East End Memories


The Troxy Stepney.... then & now

Throughout Britain, there used to be a whole host of cinemas, known as Picture Palaces. These were magical and marvelous places. Many resembled Eastern Palaces while others took the Art Deco style to a dizzy height. People would stare at these magnificent structures and marvel. Families, courting couples and friends would go regularly to them not only to see the latest films from Britain and Hollywood, but also to enjoy tea, a light lunch or even dinner in their restaurants. The staff members would be dressed in the livery of the circuit and would be considerate and courteous and show a willingness to see that patrons passed a pleasant time. Today, most of these magnificent structures have been destroyed. Like dinosaurs, many could not, or were not allowed to, find a place in the changing society. However, some were saved from the wrecking ball by the swift intervention of those who saw beyond their original use. Some survived through their adaption for other uses and needs of the changing world and the fickle tastes of the public.

At one time, most areas of Britain could boast of a local Picture Palace. And older residents of the area will most likely talk merrily about their courting days and how they stole that all-important first kiss with that special one either at the back of the balcony or in the last row of the stalls. Gone are those days!

In my part of the East End, although we were lucky and had a number of cinemas to choose from, we lacked a true Picture Palace. We had nothing to compare in sumptuous grandeur to the Granada Tooting or the State Kilburn. And no cinema had the majesty of the Regent Brighton. Even our Odeons could perhaps not compare to the wondrous Odeon Woolwich. None of our cinemas were as startling or as opulent as the Astoria Finsbury Park or as elegant as the Odeon Holloway with its sweeping staircase. The closest building that we had which was in anyway comparable to these brilliantly startling edifices was the Troxy in Stepney.

You may think that I am crying in my beer at being deprived so - not at all! What we may have lacked in not having a brilliant and shining cinema, which might have brought cinema lovers from all over London to marvel at, we more than made up for in other ways. We survived this slight and bore our under-privileged state without complaint for we had three cinemas that had no rivals – well, at least to me and others with taste and distinction!

Let me say from the start, I have always loved going to the cinema – or as it was called when I was a child, The Pictures. Those that know me know this to be fact. And as a child, I not only loved the picture, I also loved the cinema itself and going to The Pictures was one of the top three things that I enjoyed doing best along with going to The Hackney, and when I was old enough, going to the theatre in the West End. I have never tired from or exhausted the joy that I get from snuggling down into my seat, as the lights go low and the proscenium curtains swoosh their way to the flies. Suddenly, there before you is a large blank screen. You wait patiently for that magical light from the projector high above you to fill the screen with spectacular images, which transport you out of your seat and into some exotic land or else plunge you deep into danger as you creep along hidden in those menacing shadows that jut into those dark and dangerous streets or perhaps lift you up to a magical place where complete strangers suddenly burst into song and leap into a dance consisting of the most intricate choreography, all done without missing a note or step. This was breathtaking stuff to a child and guaranteed to set the imagination working overtime.

Still, I am not here to write about the joys of the films that I saw, but rather the places where they were seen – those wondrous places that supplied the setting for those magical carpet rides – the cinemas. Although this is my aim, I apologize in advance, since I know that I will not always be able to disassociate the cinema from the film. In my memory, the cinema and certain films are intimately associated and I fear that, try as I might, I will not always be able to separate the two.

