CINEMA AND THEATRE
ENTERTAINMENT IN PONTEFRACT
by NORMAN BLACKBURN
Local cinemas and theatres were the mainstay of entertainment in Pontefract
during the early to mid 1900s. The 1930s, 40s, and 50s were the heyday
for great films and film star’s and Pontefract was well served, having
four cinemas to satisfy the appetite of its cinemagoers.
The Playhouse cinema in Gillygate was on the site of the former boys school.
It stretched from the Pineapple public house to almost the end of
Gillygate stopping short of the Turks Head public house, which still
operates to this day.
The Crescent cinema still stands at the west end of Ropergate. No
longer a cinema but in its day arguably the plushest picture
house in town. In the late 1940s, the cinema had an interior
facelift carried out by the decorating company of R.E. Priestley.
Shortly before completion a fire broke out during the night and
destroyed the interior works. This called for a major
restoration. Mr. Priestley’s manager, a gentleman from
Lancashire who was a talented artist and a specialist in design
and colour schemes, produced a futuristic scheme for the
Crescent which proved a great success. He became known to
everyone in Pontefract as the artist William Shone.
The manager of the Crescent Cinema, known affectionately as ‘Uncle Tom’
to everybody, could once again proudly patrol his foyer directing
The Premier picture house stood on Front Street, directly opposite Halfpenny
Lane on the site now occupied by Haribo. This was probably the smallest
of the four cinemas in town but still provided equal entertainment for
Last but not least was the Alexandra, formerly the only theatre in town,
which stood on a site opposite the Queens Hotel and which now houses a
nightclub. The interior was ornate and well designed as you would expect
of a former theatre. It had a comfortable feel to it, which proved very
popular with local people. The Alexandra had a commissionaire on duty in
the foyer, a Mr. Thompson, who stood over six feet tall and was
resplendent in his uniform and peaked cap. He controlled the crowds, and
crowds there were at all the cinemas in those days.
The programme at all the cinemas was usually a main feature film, a B film,
and in between there were the newsreels, Gaumont British, Movie Town or
Pathe News along with a cartoon or two. There would also be a short
interval when ice creams would be sold.
Each week the programmes ran on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, then changed
for Thursday, Friday and Saturday with another change for Sunday. With
six films per cinema at each of the four cinemas in town it provided a
total of 24 films per week. Sometimes a special film would be shown all
Queues were a regular thing at all the cinemas. Large queues would form from
the Crescent all along Ropergate while Gillygate was often full from top
to bottom. The small sweetshop opposite the Playhouse did a roaring
trade. Each cinema had a sweetshop either opposite or nearly next door.
You could of course avoid the queues by booking your seats beforehand
for a small additional charge.
On certain days of the week there would be two houses - the first one at
4.30-5.00pm and then the second house at about 7.30pm.
Mr. Eric Beaumont, an avid cinemagoer as a boy, recalls he would set off
from his home in Old Church for the first house performance with a
packet of sandwiches under his arm and a drink provided by his mother.
At the end of the first show he would quickly dash to the next cinema of
his choice for the second house performance. Once settled in his seat he
would then have his drink and sandwiches and settle down for the next
show. Four films and all the supplements in one evening – that was
Who supplied the thousands of films shown up and down the country? Well
America was the main distributor with the studios of M.G.M, Paramount,
Warner Brothers, R.K.O, 20th Century Fox, Universal and United Artists.
England had the studios of J. Arthur Rank, Ealing Studios and Gainsboro.
Film stars were contracted to a studio of their choice and fans could write
to them with requests for photographs. They would usually be rewarded
within a couple of weeks with a postcard size photograph from either
England or America.
Now for the stars of the films. Almost everyone went to the pictures. Do you
have a story to tell? Many couples did part of their courting at the
cinema. Did you meet your wife or husband there? Who was your favourite
film star and which was your most memorable film? Let us know and we
will endeavour to publish your favourite film star and bring back those
memories from years ago.