Channel 4’s Restoration Man, George Clarke visits Bradford’s Amazing Space!


Channel 4’s Restoration Man, and presenter of ‘Amazing Spaces’ George Clarke, has maintained a personal interest in the Bradford Odeon for a couple of years after an ongoing dialogue with Matt Shaw of BORG. The renowned architect and renovation expert is also a follower of BORG’s twitter account. George had originally planned to inspect the building for himself during the summer of 2012, but BORG were unable to negotiate access to the interior as the HCA were still in the process of removing fixtures contaminated by fallen asbestos at that time.

Inspired by the success of Dynamo’s recent nostalgic visit to the Odeon, BORG made an approach to Bradford Council to see if it would be possible for George to finally get to see the interior of the former cinema for himself. The green light was quickly obtained and Matt Shaw contacted Mr Clarke’s team to notify them that the long-awaited site visit was in the bag. The timing of these developments could not have been any better. George had actually tweeted that he was filming in Yorkshire for the forthcoming series of ‘Restoration Man’. George’s schedule was always going to be incredibly tight, but 11th hour negotiations between BORG, Bradford Council and George’s PA made the Odeon site visit possible.

On the afternoon of Thursday 3rd July 2014 George Clarke arrived and was greeted by BORG, Bradford Council representatives and a BBC Look North crew. Within minutes of his arrival George Clarke was being escorted around the Odeon’s interior by the Council’s Senior CDM Co-ordinator and BORG’s Mark Nicholson and Mike Bottomley.

Acting as knowledgeable tour guides, Mark and Mike were able to point out to George glimpses of surviving New Victoria architectural features that was still concealed in building voids and explain exactly how the conversion works of 1969 had been inserted into the original theatre layout; “George had many questions about the building and its history throughout the entire excursion,” says Mark Nicholson, “He was also very interested about the current ‘Expressions Of Interest’ process, the particulars of the two bids and the delivery timetable.” 

“Wow, this space is so vast!”

was George Clarke’s immediate impression of the huge chasm that was once Odeon 2… “That was a great moment,” says Mark Nicholson, “especially when I pointed out to George that this auditorium was but a section of the original theatre and there was another cinema next door!” When the tour party reached the smaller Odeon 1 cinema, George asked if there was a need for a 4,000 capacity venue in Bradford. Mark explained that feasibility studies had suggested there was a viable case and concert goers in the local district were fed up of having to go to Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield or Newcastle to see live music; “George then joked that nobody should have to come to Newcastle!” says Mark.

The one area that really excited George was Odeon 3, the former ballroom. This should have been no surprise to anyone given the fact that it is the best preserved example of New Vic splendour and ripe for complete restoration. BORG showed George archive photos of the ballroom from both ends whilst the Senior CDM Co-ordinator informed him of the Council’s imminent plans to remove the ceiling tiles of Odeon 3, which would also fully expose the ballroom ceiling; “I would certainly like to see that!” was the television star’s approving response. George then asked BORG to show him how far back the ballroom actually extended beyond the inserted projection box and staff rooms; “He was genuinely inspired,” says Mark Nicholson, “and we were also able to show him the ceiling plasterwork of the original ballroom tower lounge through a loft opening.”

The tour then came to a close… “As we descended the exit stairs behind the screen of Odeon 3 myself and George discussed the huge amount of work that would be involved in the removal of the subdividing walls and ceilings to reinstate the original theatre layout,” explains Mark Nicholson. “We also agreed that such a project would make a great television programme! So, just maybe…”

“Please continue to keep me informed about what will be happening with this building,” was George’s personal request to BORG after thanking us for showing him around.

Once outside, the invited Look North reporter interviewed George Clarke and this is what he had to say about the Odeon, in full;

I think first and foremost that it’s a great building with lots of history. Even though it’s been messed around and knocked around many times over the years, you can see behind all the suspended ceilings and all the temporary partition walls that have been put in that the skin of it is a brilliant building there packed with history, you know? And for something like that to be demolished and knocked down and lost forever would be a scandal as far as I’m concerned.

