Francis Laidler – The King of Pantomime

t14725 t14726Francis Laidler was born in 1867, in Thornaby-on-Tees. In 1902 Laidler moved to Bradford and for half a century he delivered panto after panto in his Bradford theatre, as well as venues in Leeds, Keighley and London. His last Bradford Alhambra panto in 1954 was Red Riding Hood. Sadly, just a few days after its opening Laidler passed away, just one day before his 88th birthday. His funeral took place in January, 1955 in Bradford Cathedral. In showbiz style his widow Mrs Gladys Laidler announced that the show must go on.

A plaque in memory of Francis Laidler was unveiled in 1956 by Mrs Gladys Laidler, and the Lady Mayoress of Bradford, Mrs R C Ruth. It reads ‘A tribute to the King of Pantomime, Francis Laidler, A millionaire Philanthropist who loved to make children happy‘.

The Bradford Alhambra is a theatre in Bradford, West Yorkshire. It was built for theatre impresario Francis Laidler, and opened on Wednesday 18 March 1914. In 1964 Bradford City Council bought the Alhambra. In 1974 it was designated a Grade II listed building. It seats 1456. Today, the Alhambra is a major touring venue and hosts a wide range of stage shows from ballet and opera to variety and comedy, musicals, drama and, of course, the annual pantomime. Regular visits are made from prestigious companies such as Opera North, the Royal Shakespeare Company, Birmingham Royal Ballet, Northern Ballet Theatre and the Royal National Theatre to complement spectacular West End shows and musicals.

Details courtesy of Bob Wilson.

2 thoughts on “Francis Laidler – The King of Pantomime

  1. Francis Laidler was born in 1867, in Thornaby-on-tees. His connection with Bradford theatres began when he became part of the management of “Hammonds Brewery”. It was while he was managing the brewery interests that he decided to extend his connections with the world of theatre, by going into partnership with Walter Piper, who ran the local Prince’s Theatre. The partnership meant that while Piper looked after the productions, Laidler attended to the finance and, naturally to stocking the bars. Just six months later Walter Piper died, leaving Laidler in charge of the company they had formed. By 1903 he had become full time manager of the Prince’s Theatre. “Red Riding Hood” had proved to be highly successful, and Laidler realised that if he could provide a popular pantomime every season and increase the number of variety shows performed they performed, the theatre business could be more profitable.

    In 1909 He took out a lease on the Theatre Royal, Leeds. He was to present his pantomimes. At this point he was in control of two theatres, and thinking of building a third, in Keighley. The plans for the 4th Alhambra theatre were on a lavish scale. The audience would enter through a marble foyer, and enter an auditorium richly carpeted, with seats that were upholstered. There were no pillars to spoil the view from the auditorium, which consisted of orchestra and pit stalls, dress circle and boxes, and a balcony on the second tier. Backstage was not neglected either. All eleven dressing rooms were palatial compared to many of the Victorian theatres of the time. By 1916 Laidler had formed an amalgamation with Moss, the owners of the Moss Empire circuit. During his time at Bradford Laidler had continued to live at the Great Northern Hotel, after his wedding to Gladys Cotterill, a principal boy in one of his pantomimes 1926, he bought number 15, Park Mansions in Knightsbridge, London, as the centre of his increasing national business interests,
    (Accreditation) Condensed from Peter Holdsworth, author, book “Domes of Delight, the history of the Alhambra Theatre, Bradford” (re-write by Bob Wilson, Five Lamps, Thornaby)

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    • Francis Laidler moved from Stokesley to Bradford in 1890, not in 1902 as you state. His second daughter, Ida, was born at Bradford in 1893. His youngest daughter, Olive, married a distant cousin of mine.

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