ALHAMBRA THEATRE IN BRADFORD CELEBRATES 100 GLORIOUS YEARS
Adam Renton, General Manager Bradford Theatres says:
"This year is a very special one for the Alhambra Theatre, as it celebrates its 100th anniversary. It's an honour for me to be General Manager of this prestigious venue in such a wonderful year. Through the golden age of variety when it opened, the 1980's refurbishment and up to the present day, the Alhambra Theatre has had a wonderful and varied history.
Everyone at Bradford Theatres is planning a year of celebration to acknowledge this magnificent milestone, starting with Disney's The Lion King; closely followed by the National Theatre's War Horse; and our very own unique A Night of Variety in September - a very special tribute to 100 glorious years of the Alhambra Theatre.
As well as enjoying these theatrical treats at the Alhambra, don't forget to browse through the brochure to see what's on offer at our other venues - as ever, we offer the very best in live entertainment all year round."
The Alhambra Theatre, the jewel in Bradford’s crown, was the vision of Francis Laidler, a local impresario.
Laidler was born 1867 in Thornaby on Tees, the son of a doctor, and moved to Bradford to work as a cleric for a wool trader. He then worked for Hammonds Brewery and was quickly promoted to management. In 1902, aged 35, while still at Hammonds, Laidler went into partnership with Walter J Piper at the Prince’s Theatre; Piper died six months later and Laidler left Hammonds to take on the Theatre… Laidler had the idea and vision to build a brand new theatre in Bradford in 1912 and it was two years later that his dream was realised. It was built from designs and supervision by Messrs Chadwick & Watson of Leeds; the general contractor was Mr J T Wright of Leeds; and plaster and decorator’s work was by Messrs F DeJong & Co Ltd, London.
The Alhambra Theatre was officially opened at 2pm on 18 March 1914. Five days later, it opened its doors to the general public on 23 March for a Variety show, which ran for a week. The show included various acts and also a Revue called A Year in the Hour. Performers included principal boy performer, Alice Wyatt who opened the show with the National Anthem, Yeadon-born comic Sydney Howard, Mamie Watson, Leslie Barker, Nellie Wallace and the Benedetti Brothers (acrobats).
The Alhambra opened during the height of Variety, offering twice nightly shows. Just after the 1914–18 war, Moss Empires Ltd, the country’s most respected and effective Variety organisation approached Laidler to work together. They remained the booking agent for the Alhambra for more than 40 years during which time every big-name variety performer had been booked to appear at the Alhambra.
Famous faces... The Golden Age of Variety
The theatre prospered throughout the 1920s and attracted many greats, including George Formby, Florence Desmond, George Lashwood and Randolph Sutton who wowed Bradford audiences.
Variety remained a favourite throughout the 1950s and 1960s and the Alhambra played host to comedy legends, Laurel & Hardy; as well as enjoying visits from the likes of Morecambe & Wise, The Beverley Sisters, Dick Emery, Peter Sellers, Max Bygraves and Frankie Howerd.
The Early Days...Inside the Alhambra
It was said that Italian craftsmen were brought in to install tessellated marble work in the foyer for the opening. From the main staircase there was access to Dress Circle level; however the entrance to the pit stalls and Upper Circle was on Morley Street, away from the main door. Corridors inside the theatre were lit by electricity plus there was gas in case the electricity failed!
There was tip-up seating in the pit stalls which was upholstered just as comfortably as the seats in orchestra stalls and Dress Circle, much to customers’ amazement at the time! Usually it would have been wooden benches or uncomfortable seating. Capacity in the auditorium was originally nearly 1,800, then reduced to 1,650.
When the Alhambra was built, the visiting performers thought they were very well looked after with hot and cold water, as well as gas and electric light in the dressing rooms! There were
11 dressing rooms originally; today there is space for 122 performers. Rumour has it that there was a notice on dressing room doors, placed there by Francis Laidler, saying: “Please do not ask management for complimentary tickets for your friends. If your friends will not pay to see you, why should the public?”
*Some material taken from Domes of Delight by Peter Holdsworth
The Alhambra Theatre’s name is synonymous with pantomime.
Francis Laidler was known as ‘The King of Panto’ and started the charming tradition of using Sunbeams (the juvenile dance troupe) in his pantomimes in 1917 at the Prince’s Theatre in Bradford. It wasn’t officially until 1930/31 that the Sunbeams came to the Alhambra, when Laidler switched his pantos to this venue. He even toured his Sunbeam troupes into Theatre Royal Leeds (which he also ran having taken over the lease in 1909). The Sunbeam tradition still flourishes today.