When I was a child there were fourteen cinemas open for business in my small area of London. Based on the classification in common usage by us kids, there were four really good cinemas – the ABC Empire, Mile End Road, the ABC Regal, Hackney, the Odeon Hackney Road and the Odeon Mile End). Although they were not exactly picture palaces, they came a close second and had a certain elegance about them and were not unpleasant to go to. After this, there were two good ones – the Forester’s Cambridge Heath Road and the Excelsior Bethnal Green. Perhaps I have allowed myself to exaggerate the standing of the Excelsior a little. If this is the case, I had reasons, which will become apparent a little later. Next in line came four passable cinemas – the Essoldo Bethnal Green Road, the Empress Mare Street, Hackney Pavilion and the Mayfair Brick Lane. Although we are moving down the list here, these cinemas cannot be ignored, since the quality of the films shown could not be dismissed, and as you will learn, would elevate the Essoldo and the Empress well beyond what would have been expected from their initial lowly position on the classification list. Now we come to those cinemas labeled as dumps – a somewhat damning distinction, I am afraid to say, but one worthy of their décor and care given. These miserable establishments were the Museum Cambridge Heath Road, the Standard Hackney and the Palaseum Commercial Road. Each was grim and gruesome and totally lacking in charm. But then, I need to recall what my friend said about the lack of permission to renovate them although their sad state was not entirely due to government interference. Finally, and with regret, we come to the bottom category – the fleapit – such an establishment had long since moved beyond hope. Mercifully, only cinema would receive this rating, the poor and dejected Empire, Roman Road.

I have recently learned something interesting from a friend of mine that has caused me to feel some regret at my dismissal and attitude towards the fleapits. Following the war, it was difficult to get planning permission for anything other than new houses and other buildings of priority. This was done to get Britain back on its feet as quickly as possible. Since my area of London was close to the docks, it suffered badly during the war. The whole area was littered with bomb sites, which although great places for the local kids to play needed to be filled as soon as possible so that everyone could be seen to be returning to a normal life. During the war years, many of the cinemas of the area had fallen into disrepair. Naturally, no planning permission would be given to use vital materials so that renovations could be done. This caused many of these wounded cinemas to maintain their shabby and almost derelict look well after the war ended. Money was still in short supply in the early post-war years and people had to be careful where they spent it. Although the pictures were still popular, patrons wanted to spend their money on something special and since those poor dilapidated cinemas failed to project a welcoming image, they were decidedly unappealing to working people. Naturally, we children were much harsher when discussing these mangy old places amongst ourselves and quickly dismissed many cinemas with total disregard of reason and labeled them as dumps and fleapits and turned our noses up when they were mentioned.

The Empire, Roman Road, Bethnal GreenAs I mentioned in my other story, Going to the Pictures, the worst cinema that I have ever been to – before or since – was the Empire in Roman Road. The Empire Picturedrome opened in 1912 and was altered in 1926 and had a seating capacity of 650 at that time. This cinema holds a place in my memory since it was the first cinema that I ever went to. Unfortunately, this was not a memorable experience. The film that I saw was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, but I in fact saw little since I spent most of the time under my seat out of fear of the Wicked Stepmother.

The cinema was whitewashed on the outside when I knew it and most of the letters of the name had fallen off the wall and had not been replaced. There were also the remnants of electric lighting in the form of stars that long since ceased to work. Also on the façade were two empty billboards that once served to tempt the patron with their advertisements. There was no attractive awning to protect patrons from a passing shower while they waited to enter the cinema. The box office was a little window that opened directly onto the street and entrance to the auditorium was through a small door, which opened directly from the street. When I knew the cinema, it was in a sad state. It totally lacked any semblance of charm and no one made any effort to create a welcoming ambiance. The building had been reduced to pure functionalism and looked unappealing. Over the years I would pass this gruesome looking place on my way to and from the launderette further along the Roman Road. The cinema never seemed to show any films worth going to see – only films that had been seen elsewhere years early – and which were without merit. And in 1959, the cinema closed and the site was redeveloped.

After my initial experience at the Empire, I never returned there again. It is tragic to think that the Empire was once an attractive building with working illumination and certainly must have given much pleasure to the people of the area. Sadly, the building fell into decline and became the eyesore that I knew. Sadly no one now remembers it as it once was and the building spent its last days suffering humiliation at the hands of the like of us kids. Upon reflection, I think that the shame is on us.

Although we lacked a real Picture Palace, we did have a few upper level cinemas that any area would have been proud to have as their local cinemas. These were the Odeons and ABCs in Hackney and on the Mile End Road. As the Odeon Hackney Road and the ABC Empire, Mile End Road were closer to where we lived, these were the ones we visited the most. These cinemas were beautiful places and amazingly they are both still in use today: the Odeon is a Bingo Hall while the Empire is now called Genesis and enjoys a reincarnation as a multiplex.

