At one time Bedford had five. Cinemas were a vital part of the town’s cultural life and going to the cinema in the last century evokes nostalgic memories for so many people.
A group of dedicated volunteer researchers lead by a team librarian at Bedford Central Library have researched the history of the Picturedrome, the Palace, the Empire, the Plaza and the Granada cinemas. The development of cinemas in Bedford can be followed through the activities of the pioneering Blake and Chetham families who were major players in the world of cinema on a local and national scale.
Mention the Granada to anyone that grew up in Bedford and they will no doubt have fond memories of watching films or being in the audience at one of the many stage shows held there. The Mighty Wurlitzer Organ was used for recitals by Reginald Dixon who was a famous organist from The Tower in Blackpool. During the war the cinema was used for Sunday concerts – radio broadcasts and Holidays-at-Home concerts, featuring Cyril Fletcher, Harry Fryer and his Broadcasting Orchestra, with a 10 year old Petula Clark!
By the late 60s, Saturday morning children’s matinees included stage shows as well as films. Birthdays were celebrated with a card and an ice cream cake up on the stage. When the Mighty Wurlitzer came up, the curtains would open and they would all stand up and sing, ‘All for one and one for all. We are the Bedford Granadiers’ to the music of ‘The British Grenadiers’. Bedford was established as part of the ‘Beat Boom’ circuit and the Granada became a popular venue for pop concerts. The Beatles, Cilla Black, Gerry and the Pacemakers and Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas were just a few of the acts who performed at The Granada. After the ‘gigs’ many of the groups would congregate in The Bear, still on the High Street today, where local teenagers would to meet the ‘stars’ and to collect autographs. Bedford Borough Libraries have made a record of those important memories and they can be accessed on the Virtual Library. To view Times Past: Bedford’s Cinemas visit www.bedford.gov.uk/ libraries and click on Virtual Library
Photos courtesy of Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service