Past sunbeams; Rita Dawson, Anne Fawthorp, Marilyn Bateman, Nora Riley, Jackie Wright, Pauline Wright, Janet Kennelly, Dianne Davies all popped into the Alhambra recently for a catch up & chat with ITV Calendar about the Alhambra's 100th Birthday. (Sunbeams between 1952 – 1960.)
Prince of Bradford panto and King of comedy, Billy Pearce, returns to the Alhambra Theatre by popular demand for his sixteenth Bradford pantomime season, as the loveable Muddles in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
Bradford born actor Duncan Preston performed on stage at the Alhambra Theatre for the first time in 2011 in To Kill a Mockingbird.
Chat with Kath & Bev...
Kath & Bev both started working for Bradford Theatres in the early 1980's before the Alhambra Theatre was refurbished. They both started working Front of House, selling tickets, ice creams and showing people to their seats and have done many other roles over the years. Today Bev works as an administrative assistant and Kath works as a finance officer. As we look back over the many memorable years of the Alhambra Theatres history, we wanted to know what moments have been memorable to Kath & Bev over the past 30 years.
What are most memorable shows you have seen over the years?
Bev: "Well for me it's Panto, the first Panto I saw was with Cannon & Ball and at that time I was working on stage door. The next year 1987/1988 with Sue Pollard and then Max Boyce in Jack In the Beanstalk 1990/1991, those early Pantos for me were the best. Although I did think this year's Panto Aladdin was on a par with those Pantos."
Kath: "I agree with Bev, although the one I remember the most was with Russ Abbott just before we closed in the 80's. At the time I was working front of house and Russ Abbott did something different every night...
He used to get the kids up on stage and I remember one time he got this little boy up on stage and the boy couldn't tie his shoe lace so Russ Abbott handed him the microphone and told him to tell a joke ... while he tied the little boy's shoe... well he had to take the microphone off him pretty sharpish because the boy started telling a rude joke (too rude for Panto) and everyone was in hysterics ...
Another memorable Panto moment for me from the 1980's Pantos was when Cannon & Ball or whichever star it was at the time, would look up to the top box and they would bow and we would have a spotlight on the box and there would be a hand waving from behind the curtain and all the audience would gasp and think it was the Queen .... And it wasn't, it was Colin the sound guy!
I bring my grand kids to the Panto every year now. They love the 'Don't touch the Box leave the box alone' line, they go on for weeks."
What other memorable moments have there been?
Kath: "When Princess Margaret came to see the Ballet*. The red carpets were out, all the staff cleaned for weeks. The buzz was unbelievable, everybody was in tuxedos & ball gowns it was such a special event"
Bev: "Yes that was a fantastic event. The Royal Shakespeare Company & Birmingham Royal Ballet were regular visitors to the theatre but it was always a big thing... And it's great that we are starting to get RSC back more regularly."
Kath: "One show I saw recently was Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake that was a mind-blowing experience. And An Inspector Calls, myself and my friend Ivy sat riveted for 2 hours .... That was fantastic!"
Bev: "I had always loved musicals and I hadn't seen many plays but I came to see Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, starring Lindsay Duncan and Ian Charleston. I had never seen actors be so understated and I really got into it... I loved it."
Who are the most memorable Stars you have met?
Kath: "Russ Abbott was a favourite for me. I use to work behind the bar and he always used to come for a drink and laugh & joke, we had some great fun, it was a fantastic time"
Bev: "Stand out for me Stewart Granger, he was just so down to earth and really nice."
You both worked at the Alhambra Theatre before and after the 1980's refurbishment, what are the biggest changes you remember?
Kath: "I always remember before the refurb, we used to sell pop corn & hot dogs in the entrance to the stalls, that was the main entrance then and Mr Laidler's memorable plaque used to be in the entrance as you went in to the auditorium.
A big plus for the refurbishment is that people can actually come in to the foyer and the bar areas and mill around, you couldn't before, customers used to queue right the way up Morley Street and when we had 3 shows a day for Panto, customers would queue in the wind, rain & snow.
And they cleaned all the friezes, because you couldn't see them for the tar, from when people smoked in the theatre. And you would have thought they were brand new. You looked at it and thought it was a different theatre, it was fantastic!"
Bev: "I love working here, it's the people, it's the place....
Kath: "It definitely must be the people & the place... it was 1982 when I started... 30 odd years later I'm still here...
*The London Festival Ballet's (now the English National Ballet) Swan Lake in 1977
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