These two cinemas were great favourites of mine. We would often go to the Empire on Mile End Road on a Thursday evening when my parents closed the shop and took the night off. Other times, my mother and I would go on a Monday night, which was her night off. My father did not take a night off. Instead, he took an hour off each night and go across the road to The White Hart for a drink. His one hour off most often turned into several and we would be lucky to see him before closing time.

On Thursdays, once my parents closed the shop after the lunchtime and finished tidying up, they would rest for a while before getting dressed for their evening out. Although we would take care in our appearance, we would not dress to the same degree as when we went to the Hackney. Going to the Hackney was a treat, something special, an occasion, even though we went quite often, while going to the cinema, although pleasurable and certainly something to look forward to, was somewhat ordinaire. And so we dressed accordingly since the local cinema was definitely not a place to wear one’s Sunday best. Despite this, I was still made to go tidy.

The Empire was about half a mile from Mile End Gate along the Mile End Road. Normally, I would enjoy the walk to the cinema, but when I was on my way to the pictures, I would want to rush along the street since I was always filled with excitement at the thought of at long last seeing some great film that I had been waiting to see for some weeks. In those days, London had three evening newspapers – The Star, The Evening News and The Evening Standard. All over London, one could hear the newspaper hawkers calling out Star, News a’ Standard and people would pay a few coppers for any one of them. Each evening, my parents would buy all three and we would each have one to read after the evening meal. This is amusing to me now since my reading was not that advanced at the time. However, I wasn’t interested in the headlines or in the features at that time. The only thing that interested me in the newspaper was the theatre and cinema listings since I needed to be fully au fait with what was playing or about to be shown in the West End cinemas since these films would soon be shown at the Empire or some other cinema in the area and I wanted to be sure when exactly.

The walk along Mile End Road to the Empire was very interesting as the road has a long history and one that was intimately associated with my mother. Just past The White Hart public house, there was once a number of missions and tabernacles. These establishments were once soup kitchens where the poor and down of heart went and received a bowl of soup and a piece of bread. While they ate, someone would talk to them about the state of their spiritual life and following the feast, everyone joined in and sang a rousing hymn. My mother would take her half-brothers and sisters to these places when she was told to take care of them and don’t come back before dark, leaving her mother and stepfather to enjoy themselves in their home free from the distractions of children.

One of the missions, founded by General Booth became the site of The Salvation Army. Today, the mission is gone, but a statue erected by American members of the Army now stands close by to make the place where the Army was founded. My mother used to tell of the efforts made by the members to save people. At that time, my part of the East End, especially Stepney and Bethnal Green, were renowned for its wildness and danger and it would take a person of stout heart to dare to enter a public house and talk to the patrons. Many were beaten and I believe some were killed, but they persisted and helped to calm and tame the East End for a while.

Statue of General William Booth

(click on the statue to enlarge)

There were other places of interest along the Mile End Road. There are some old alms houses still present. These buildings are set back from the road and have decorative gates, which are remarkable in that the tops of each is decorated with stone replicas of sailing ships. I am always amazed when I visit the area to discover that these galleons are still present and have not been vandalized.

The Alms Houses, Mile End Road

(click on the above pictures to enlarge)

Just before reaching the cinema, we passed a large department store called Wickham’s. Wickham’s has a large tower that can be seen from afar. The store had large windows and obviously the company was proud of the designs that were in each one. I never liked the store. I don’t think that my mother liked it either. I remember her complaining about the price of things for sale. I remember disliking the floors. They were of old slatted wood and made a din when you walked on them. Their lifts were old and rickety and creaked their way between floors and were manned by miserable operators. Nothing in the store appealed to me and the lighting was dreary. However, the worst department was the toy department, which was found in the basement. Their toys were uninteresting and decidedly overpriced. I certainly was never of a mind to spend my hard earned savings on any toy from Wickham’s. Despite my lack of affection for Wickham’s, I was saddened to find that sometime in the 1970s, it closed. The building is still there and part of the ground floor is used by Blockbuster Video and various others companies have leased the remainder, but none have seemed to stay. The first floor remains empty and has been unused for years. Although the once beautiful building seems to be basically intact, its stonework is now grimy and stained from a lack of care and the windows are dirty from years of neglect. The building, once of some importance in a one-time vibrant area, is now left empty to decay in the now depressed and forgotten area. It is like some tragic figure that has served its purpose and now has no place in our modern world.

