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The original 1969 advert in the Ilkley Gazette asking for support in forming Ilkley Film Society


Ilkley Film Society celebrates 50 years


Ilkley Film Society celebrates the start of its 50th season next month with an exciting programme, opening with Steven Spielberg's The Post, and those 50 years tell quite a story.


Things were looking bleak for the town's cinema goers in the late 60s. The Grove Picture House had closed in 1967 and been demolished with the adjacent railway embankment the following year, and in 1969 the Essoldo cinema also closed – its Railway Road site is now occupied by the Boyes store – leaving Ilkley without a cinema screen for the first time since 1913.


A small group of enthusiasts decided that this would not do and an advert appealing for support was placed in the Ilkley Gazette. 100 people agreed to a subscrition of 25 shillings (£1.25 in decimal currency) and, on 19th October 1969 , the new Ilkley Film Society opened its first season with the British film The Caretaker at the Playhouse.


That first season was quite modest in ambition with just 6 screenings spread over 6 months but over the years, as membership numbers and income increased, the programme was gradually extended until it reached its present size of 24 screenings.


In the 70s a big effort was made to foster interest in cinema among the town's children, with a Children's Film Club being run at Ilkley College of Education on Saturday mornings and a series of Children's Christmas Film Shows. The first of these was actually too successful, with children and parents having to be turned away from the Playhouse despite there being 3 separate performances. Angry letters appeared in the press, and the event was moved to the King's Hall in subsequent years.


In those early seasons films were shown in 16mm format on a borrowed screen, with a hired projector mounted on a makeshift gantry, and with intervals during the film so that a new reel could be threaded onto the projector – quite a contrast to the present offering of high-definition projection of Blu-ray discs with permanently installed equipment, five-channel sound and, of course, no interruption of the films !


It did not take long for the Society to achieve national recognition, winning a series of awards from the British Film Institute including a Community Award for  its children's shows and the coveted Film Society Of The Year award in 1973, the very welcome prize being a new projector.


No fewer than ten different locations have been home to the Film Society, as it searched for a venue with comfortable seating, good acoustics, and where bookings would not be cancelled at short notice. Some of those venues (the Troutbeck Hotel, Ilkley College, the International Wool Secretariat) have disappeared but the Society has lived on.


The Wool Secretariat was the scene of one of the most frustrating incidents in the Society's history. When one screening was over-running by about 10 minutes the angry caretaker yanked the projector's plug out of the socket and ordered everybody out. To this day, many of that evening's audience do not know how the film ended !


A series of unsuitable venues let to a sharp fall in membership and the Society was on the brink of extinction after its Silver Jubilee season. Happily, the lottery-funded extension and refurbishment of Ilkley Playhouse in the 90s enabled them to find their ideal home, and the current season will be the 23rd since returning there.


Despite all the changes of location and film format the Society boasts a remarkable continuity in human terms, with the most recent survey showing that a quarter of the membership had been members for more than 20 years (and at least one founder member is still in the Society). Four of the present committee will have completed 20 years or more of service by the end of the new season and, when devoted Secretary Richard Fort died in 2015, he had held the post for an amazing 38 years.


The 50 programmes have contained over 800 films from over 50 countries, including such little-known film-making territories as Uruguay, Saudi Arabia, Mauretania, Colombia, Estonia and Kyrgyzstan. The local appetite for films which are not the usual British or American mainstream products has been remarkable, and attendances have been the envy of film societies in much larger communities.


While the main focus has always been on contemporary fiction films, the Society has developed a tradition of special events additional to the main season, with documentaries, filmed opera, classic and silent cinema, and on one occasion a film about beer festivals, with free beer being served before and afterwards.


The coming years are likely to bring more changes in the way that films are made and shown but, as long as movies exist, Ilkley Film Society expects to be showing them. Here's to the next 50 years !


Brochures with membership forms for the new season can be found in Ilkley at the library, visitor centre, Ilkley Cinema and Clarke Foley Centre. The Society's website is at


Advert for the Society's first Children's Christmas show, from which many had to be turned away.

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