Sadly Sir Gerald, who represented the Manchester Gorton constituency and was the longest serving MP in the House, will never get the opportunity to see the resurgence of Chester as a cultural centre after he died on Sunday (February 26), aged 86, following an illness.
This May Storyhouse will open in the grade II-listed art deco former Odeon incorporating an 800-seat auditorium, single screen cinema and library. Alongside there are plans for Picturehouse to operate a six-screen cinema as part of phase 1 of the long-awaited Northgate Development.
Ms Russell commented: “He would have been delighted to see the return of culture to Chester.”
As MP, Ms Russell invited Sir Gerald to address a 250-strong audience at St Mary’s Creative Space in 2007 at a time when developers had plans to redevelop the Odeon into bars, restaurants and shops. The building was later bought back by the council, eventually leading to plans for Storyhouse.
Sir Gerald, former chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, told those gathered: “The history of cinema in Chester doesn’t need to be a brief history. You can keep it alive. You can keep it going and preserve not only a Grade II listed building but preserve the cultural ambience.”
Ms Russell had intended to ask whether Sir Gerald may be able to attend the opening of Storyhouse had he been well enough.
She said: “I feel sad. We have lost one of the great towering figures, one of the real characters. He was someone who had a flamboyant style of dress. Whenever he spoke he always had something interesting to say.”
Ms Russell, a huge movie buff, said the obituaries had concentrated on her late colleague’s political career but neglected to focus on his love of the arts.
She added: “He was a film critic before he was a politician. He was a really cultured man and he loved the cinema. He told me of his early days living in Leeds, scraping together the pennies to go to the pictures. I know he had seen Singing in the Rain more times than he’d had hot dinners.”
And she recalled the two of them chatting about the latest movie release over a coffee at the Houses of Parliament.
Ms Russell is personally ‘very excited’ about the forthcoming opening of Storyhouse and especially the plans for Picturehouse to open in the city centre.