My favourite ever cinema is the Hyde Park Picture House in Leeds, where I spent many an hour during my days as a student. It was here that my enthusiasm for film really took shape – I think it’s the first place I ever went to the cinema on my own. It was welcoming like that.
Originally an Edwardian hotel, converted into a picture palace during the First World War, there were a few appropriately quirky features. One was the balcony, which you could pay £2 extra to sit in – I never understood why anyone would, and only did it once for novelty value. There was also a handsome clock to the right of the screen, whose white face would remain dimly lit throughout the film and was the cause of much debate between those who enjoyed its serene presence and those who would have preferred to do without the distraction. I found myself in the former camp.
The programme was interesting and nicely mixed up – they’d avoid blanket-scheduling of the latest money spinner, often showing three different films on any given day. You’d wander down for one of these screenings (3ish, 6ish and 9ish) and buy your ticket from the booth outside the building, which was just about big enough for one man and a cashbox. On busy evenings (Wednesdays, of course) the queue would stretch a good way down Brudenell Road. Being nice, they’d always wait until everyone was inside before starting the film – reassuring if you were at the back of the queue but less fun if you’d arrived on time and were waiting patiently in the cinema, staring at the red curtains (and the clock).
Best of all was the location: right in the heart of studentville, most people lived five minutes’ walk away (when I was choosing my final year house, proximity to the cinema was genuinely a major factor). Right across the road was Jackson’s supermarket (now a Sainsbury’s Local) so you could easily stock up on your snacks, and about twenty steps down Queens Road was the Royal Park pub, perfect for post-screening discussion/pint. It was heaven.
Now I’m back down in London there’s an embarrassment of arthouse venues to choose from (albeit usually pricey) and a breadth of scheduling across the city that’s pretty much second-to-none – but still, nothing is quite like the HPPH. I miss it.