Kozy Cinema

Location and period of operation:

The Kozy Trent Vale, Stoke  


The Kozy   - by Ken Buckley


  "From the outside, it was nothing more than a brown metal warehouse with a pitched roof. Its frontal facade sported a double glass door entrance, beneath a single strip of milky white neon tubing, which, when lit, simply stated “KOZY.”

   On each side of the entrance were two plain wooden billboards where gaudy sign writer’s brush strokes loudly proclaimed coming attractions for the next week. It was an addition that was definitely not in line with the bright, modern set back shopping centre at the juncture of the Newcastle and Stoke roads.

     But, like all of the simple little cinemas that had sprouted up with advent of the motion picture, the KOZY was a convenient inexpensive little community theatre that relied heavily upon the Potteries working class for its existence. At school, wags laughingly called it “The Bug Hut.” You “walked in and rode out.” 

      The tiny foyer, its “Western Electric” sound system brass plate next to the diminutive ticket window, opened up to the curtained light wall, preventing extraneous light from spilling onto a 30-foot-wide free standing screen which exploded nightly and Saturday mornings with Hollywood and British drama and comedy.

        Nostalgically, the first epic I witnessed was “The Last Of The Mohicans” with Randolph Scott. It was an unforgettable Saturday morning matinee, a great picture drowned out by screaming kids unleashed from school and home into the semi-darkness of the mystical palace of dreams and adventure. And all it cost was eight pence.  It seemed that the usher was constantly having the lights flicked on as he shouted warnings to “stop the noise – or else” followed by a hush. The lights dimmed, the projector was cranked up again shooting a shaft of light from the tiny projection booth over our heads, once again re-igniting everyone’s screams, whistles and shouts.

      But because cowboys and Indians was the main course for boys my age, I managed to squeeze out a shilling from my mum, to go back that night and enjoy the whole picture with sound.

      Picture palaces, except for the zillions of pubs clinging to every street corner in the Potteries, were the biggest draw for hard working Potters, steel workers, store workers, gardeners, butchers, and bored school kids. Long before the advent of picture palaces like the Danilo looking down on Campbell Place in Stoke, there was the Majestic sandwiched between Berrisfords and other Campbell Place stores. Around the corner on Church Street was the tall, rambling Hippodrome, replete with its “Gods,” so far in the air, it was joked you needed oxygen to sit up there. The former opera house projection booth nestled so high in the roof with the pigeons, the screen had to be tilted back to align the images.

         But it was at KOZY where Dorothy tapped her shoes and ushered us into Oz. Bogart grimaced and lisped as Sam Spade as one projector broke down, and the audience agreed to watch the rest of the picture on one projector, unperturbed by the flashing numbers on the tails of each reel. It was there that Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula had a stake driven into his heart, which sent us spilling us out into the rain, gagging and clutching our stomachs. As the war rolled along, we saw the KOZY war in Hollywood and British epics, glorious tributes to the fighting men and women, and the KOZY was filled with servicemen and women, ordnance factory workers, Home Guard and Civil Defence volunteers snatching a break between air raid warnings. During the dismal war days, we cheered our troops as they kept Jerry on the run, sank his ships, and razed Hamburg and Cologne.

     Film noir was at its peak, championed by such greats as Bogart, Cagney and Edward G. Robinson, and Johnny Weismuller screamed as he swung through the jungle as Tarzan. There was Sabu in “The Drum,” and the classic “Four Feathers,” Maureen O’Hara and Errol Flynn in swashbuckling pirate adventures. But we also shared laughs with Joe E. Brown, Laurel and Hardy, and the classic Ealing epics with Allistair Sim and Will Hay, the irrepressible schoolmaster, we all loved.

      The KOZY was there to entertain. No one seemed to mind that there were no fancy lighting tricks or beautiful curtains drawn back between the double features, usually a short, a cartoon, coming attractions, and a newsreel. Or, for that matter that the big, at least it looked big screen stood on its own between two red “Exit” signs, its cavernous voice bellowing out somewhere to the rear. That magical box where the film was projected, we were told, was reached by a ladder behind a door in the Men’s room.

       The seats were adequate. Eight pence for the Saturday morning matinees, one shilling for the centre, and one and a tanner in the back, usually where courting couples sat. People always removed their hats, and stood up to allow someone to pass, and no one seemed to care about the perpetual cloud of blue cigarette smoke that swirled through the dazzling beam of the projector.

       It was nothing more than a tin house. Easily mistaken as a warehouse. When it rained hard, the projectionist would have turn up the sound to overcome the roar of the rain on the roof. When the smoke became too thick, the usher would walk down the aisle waving something that looked like a garden bug sprayer shooting a fine mist of sweet smelling disinfectant over our heads and up our nostrils.

         There were dozens of theatres throughout the Potteries, ranging from the more luxurious houses such as The Regent and Odeon in Hanley, and Danilo in Stoke, to the many smaller houses off the beaten track. Such was the KOZY, its single tube of neon flickering and beckoning thousands into its tiny interior over the years to escape for an hour or so from the humdrum, or more trying times of work., school, or the war.

          The last time I passed where it stood, a piece of concrete at the fork in the road, I could hear the kids screaming and Bogart lisping, the boom of the bass, and thrill of Dorothy’s voice, and a gurgle of laughs, as the bus lurched into gear and pulled away toward Hanford."


(See sources)


Questions / comments / contributions? email: Steve Birks