Over the last twenty or thirty years there has been a massive change in the way we regard historic buildings. All over Britain we have lost too many good buildings that could have been restored and saved through lots of development schemes and regeneration projects. Things have been totally demolished rather than actually restored, and that’s a shame to be honest with you. There’s been a big sea change over the last ten or fifteen years where people have realised that the opportunity to recycle old buildings to create beautiful “new” ones using the inner structure has a huge amount of potential. And it keeps general town and cities really happy… people have got huge emotional connections with buildings like this, and by saving them, and giving them a new lease of life, and restoring them at the same time is brilliant for towns and cities as far as I am concerned.

I think if a building has got character to it, and it’s got a huge connection with the people that live here, it really doesn’t matter when it was built. I’ve come across a lot of campaign groups that have campaigned to save 1950’s and  1960’s buildings – and they’re controversial because people either love them or hate them – but I think with a building like this, you can’t help but fall in love with it. I just think it’s a shame that it has been allowed to fall into the level of disrepair that it has. It’s obviously been really difficult financial times for all of Britain and there’s not a lot of funding around for buildings like this, but that doesn’t mean to say that we should just sweep it away and build something brand new. You only have to look around you. When they knock stuff down and build new, it’s not always great and I think we’ve got to really test out the viability of our old buildings properly before there’s any demolition programme at all… for any projects.

I’m not against new build projects, I’m not against regeneration projects. Any town or city has got to look at the mix, if you like, of preserving old buildings, restoring old buildings and building new ones. You’ve got to get that balance right and I think with this building when you look at the potential, it’s vast. It’s got a huge amount of potential for Bradford and to demolish it would be a shame.

At the end of the day with any old building, you’ve got to look at how financially viable it is to bring it back into use and whether any town or city has a desperate need for it… and also people have got to want to do it. The community have got to want it. The town or the city have got to want it. The Council have got to want it as well, and you’ve got to back it. There’s got to be a passion to preserve an old building and give it a new lease of life. For me, more than anything, when I see a lot of old buildings which are beautiful being demolished and then rubbish replaces them… just because it’s new doesn’t mean it’s good, and I think that really is a tragedy. That’s why you’ve got to jump through every single hoop and test out the viability and every single option available to a town or city before you make any decision to demolish it. It sounds to me that, potentially, a couple of developers who want to keep this building, save it, and transform it and retain a piece of very important history for Bradford.

If there is a long term viable option to save this building then I am a million percent behind it. A million percent. What you don’t want is a regeneration project happening and then it falling into disrepair after three years because the use isn’t right or the city or the town didn’t really need it. I think there is a huge amount of potential for this, a massive amount of potential. I think it would be brilliant for Bradford to keep it.

Following the interview George was presented with a ‘Restoration Man style’ scrapbook that Graphic Designer Matt had originally created for him back in 2012. The architect further gasped at the architectural beauty of the New Vic that was seen within many archive photos. He was also delighted to see his own face in a parody of the Saving Private Ryan movie poster elsewhere in the book, along with Kevin McCloud, Dan Cruikshank and Dr. Jonathan Foyle, three other well-known celebrity Architectural experts that have shown support for saving the Odeon in the past. “I like the fact I’m stood at the front!” George exclaimed before being photographed with BORG and wishing us (and the Odeon) well. And then he was gone…

BORG would like to express their sincere appreciation of Bradford Council’s full cooperation with the facilitation of George Clarke’s site visit. Further thank you’s are extended towards George and his team, and Spencer Stokes of BBC Look North, Vicky Leith for photography and for supplying the amazing torches used in the visit.

See George Clarke’s visit on BBC Look North


George Clarke’s current series of ‘Amazing Spaces’ can be seen on Channel 4, Thursdays at 8pm.

More about ‘Restoration Man’ here… 
More about ‘George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces’ here…
More about ‘George Clarke’s Great British Property Scandal’ here…
More about ‘George Clarke and Partners’ here…

AGeorge entering Bradford Odeon.

SONY DSCGeorge in Odeon 1.

SONY DSCGeorge and his mighty torch!SONY DSCMark Nicholson explaining the lack of mid-sized concert venues in the immediate district.

SONY DSC George being interviewed by BBC Look North.6The Restoration Man.

7George and a Dome!

8George being presented with the scrapbook.

12The Saving Private Ryan parody poster raised a smile!

10George leaving with the scrapbook.

11George with Matt Shaw, Mark Nicholson and Mike Bottomley from BORG.

This story was written by Mark Nicholson, BORG.

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