Leeds' magic little cinema in Cottage Road celebrates its 100th birthday

The films may sometimes wobble but local people in Headingley pack the place out for classic movie nights - and regular shows. Guest blogger Jill Armstrong is one of them
Cottage Road cinema
Small is beautiful, and handsome too. The outside of the Cottage Road. Photograph courtesy of the excellent website http://www.cottageroad.co.uk

The Olympic Games may have been grabbing most peoples' attention at the weekend but in Headingley, Leeds, there was something else rather special going on.

On Sunday the venerable Cottage Road cinema celebrated its 100th birthday. The playwright Kay Mellor, who lives nearby, was unveiled a Leeds Civic Trust blue plaque; there was a poetic tribute entitled Havoc in Far Headingley by Linda Marshall,who is also local, followed by the showing of a classic film, The Smallest Show on Earth.

The Cottage Road is the oldest cinema in Leeds and probably one of the oldest cinemas in the country to have been open and continuously showing films since 1912. It is also one of the few remaining independently run cinemas in the country.

Cottage Road cinema
Plush inside; the cinema auditorium. Photograph: http://www.cottageroad.co.uk

It came very near to closing in 2005 but was rescued at the 11th hour by Charles Morris. It became part of his Northern Morris Group which has saved other veteran cinemas in Skipton, Keighley, Ulverston, Elland and Windermere.

Charles Morris has been a cinema fan all his life, ever since, at the age of seven, he saw his first film, Lady and the Tramp, and was captivated. He loved everything about the movies and was soon volunteering to help out at his local cinema. Parental pressure meant he wasn't able to pursue a career in the film industry and he studied engineering. But he eventually achieved his ambition, giving up his job at the Royal Ordnance factory in Blackburn and turning his attention first of all to the derelict Rex Cinema at Elland and then the Royalty in Bowness-on-Windermere.

Lake windermere, Lake District
Windermere - there's a Charles Morris cinema there too, in the rare event that it rains. Photograph: Image Source/Corbis

The Cottage Road was originally called the Headingley Picture House and was converted from a garage and motorcycle assembly shop. It opened for business on Monday, July 29, 1912 when seats cost sixpence and reserved seats one shilling.

These days seats are £5.50 or £6 for the plush Pullman seats.
Its name was changed to the Cottage Road Cinema when it was taken over by Associated Tower Cinemas in the late 1930s. The company also owned the Lounge Cinema in Headingley but this was closed in 2005 when the owners blamed poor trade. Headingley residents organised a protest meeting when this happened and then started a campaign to try and keep the Cottage Road open.

Cottage Road cinema
Tickets please, & sweeties. Photo: http://www.cottageroad.co.uk

They were delighted when Charles Morris stepped in at the last minute and even more so when he decided to introduce six-weekly classic movie nights. Classics at the Cottage have continued to be popular when the audience, of a certain age, pack the cinema to see the sometimes slightly wobbly but very atmospheric showings of films such as Casablanca, Some Like It Hot and Top Hat.

Charles Morris is always on hand to introduce the film, which is accompanied by vintage advertising of the time.

Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca; packs 'em in at the Cottage Road. Photograph: Allstar/Cinetext/Warner Bros

During the interval there is a long but orderly queue for ice creams and the evening ends with the national anthem. Why would anybody want to go to a box like, multiplex cinema when they have the real thing on their doorstep?

As Charles Morris says:

The Cottage Road has something special to offer in the way of atmosphere and history as well as space and ambience.

Long may it continue.

Jill Armstrong is a journalistic legend in Leeds and a regular at the Cottage Road