Part 1: THE CINEMA OF MY YOUTH
We all have our favourite cinemas from our childhood; some lucky kids had Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on Holly wood Boulevard. Pictured here at the opening of Star Wars in 1977.
In sharp contrast for me, it was The Lyric Picture House on Tong Road in Leeds, built 5 years before Grauman’s in 1922 by Leeds Architects Jones & Stock. When it official opening on the 7th December by The Lord Mayor of Leeds, Alderman Frank Fountain the installation of the projection equipment wasn’t yet complete, so a musical evening was held instead. It finally showed its first film The Three Musketeers starring Douglas Fairbanks two days later on the 9th December and so began The Lyric’s life under the ownership of Hobson & Walker, known later as West Leeds Amusements.
My earliest memories of this bedrock for my formative cinema going was a rare individual son & mother bonding moment to see a good old Uncle Walt Classic ‘Bambi’. Speaking to her recently about this lovely childhood memory, she said that I wouldn’t stop asking her a barrage of questions as to why his (Bambi) mother had to die. The film must have triggered a young and insecure moment about losing a parent. All this happened in 1971 the start of my love for this beautiful art deco picture house and the movies screened within its inner sanctuary.
The interior was the classic single ticket booth (box-office) centered within the entrance lobby with feeders doors either side leading into the large foyer. The sweet counter was situated on the left hand side, selling everything thing from big bags of Fruit Pastels to the best Yorkshire Ice Cream you’d ever taste. But! the best thing they’d sell, was the original film posters from the movies for 50p. I still have quite a few of them stored in my loft. The overall colour palette for this 950 seat cinema was cream & burgundy with a hint of cobalt in the deco features
Now with this second home of mine firmly impregnated in my blood, it was time to visit it and really enjoy it screenings as much as I could. The main staple of my worship was the cheap Saturday morning matinée’s. These consisted of the Children’s Film Foundations films intermingled with a few of Buster Crabbe’s crude sci-fi flicks. One of the CFF movies that always still sticks in my mind was The Boy Who Turned Yellow, I think after seeing all the previous black and white matinée movies this highly contrasting movie was a welcome change. I later found out that this magic film was down to a pairing of one of film’s finest partnerships, director Michael Powell and writer Emeric Pressburger of Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes fame.
I feel I could ramble on for hours about the inspirational movie’s from the CFF, but I may have to leave this for another post, as for the Lyric lets continue..
Sadly 1976 welcomed in the New Year with its first of many closure’s on the 3rd of January. As young kids we soon got over this with being blessed with the hottest summer on record, which included a string of five days seeing temperatures exceed 95°F, so me Gill and the gang of innocent and carefree kids enjoyed this summer blessing. We didn’t have to wait long before it re-opened in November that year, but sadly this didn’t last long, before it closed again in May 1977.
It was then that I turned my cinema going attention to the swanky new multi-screen flicks of Leeds City Centre, namely the ABC on Vicar Lane and hugely posh Odean on The Headrow. It was here I saw the hugely inspirational and life-changing film Star Wars (I’m sure you’ll hear more about me and Star Wars in future posts). But it was this film that re-opened The Lyric in 1979, giving me an early Christmas present on the 10th of December. The film stayed for quite a while, so allowing me to rack up quite a geeky number of viewings for what had now become my favorite film.
Alas the new owners (John & Rose Kingston) didn’t see it as an investment to build upon and procure longevity for this cathedral of my movie going passions, but instead it was to pack them in and rack them high. It was from this point that it gained a new name amongst us worshipers ‘The Flee-Pit’. Only once previous did it have a nickname to my records and that was the “tup-penny-rush” in 1939/45, this was for the five rows of wooden benches at the very front (cheap seats) the kind of seats you’d need a neck like an ostrich to see the screen.
Bless John & Rose, for the Lyric survived for nearly 10 years under their watchful tutelage, allowing me to see such classic films as The Empire Strikes Back, Bladerunner (stunning film in a cinema) also the sadly missed double and even triple bills. But one of my greatest visits to the The Lyric was to see Ridley Scott’s Alien, although I was only 15 at the time for this 18 certificate movie, my crazy mother and her sisters, Janet & Wendy along with Janet’s boyfriend Paul, all-knowing my love and passion for movies, decided to hatch a plan to smuggle me into the Lyric. They formed a ring around me and shuffled me into the lobby, every moment I thought we were going to be found out, but we got the tickets, entered the lobby and eventually got to our seats…I didn’t move from that moment on!, but instead I sat back and watched a cinematic masterpiece, I was totally in awe, while my mum and aunties squirmed and screamed at the horrors unfolding on-screen. The next day at school was a great day, as I’d been the only one in my year to have seen this X rated movie classic. I felt great! (Parents do something wacky & risky with your kids, they’ll remember it forever)
From here on The Lyric steadily went down hill, with people at school now taking about seeing rats scurrying under their seats when they visited, personally I didn’t witness any of this. A good friend ‘Darren Pearson’ also boosted he’d found a way to sneak in the Lyric for free through its toilet window. For me I couldn’t cheat the owners out of their coinage for that plush burgundy and wooden armed seat. One memory (which no current cinema will ever see) for me was that we were still living in the pre-smocking ban era of cinemas, so witnessing the majestic moments of that cancerous smoke rise and flicker through the projectors beam still vividly sticks in my mind.
Good Morning Vietnam heralded the final ‘Good Night’ for the Lyric on the 1st of December 1988, the local multiplexes had proved to much competition for a cinema so badly in need of a loving refurbishment.
I’ve shared this memorable cinema with many family and close friends. Famous people have also paid homage with playwright Alan Bennett been a frequent patron, even the then leader of the Liberal Party the Right Honorable David Steele, but only for an election rally. Now since it’s closure it been a venue for a pole dancing school and storage for second-hand cars. Until recently it was sold to The Apostles of Muchinjikwa Ministries to be converted into a place of worship with a planning application granted to convert the foyer into separate meeting rooms. Now under its current landlord, who’s welcomed in its current worshipers Masowe Echishanu UK. They now seem to be embracing its cultural significance and allowing contemporary arts collaborators Pavilion and Lucy Skaer in to photographically document its architectural heritage, with the results of their visits turned into Film For An Abandoned Projector opening in The Lyric Picture House ‘itself’ on the 29th September and running until the15th of December 2011. As you’d guess, I’m already on the launch event guest list, and fingers crossed will be able to visit it’s ‘ultimate’ inner sanctum..The Projection Room.
Part 2 & 3