Wickham's Department Store

Between Wickham’s and the Empire was a bank of white stone. This was a small bank, but I remember that it was always busy during working hours. There was a night safe on the outside of the building. As we walked past the bank on the way to the cinema, there would generally be one or two people depositing their small dark blue bank sacks filled with the day’s takings into the night safe for overnight keeping. The next day, at 10 A.M., the bank would be open again for business and representatives of the various companies would come by to retrieve the sacks and officially make a deposit of the monies.

The ABC Empire, Mile End Road
The Empire, Mile End Road
  Bank and Cinema
Bank and Cinema

Next to the bank was the Empire. The site of the Empire Mile End has been the site of either a theatre or a cinema since 1885. Firstly, there was the Paragon Theatre of Varieties, which was designed by Frank Matcham. The building was later converted into a cinema and operated by the United Picture Theatres chain and then by Associated British Cinemas (ABC). In April 1938, it was demolished and a new Art Deco cinema designed by William R. Glen was built by ABC. The new cinema was named the Empire and opened on 12th June, 1939.

The cinema was nothing out of the ordinary from the outside. It was like any other middle sized ABC that were found all over the Britain at the time. There were several long picture frames on the outside of the building where still photographs of shots of the film were placed in the hope of attracting patronage. I would always study these pictures as I would want to recognize the scenes when watching the film. I was often disappointed to find that not all the scenes shown outside to actually be in the film. I did not realize that many of these stills were posed especially for advertising purposes.

We entered through the swing doors and made our way to the Box Office, which was inside in the foyer. I do not recall any potted plants or objets d’art about the place. The only decoration that I can recall was an advertisement for next week’s attraction which appeared over the swing doors. There was a double staircase leading to the circle, which I only sat in once. This was when we went to see Showboat. My mother had been helpful to a customer and for her kindness, the lady had given us her entrance pass to the Empire, which treated us to the film and places in the expensive seats. To be honest, I was not overly impressed with the seating since I much preferred to sit closer to the screen. I needed to be closer to the action.

The auditorium of the Empire was quite large, but nowhere near the size of the ABC Regal, Hackney. Its Art Deco decoration was typical of many other ABCs and consisted of a series of inverted steps with scalloped edges in the ceiling and horizontal bands on the side walls. I cannot remember anything about the curtains that separated the screen from the auditorium. This is not surprising since I was much more interested in their opening than in their design, as I would always want them to open as soon as possible and allow the film to start.

I enjoyed our nights out at the Empire and remember them with fondness. I used to look forward to the trailers. These were often as important to me as the feature. In those days, you were shown only what was coming next week and not the endless number forced on the cinema-going public of today. I also enjoyed the newsreel. It wasn’t that I was overly interested in the stories presented. No, it was the cockerel used by Pathe to crow the introduction of their presentation that I liked.

At the time, believe it or not, we had two chickens that were kept on the roof of the pie ‘n’ mash shop. One was a mean white bird that I did not like and who decidedly did not like me. The other bird was a beautiful brown bird, a Rhode Island Red, that my mother had named Susie. I have no idea how Susie got her name. She was a delightful chicken. Friendly and very accommodating who would produce one brown egg each day. It was my job to collect the eggs early each morning and, as carefully as I could, I would bring them to my mother in the kitchen. She would boil Susie’s egg for exactly four minutes, no longer and no shorter, under my watchful eye. When I was satisfied that the egg had been properly prepared, it would be lifted gently out of the pot and placed carefully in my egg holder, which I would then be given to carry to the table. After tapping the top of the egg with my spoon and removing some of the shell, I would dip my fingers of toast into it and proceed to enjoy for breakfast. Susie produced one egg each day of her short life and when I found her dead one morning, I was inconsolable. After this, my parents could not bring themselves to get another chicken. How could they? No other chicken could have possibly replaced Susie. Anyway, whenever the Pathe cockerel crowed, it would be greeted by my yelling out for all to hear …. Susie!!! Heaven only knows what those about me thought. Still, I didn’t care what they thought then and I certainly don’t care now!

