Cinema entrepreneur Charles Morris has spoken of how he is still in love with the whole business of showing films to the public – more than a quarter-of-a-century after becoming involved.
All six cinemas he now runs, including the Picture House in Keighley, have been equipped with digital projectors at a cost of £250,000.
“It would have made more sense financially to give it up, but I am still too passionate about the whole thing,” said Mr Morris.
His first ‘rescue’ was of the Rex, originally the Central Picture House in Elland. It had closed in 1985 but was re-opened in 1988, by Mr Morris and his then business partner, Peter Berry.
When he started out he said there were no big multiplex cinemas in the vicinity. Now they surround him. But the Rex and the other Morris cinemas continue to attract an audience. Why?
Mr Morris said: “We look to treat our customers as individuals. We try not to hurry them in and hurry them out, and they know they won’t be ripped off at the confectionery counter.
“And we choose the films carefully.
“Also, we don’t put up with any nonsense. We had to be quite firm about that in the early days. That’s how we built up our reputation.”
Mr Morris was hooked on cinemas as a child and had always wanted to have one of his own. But 30 years or so passed before his ambition became a reality.
“First, I ran film societies at school and university, and then worked part-time in 16 different cinemas before having a bash on my own. I was looking at cinemas all over the place until my friend, Peter Berry, mentioned the Rex.”
Mr Morris and Mr Berry decided to join forces to renovate and re-open the cinema. “Success came gradually,” Mr Morris recalled.
“The first night was poorly attended, which we attributed to the weather, but this set the pattern for the next few weeks and we began to panic a bit.
“We continued distributing monthly leaflets for a year, and then everything happened all of a sudden. We appeared on television after our first year, and soon afterwards we screened Shirley Valentine. The rest, as they say, is history.
“Cinema-going had only just started picking up at that time; it had reached an all-time low in 1984 and was gradually getting better. But the film trade thought we were mad and wouldn’t take any risks with us.”
Mr Morris added: “New technology has brought us the digital revolution and we have joined in with it.
“We now have a superb image and the ability to choose from a wider variety of films. But we still have our original projectors for occasional use.”
Mr Morris and Mr Berry continued to run the Rex, in addition to their full-time jobs as a quality manager and a coach driver respectively, until 1992, when Mr Morris gave up his job to take on a cinema in Windermere.
He now has a circuit of six cinemas – the Rex, Keighley’s Picture House, the Plaza in Skipton, the Cottage Road in Headingley, Leeds, and the Royalty and the Roxy in Cumbria.
“We’ve put a lot of effort in over the 25 years and seen a lot of changes round about us,” said Mr Morris.