 8th May 1939 and many of the Savoy staff transferred there. The Savoy's cinema licence was also transferred across to the Ritz.

The Savoy building was bought by Marks & Spencer in July 1939 and the cinema quickly demolished. Due to the second World War (1939-45) the site remained empty. Later in the 1950's the extension was built to enlarge Marks & Spencer and still in use today in 2010.


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