The interval would bring several ice cream ladies to the auditorium wearing their trays and selling delicacies for patrons to buy. I suspect that there was a great turnover in staff at the Empire since I never developed any relationship with them unlike those of the Hackney whom I found to be much prettier and much friendlier. I would wait in line, purchased my ice cream, give them the money, collect my change, say thank you and return to my seat. I doubt if a smile was ever exchanged between us.

The Empire showed the great films of MGM and Warner Brothers along with some British films. And it was here that I saw for the first time many great performances and many future classic films. It was here that I first saw Showboat and felt the pain endured by those forced to tote that barge, lift that bale and learned the importance of smiling when all else fails. It was here that I first became acquainted with Judy Garland. I recall being very upset when it looked as if Fred Astaire would choose Ann Miller over her and felt relief when it was Miss Garland that he chose to take to the Easter Parade. And it was in this cinema that, as the waif Lilli, Leslie Caron brought tears to my eyes and was mercifully saved by the love of seven dolls.

Moulin Rouge posterBut perhaps my greatest and most long lasting discovery came one wet Thursday night when we went to the Empire and there on the screen were the paintings and posters of Toulouse-Lautrec. I was deeply affected by Moulin Rouge and I have to confess that I was obviously too young to see this film. The effect that it had on me was pronounced. I was mesmerized by its presentation and it was here that I first saw the Can-Can! I cannot stress the effect that those screaming, twirling, whirling danseuses had on me as they ran yelping onto the dance floor and then weaved about the audience who stood motionless on the ballroom floor in utter amazement. I was intoxicated by the sheer devil may care behavior of the danseuses who danced with total disregard and with almost contempt for their onlookers. They danced, they yelped, they high-kicked top hats off stuffy heads and they seemed to be doing it for their own pleasure. The smoke filled dancehall, the hypnotizing colours, the young Zsa Zsa Gabor with the sweetest of singing voices telling me that It’s April again and then asking where is your heart were too much for me to fully take in and I was lost to the gay abandon of the gay nineties. At one point in the course of the film, I was obviously so moved and jumped up from my seat and was about to leap into the aisle. Obviously, I wanted to get into the dance. Fortunately, I was caught in mid whirl and returned, with some impact to my seat, where I sat exhausted throughout the rest of the film. For those that do not know this film, I urge you to see it. It has the most impressive and spectacular final scene. I was greatly taken by the concept of dying while danseuses cavort about the deathbed. I found this to be a stroke of genius on the part of the film makers and I must confess that I would find this to be the ideal death and still secretly hope that my own passing will take place in this way.

(In 1954, a film was released, French Can-Can, directed by Jean Renoir and starring Jean Gabin.  The link here is to the climatic sequence of the dance.  Had I seen this version as a child, I don't think that anything could have kept me in my seat!)

As I said earlier, the purpose of this story is to write about the cinemas of my area and not of the many great films that I saw in them. However, again and as I have said, upon recollection of my memories of the cinemas, I cannot but recall the films, since my memories of each are so intertwined that they cannot always be separated.

