Nostalgia with Margaret Watson: History of popular Playhouse cinema, Dewsbury

The most palatial cinema in north of England

By Jane Chippindale
Wednesday, 27th April 2022, 10:09 am
Updated Wednesday, 27th April 2022, 10:11 am

Margaret Watson writes: Last week I wrote about the opening of the Playhouse cinema in 1931 but couldn’t show what it looked like because I didn’t have a photograph.

But local historian, Stuart Hartley, sent me this one taken in 1946 when the whole of Dewsbury was flooded.

I have also received a brochure produced in 1961 to celebrate the cinema’s 30th anniversary.

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PLAYHOUSE CINEMA: This photograph was supplied by local historian Stuart Hartley and was taken in 1946 when the whole of Dewsbury was flooded

It comes from Mrs Mary Cleeves, daughter of the late Councillor William Weir, who was Mayor of Dewsbury that year.

I’m glad to say it contained enough information for another article about this well-loved cinema regarded at the time as the most palatial in the north of England.

I’m always on safe ground when writing articles about Dewsbury’s picture houses because they are always well-received by those who remember them.

In those days we had a choice of five cinemas in Dewsbury and I worked with a man who went to one almost every night of the week – two on a Saturday!

He went into Dewsbury every Saturday afternoon and had a slap-up lunch in one of the many town centre cafes which Dewsbury had in those days.

Then he would go watch a film at one of the cinemas, after which he would go to have tea at another cafe before going to see another film at another cinema.

Three of the cinemas, the Tudor, Pioneer’s, and, of course the Playhouse, had their own restaurants, so if he was going to watch a film at any of these, he had his tea there.

When I first saw the cinema’s 30th anniversary brochure it brought back many happy memories for me because it included photographs of the staff working there at the time, some of whom I knew.

And the advertisements which were featured in it gives an insight into the many businesses which once flourished in Dewsbury, but are sadly no longer with us.

The owners of the Playhouse, Associated British Cinemas Ltd (ABC), were obviously determined to celebrate the 30th anniversary in style.

And local businesses and organisations were eager to support them, and so were the local papers.

Everyone, it seemed, wanted to be part of it.

Hence the great deal of media attention given in the run-up to the actual day of the anniversary.

The film being shown that week would later become a classic, “The Guns of Navarone”, which starred some of the biggest names of the day. These included stars like Gregory Peck, David Niven, Anthony Quinn, Stanley Baker, Anthony Quayle, Richard Harris, James Robertson Justice to name but a few.

It truly was a never to be forgotten film because it is still regularly seen on television all these years later.

The action of the film took place on the small Greek island of Navarone during the last war, and the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry used this to remind the nation they had to be prepared in case there was another.

They took out a full page advert warning the nation that they had to be prepared in case there was another war.

It was a very popular film and attracted full houses wherever it played, but it was a much different film to the one shown on the opening night of the Playhouse in 1931 – “City Lights” – starring Charlie Chaplin.

Other items mentioned in the brochure I have set out below as they were listed in the brochure under the heading:


○ The theatre was opened at 7.30pm on October 26, 1931 by the Mayor of Dewsbury, Councillor Kitson Oldroyd JP.

○ The building took six months to erect and 200 men, mostly local, were employed on its construction.

○ The organ was rendered unserviceable in 1946 when Dewsbury as a whole, including the Playhouse, suffered serious flooding.

○ The theatre accommodated 1,758, and the whole weight of the circle was carried by one steel plate girder, 80ft long, seven and a half feet deep and 2ft wide.

○ Its weight was 28 tonnes, only a fraction of the 205 tonnes of steelwork employed during the course of the cinema’s construction.

○ Prices of admission in 1931 ranged from 6d to 2/- and over the years reached a maximum 3/9d for normal presentations.

○ A staff of 30 are employed at the theatre which was built under the name of the Playhouse (Dewsbury Ltd), but now under the control of Associated British Cinemas Ltd.

○ Performances are continuous daily during the week from approximately 1.15pm and on Sundays from 5pm.

○ Old age pensioners are admitted to any part of the theatre up to 4pm from Monday to Friday on production of their pension book and on payment of 9d.

○ A special Minors’ Matinee is held each Saturday morning at 10am when a programme of films is especially selected for children between five and 15 years. Prices of admission for this matinee are 6d and 9d, and regular stage appearances, outings to places of interest and other activities make this matinee well-known throughout the district.

Looking through the advertisements reminded me of the days when local people shopped local and supported businesses on their doorstep.

The following are some of the firms, shops and cafes featured in the brochure:

John Ake and Co. Ltd Co, suppliers of coal and coke for over 50 years.

Wesley Chambers, Union Street, Dewsbury, telephone Dewsbury 26 and 27.

Bailey’s Cafe, morning coffee, afternoon teas and high teas, Market Place, Dewsbury, telephone 717.

Gerald Lee, gent’s outfitters, 10 Bond Street, Dewsbury, main suppliers of Van Heuson, non-iron shirts 39/6d. Telephone, Dewsbury 490.

Ken Boffin (Turf Accountants) Ltd – For a better bet! 50b Market Place, Dewsbury. Phone Dewsbury 3551 (multi lines).

J&Bs Of Dewsbury, come and walk round our store. See our displays.

4th Battalion The Kings’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (Territorial Army) – Your Queen and Country still needs YOU. Join at the Drill Hall, Bath Street, Dewsbury.

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