|READER MESSAGES SPECIAL BY BERNE LENG JULY 2001|
Now back to the Gaumont and the history of the site. Originally the Manchester Hippodrome stood here offering great entertainment and water shows where the stage could be flooded for water spectaculars. Eventually audiences declined and the theatre closed. The building was pulled down in 1935 and the name was aquired by the Ardwick Hippodrome.
The site was purchased in 1935 by Granada Theatres who wanted to expand their circuit northwards. About 65% of the Hippodrome was demolished but the stage end retained and the new Granada came forward from this. This could be the reason that this magnificent theatre only took about 9 months to complete.
I have never been able to find the reason but 3 weeks before the opening, Granada sold the nearly completed building to the Gaumont British Picture Corporation. Fortunately Granada although having wired the frontage for their sign had not actually erected it and Granada and Gaumont had the same number of letters.
Frank remembers the Long Bar, I remember the wonderful Stanley Tudor who played the Wurlitzer for the theatres opening with the Alfred Hitchcock film The Thirty Nine Steps on 21st October 1935, Stanley was interrupted by the war but returned until August 1953, and I was there when a very shocked Stanley said 'he was not wanted anymore as the Rank people were dismissing all their organists'. When tax incentives made live performances cost effective Stanley returned to the theatre he loved from 1959 to 1960 for big film presentations such as The Sound of Music.
Whilst I often climbed petrified into the dark area above the stage (which was as high as the stage itself) I never ventured under the stage where I knew all the instruments for the Wurlitzer organ were housed in a special sealed room, but it was many years later that I discovered this was the old water tank from the water shows of the old Hippodrome.
The Gaumont met its fate in January 1974, first a night club then a parking lot, now a multi storey car park, the top floor of which would have been at projection room level where we showed CinemaScope films. Who can forget Marilyn Monroe in 'How to Marry A Millionaire' on the biggest screen in the North of England? Happy days - never to return.
Fascinating accounts. I can almost visualise Manchester in the 50's. I was re-reading and formatting your piece using my laptop computer in the Local Studies Unit of the Central Library today 13 Aug. I walked out into Manchester 2001 and, passing the site of the Gaumont, I took the two photographs that appear on these pages. It's a shame that the Gaumont disappeared as it did. In its own way the Gaumont Oxford St Manchester is as significant for cinema as the Royal Opera House Covent Garden London is for opera. Unfortunately cinema isn't treated as an art form, as it is in France. Thanks to your pictures and accounts, we will never forget the Gaumont.
Name: Berne Leng
In my last letter I dealt with the cinemas in Oxford Street, but in case anyone feels I have missed or forgotten the others here we go.
Market Street had the Market Street News Cinema. Like the Manchester News Theatre in Oxford Steet it ran an hourly programme of cartoons, comedy and news films. It was owned by a Jack or John Cohen and was called a 'JC Cinema'. It later changed to The Continental and showed to good houses French and Italian films. These were particularly popular with us virgin teenagers of the day who lied about our ages to get in to see the large bosomed females with their wet tight blouses. (Oh if I was only 50 years younger again!
|In Deansgate there was a cinema that displayed a banner across its entrance saying 'Perfection in Projection' and as a projectionist in those days myself I admit they were very good. The Deansgate whilst being of a medium size was very comfortable. One mystery that to my knowledge was never solved was that the chief projectionist went to lunch one day and disappeared. No one ever located him.|
|The last cinema was in Oxford Road, The Regal Twin Cinema
was unique and ahead of its time. The projection room was situated in the
middle of the building with two sets of projectors, one set pointing into
what would now be screen one and the second set into screen two.Both houses
showed the same film but one cinema ran 30 minutes behind the other. The
building also housed a ballroom, and it was here that the dancing sequence
for the film 'A Taste of Honey' was filmed. The cameras were positioned
on the balcony which ran around the dance floor, the normal patrons down
below were unaware that they were taking part in a film.
What they did notice was that Dora Bryan was dancing with a strange man ( her screen boyfriend) and as Dora and her husband were well known in Manchester tongues began to wag. Dora said later that as they filmed the sequence she could hear people saying 'I wonder if Bill knows about this'.
|Lastly not a cinema but connected non the less. Who can forget
the fabulous Mancunian Film Studios. This emporium of high class motion
picture production was situated on Dickenson Road Rusholme and was a converted
church. It churned out - sorry - it produced films starring Frank Randle
and amongst others Diana Dors. You could hear the groans from the audience
when the words 'A Mancunian Film Production' hit the screen. The building
was later taken over by the BBC Television who evenually demolished it and
eventually moved into a modern studio complex on Oxford Road.
I remember a rather strange little man who used to prowl Piccadilly Gardens late at night carrying a small suitcase with the words in large letters written on it saying Mancunian Film Studios. Never knew what he was up to and being a young virgin teenager I certainly was not going to ask. So there we are. whilst my interest is in Manchester Cinemas if anyone has any interesting stories I would love to read them At 65 I find I am still learning - and enjoying it.
Yes, it's fascinating. Manchester has more cinema history than most people realise. The Cornerhouse cinema on Oxford Road run a guided tour entitled 'Manchester Hollywood of the North', culminating with a showing of 'Hell is a City'. By the way, Cine City Withington, formerly the Scala, closed its doors as cinema during July 2001. The building is listed so it can't be demolished. A new use is being sought.
Name: Berne Leng
It was here that a local heat of the Donald Peers talent competition was run. Donald Peers for you youngsters was a popular male singer who had a terrific following with the females and often broadcast during and after the war and always started with his signature tune 'By a Babbling Brook'. Elderly females will now be saying 'Oh yes I remember him'!. He was front page news when his pet dog bit his lip and he could not sing for a while. We used to turn up to witness the local talent make fools of themselves on the Rialto stage hoping to get into the finals. Life was simple in those days. Whilst you regret the demolition, I am surprised that the cinema lasted so long, I would have thought that the state it was in in the 50's spelt it's doom, although it may have been refurbished in later years, it certainly needed it.
Whilst I regret the passing of any cinema I never considered the Rialto was a prime example of cinema design. A much better cinema was the privately owned Capitol (believe that was its name) in Leicester Road. Whilst it only ran older films, the roman columns to each side of the stage made it a very attractive interior, you could never say this about the Rialto.
My other cinema haunt was the Odeon Prestwich which actually was in Sedgely park. Now that was a local cinema.
Recently the Ambassador cinema on Langworthy Road Salford was in the news. A local group has been founded to try and save the building and bring it back into use. Local residents however had other ideas. Many wrote to the Manchester Evening News saying they want the 'eyesore' to be torn down and something 'modern and smart' put it its place. They complained that one of the conservationists lives in New Zealand and so has no right to be involved in the campaign to save the cinema.
To all those from the local area now living in exile whether in other parts of the UK or overseas, YOU DO HAVE A RIGHT TO EXPRESS YOUR OPINION about what's happening here, and Eyewitness in Manchester is the place to share your views!
Many thanks to Berne Leng (pictured right aged 18 with projector, and recently) for some truly fascinating insights into a Manchester very different from the one we know today, but which lives on in peoples minds, and in the photographs we love to look at!