Poster: Annie Get Your Gun; Showboat; Lili; Tea For TwoAlthough the Empire Mile End was not my favourite cinema as a child, it nonetheless holds a prominent place in my memory for it was here that my first real exposure into film took place. I saw my first western here; my first period piece here; and saw for the first time all kinds of other film genre here. It was here that I learned not only to expect, but also to be guaranteed quality whenever the lion roared! I also learned to know that I could trust The Brothers Warner not to let me down. Thanks to those moguls, my imagination was given sufficient fodder to feast on and to develop. Those early visits to this cinema set the scene for me turning into the lifelong film buff that I am. Certainly the majority of films shown was neither highbrow nor thought provoking, but they entertained me, and at my age then, this was what was important. Since I started going to see films at a very young age, it is not surprising that I became totally immersed in the storyline – or should I say the action line for like most kids, I found the so-called romantic interludes to be tedious and distracting from the principle theme of the story. This reminds of a remark that I once heard voiced by an irritated man. We were watching a film whose name escapes me, and the action was evidently rolling along nicely, and we were about to seize the castle or break out of some prison or dungeon, when the hero appeared to forget the point of the exercise, and stops off to woo a damsel who was not in distress. Naturally, being young, it is understandable that I would not be pleased at being kept waiting to storm the battlements, however a man sitting close by, obviously as vexed as me, and with poor impulse control suddenly yelled out … blimmin’ kissin’! This caused a number of similar minded people, including me, to offer verbal support. This was greeted by a number of pleas for our silence. Again my parents were embarrassed at my behaviour and I received a slap on the leg, which told me to be quiet. Alas, the pleas for silence did not have the desired effect and only served to bring further complaints from the man and his associates. Before long, an argument ensued, followed by threats being made and finally requests to meet outside. East Enders are notorious for expressing their views, whether asked for or not. Unfortunately fellow audience members either have to tolerate the annoyance or be willing to enter into their own battle. Quick action on the part of the manager most often would bring about a truce and soon we would return to following the action on the screen.

Before going to the cinema, my mother would give me a strict talking to as to how I was to comport myself. I was not to jump up, I was not to call out and I was not to lash out in excitement at those sitting next to me – my mother and father. Naturally, I would promise not to do any of these things. I was being brought up to be a gentleman, and although I was young, I was well aware of what was expected from such a person. However, once the action begun, all bets were off and all promises were nullified! Since I always took sides in the action, I felt compelled to make known my allegiance – again, much to the embarrassment of my parents. I was always loyal and never deserted my favourites and never ever switched sides. In Westerns, I always sided with the Indians. There was never any question here. To me, white men were the villains and the Indians were the honourable ones. No matter what the Indians were said to have done, I still took up my lance and bow and followed them. I have to confess that I did so at that time not for any righteous, moral or political reason, but purely and simply because I liked them best. Do not fail to underestimate the power that a chief’s full headdress has on a child. And what child would not wish to align himself with a screaming, marauding warrior riding bareback and at full pelt across a plain? To this day, this is still my ultimate non-political expression of freedom.

Despite giving my parents embarrassment when taken to Westerns, I fear that this was nothing to what they had to suffer when sword fighting was involved. Generally my father would go through life totally oblivious to the fact that he was meant to have a part in the life of his family. He was like a traveler ….. just passing through who would only on special occasions remember his responsibility to us. At the cinema, my over zealous behaviour was normally left to my mother to control. However, my leaping out of my seat during screen swordplay would remind my father that I needed restraining. At this, he would grab my collar and physically lift me back into my seat. The force of his action was enough to bring back to reality. However, should he feel that I was offering resistance, then once landed in my seat, I would then feel his hand come down on my leg. Although I am sure that it was not his intention to smack me hard, nonetheless he would deliver a sting that would generally last throughout the remainder of the film and for part of the walk home. Of course, had he come out of his dream earlier in my life, perhaps my poor mother might not have suffered as much from my over eager participation in action on the screen and perhaps I should not have suffered the sting.

When I think of the Empire Mile End, I cannot but remember the wonderful films seen there. I will once more indulge myself with a remembrance of one final film seen here. And again, hindsight has led me to conclude that I was far too young to see this film. Without doubt I was too young to appreciate that what I saw at times on the screen was not always a reflection reality. At that age I believed almost everything that I saw on the screen and was guilty of taking what I saw literally. With that said, it is not surprising to learn that my misinterpretations often had a pronounced effect of my understanding of the film and on me personally. My complete misinterpretation of the film of Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffman is one such example. This masterpiece, directed by the same team responsible for The Red Shoes, Emeric Pressburger and Michael Powell, were people known for their surreal approach to film. However, whether too young or not, once I had set my mind on seeing a film, I was able to convince my parents of its importance and so get my way. Even at my young age, I fear that I was not too young to talk at length about something and I was always able to talk of the merits of something as important as a film that I wanted to see. My poor parents would generally listen to my completely made up reviews and would soon be wanting to see the film themselves. I was brought up to express my opinion and learned to be persuasive early in my life.

