Golden age for the silver screen

MOVIE NIGHT: A happy group of staff who worked at the Playhouse in the 1950s at their Christmas party. Barbara is pictured at the back, third from the left. Again, sorry I don't have the names of the others pictured. (d794a236)
MOVIE NIGHT: A happy group of staff who worked at the Playhouse in the 1950s at their Christmas party. Barbara is pictured at the back, third from the left. Again, sorry I don't have the names of the others pictured. (d794a236)

WE ALL like to look back on those good old days when Dewsbury had five cinemas – the Playhouse, Regal, Tudor, Rex and Pioneers.

And most people of my age will agree that of all these picture houses, it was the Playhouse which stood out most.

It was built in 1930, on land in Crackenedge Lane, formerly occupied by James Austin and Sons, later to become Austin Steelworks, Thornhill Lees.

Austin’s was pulled down to make way for the Playhouse, and 60 years later the Playhouse was pulled down to make way for Wilkinsons.

But few of us will ever forget the splendour of the Playhouse, one of the most palatial cinemas in the north of England.

It could seat 1,700 and was designed by Robert Cromie, one of the most eminent cinema architects in the country.

It cost £60,000 to build and the chief investors were the head of local businesses – Messrs Ashworth Son and Co Limited, and Messrs Lee and Sons, Earlsheaton, and also Colonel E W Pickering, a former Dewsbury MP.

It was modern as well as being distinctly unusual in character and like all Art Deco buildings was plain and dignified. It was built in white stone throughout and illuminated with flood lighting and neon-gas tubing.

Least of all the attendants in their smart uniforms, the waitresses who worked in the splendid cafe, or the organist who played the magnificent organ nightly.

This week I was delighted to recall those happy days when Ray Brace, who used to work at the Empire, sent me some photographs of the staff who worked there in the 1950s.

Pictured on them is his sister, Barbara, who had been an usherette at both the Playhouse and Regal.

Ray attended all five cinemas in Dewsbury regularly, including the Pavilion at Ravensthorpe. And because he worked at the Empire, which was just round the corner from the Playhouse, where Empire House now stands, he was allowed free entry.

But he can remember the name of only one cinema manager, Bill Spink, who was manager of the Playhouse and Regal.

THE building of the Playhouse was the icing on the cake for Dewsbury, which in the 1930s was developing at a pace and attracting thousands of visitors weekly.

The Playhouse played a big part in attracting people to the town.

Most people remember going to the Minors every Saturday morning, which the Playhouse set aside for children.

A big attraction at the Playhouse was the organ which was played during the interval and only top organists were invited to play.

One resident organist in the 1930s was Vincent Trippett, who from his early youth had distinguished himself as a musician of exceptional ability.

Tragically, he died in 1937 at the young age of 28, only a few days before he was due to broadcast from the Playhouse itself.

The detailed programme for that event had been published in the current issue of the Radio Times that week.

He was such a popular personality that hundreds of Dewsbury people turned out for his funeral.

NO MONEY was spared when the Playhouse was built and the key word throughout was luxury.

A special feature was the cafe restaurant on the first floor, the size of which was 43ft by 30ft and instead of having the usual small windows, it was provided with one large window, 40ft long and 11ft high.

It provided the cafe with a shop window, and the effect of this arrangement had to be seen to be appreciated. At night, when illuminated, it added much to Market Square.

Everyone who visited the Playhouse will remember the grand staircases, 10ft wide, which led from the entrance hall to the tearoom and the balcony.

The entrance hall was 55ft long by 22ft wide and the entrance to the stalls was arranged through an inner lobby so as to avoid draughts at the back of the stalls.

The cinema had been specially designed so the slope of the floor provided a perfect sight-line for every seat without the picture screen being unnecessarily high, and there were no columns or piers to obstruct the view. The seats were counter-weighted and fitted with rubber buffers so there would be no noise to detract from the full effect of the ‘talkie’ pictures which were replacing silent films

Sadly, all five cinemas in Dewsbury were later to succumb to the lure of TV, just as the Empire had been to the lure of the silver screen.

Going to the pictures and the theatre was an important part of our lives and therefore is part of our social history. These are memories we should treasure and never forget.

My grateful thanks to people like Ray Brace who now lives in Milton Keynes, but never fails to help me with photographs and information about old Dewsbury.