The Tales of Hoffmann posterI remember seeing this enormous advertisement for The Tales of Hoffman high above Coventry Street in the West End. I believe that the film was playing at the Rialto cinema. There it was, this amazing scene: I was immediately captivated by a woman standing on the toes of one foot in the middle of a boat and with her other leg extended out behind her. I remember wondering why this scene was being used to advertise a film. Surely standing in this manner would cause the boat to tip over and send her and anything else in the boat crashing into the water. At my age then I was prone to take things literally and not appreciate the abstract or the surreal. I remember causing my parents to stop and look at the advertisement and asking them for an explanation for her stability on the water. It was carefully explained to me that what I saw was a painting and was in fact the result of the artist’s imagination. In other words, it was not real. This might have been true, but it did not satisfy me. After this, I was plagued by this advertisement, as it began to appear in the newspapers. I remember studying it at length. I also remember trying to stand in the manner of the woman on one foot and with the other leg extended back. Once I got up onto my toes, I would generally fall over. There was only one thing left to do. I became determined to see the film and check out how this woman stood, on tip toes, in a moving boat without falling into the water. I had come to admire her since I could not manage the pose on dry land, let alone on water. Of course, I have to add that at that time I had not been subjected to ballet.

If my memory serves me well here, The Tales of Hoffman took an absolute age to pass through its showcase run in the West End and then pass through its pre-general release presentations before, at long last going on general release. At that time, films would be shown in North West London before they came to North East London where I lived. I have always disliked North West London. I have no reason to do so other than the fact that they were privileged in getting films one week before me. Mind you, when I think about it, such an affront as this is more than sufficient to sow the seed of dislike and qualify as reason for the holding of a life-long grudge! Anyway, eventually the film arrived at the Empire Mile End and – surprise surprise – we set off to see it on the Thursday night.

On that night, I feel certain that we covered the distance from the shop to the cinema in a world record time. The film was the most unusual film that I had seen until then. It was filled with the most amazing scenes that were inexplicable to me. In one scene, I remember a woman wearing a necklace of dark stones. Quiet suddenly, and presumably as a result of her incurring her companion’s wrath, at the wave of his hand, the stones turned to ribbons. To confuse me further, people kept appearing and reappearing later in different roles. Not that this is surprising or hard to understand, but at my young age, I was not aware that the story-line involved the telling of several different Tales. I was used to one tale where everyone played one role and did not change mid way through the story and where precious stones were not turned into ribbons. I was not especially impressed with what I was seeing and probably was getting quite annoyed that here I was wasting a precious Thursday night watching such incomprehensible material. And then it happened! Suddenly the cinema became filled with this remarkable music. It was a music that I had never heard before. And just as suddenly, there on the screen was a boat moving slowly across still dark water – the boat was a gondola, but I had no idea what a gondola was at that time – and in the centre of it, posed as she was in the advertisement, on tip toes, stood that beautiful woman. She stood motionless as the boat glided slowly over the still water. It was a breathtaking site and one that had a marked effect on me. I am told that I gasped at the site and stood up and had to be restrained once more and was brought down into my seat. Whether I was slapped, and by whom, I cannot recall. Being totally mesmerized by the sight of this goddess, I was unaware of my surroundings. I sat in a dream-like trance throughout the remainder of the film. I have remembered that film, and especially that scene, ever since. Although I soon found the Barcarolle to be overly romantic and it soon fell out of favour with me. Despite this, I still retain a soft spot for the piece and who can blame me for that? However, I am only tolerant of certain interpretations: although I liked Elvis, I was never able to appreciate his version of this almost sacred piece.

The Silver Chalice - posterThe very last film that I saw there was unfortunately forgettable. It was Paul Newman’s first film, The Silver Chalice – another film with surrealistic overtones, but sadly less memorable. I would have liked my last film seen there to have been spectacular, but it wasn’t.

In September 1973, as a result of the changing times, the Empire Mile End was tripled and the décor was changed. In 1986, it was purchased by Cannon Cinemas and renamed. It next passed through a number of incarnations and closed in March 1989. It lay derelict for over ten years and I suspect it must have risked demolition however the building was saved by the purchase by a private owner. Following the purchase, a massive renovation and conversion into a five-screen multiplex was undertaken with every attempt being made to save as much of the original design of the building as possible. The cinema, now enjoying life as the Genesis, opened on 5th May, 1999. I am pleased to know that the one-time Empire still functions in the capacity intended by the original owners and architects.

When I visit England, I sometimes go to Whitechapel and walk along Mile End Road. I marvel still at the alms houses with the ships atop the gates and sadly note the further decline of the fine building that once was Wickham’s. I also stop and look at the advertisements outside the Genesis. Sadly, I notice that the current crop of popular films gets less and less appealing to me, but no matter, they were not made for my pleasure. I see the couples and families and individuals buying their tickets to go in and I remember my excitement each time I went to the Empire and I hope that they have an enjoyable time too.

We would only go on rare occasions to the Odeon Hackney Road since it was a lot further from our home than the Empire. My parents liked this cinema very much since it was gloriously decorated and very comfortable compared to most of the cinemas in the area. As I have said before, when you went to an Odeon, you felt a sense of occasion. The staff was always courteous and made patrons feel welcome. It soon became one of my favourite cinemas ever and the first real Odeon that I visited. I liked very much the chocolate and gold colours used to decorate the cinema.

The Odeon Hackney Road opened on 27th July, 1938 and was the 124th of the original Odeon cinemas of Oscar Deutsch and was designed by Andrew Mather. The cinema had a seating capacity of 1,260 in the stalls and 666 in the circle.

Odeon, Hackney
Top Rank Club

The exterior and the auditorium are not considered especially remarkable according to those that know about these things. I disagreed with this viewpoint to some extent, although I will admit that the exterior of the building was plain, but I found the interior to be interesting. I must admit that perhaps hindsight is causing me to see the interior of the Odeon Hackney more as I wanted it to be – a marvel in art deco – rather than as it was. Still, I feel certain that the ornate grills that graced each side of the auditorium and served to cover the exhaust fans used to maintain good air in the cinema were nothing short of remarkable. I also feel certain that the presence of the Odeon clocks gave that final touch of elegance to the auditorium and foyer. I remember the regret that I felt when it closed and was greatly affected by it.

I always thought that the Odeon Hackney Road closed in 1958, but I am assured that it occurred on 20th May, 1961. Although I was well aware that cinema ticket sales had declined markedly with the advent of television and in particular with the success of independent television, I was not prepared for the repercussions. It had not entered my head that cinemas would actually close.

On 6th November, 1956, we moved from Bethnal Green to Langley in Buckinghamshire. This was certainly not to my liking and I missed the East End very much. Although Langley was nice, I found it hard to settle and I would take every opportunity to go to the East End for a visit, but my visits were rare since in those days, the distance from my new home to Bethnal Green was far and the cost of a bus or train ticket prohibitive to a youth. However, I would save up my pocket money and I would escape the countryside for the dirt and grime of my old haunts whenever I could. During one visit, I got on a trolleybus, number 555, at Liverpool Street Station en route to Hackney since I wanted to go along the Hackney Road for olde tyme’s sake. I noticed with some concern, as we passed the Odeon that it was closed. I had read that some cinemas in London were closing, as well as others elsewhere due to falling ticket sales. However, never in my wildest dreams did I think that such a misfortune could ever befall any of the cinemas in my part of the East End. I was horrified. I could not believe that such a wonderful place as the Odeon Hackney had been forced to close. It was unthinkable – and yet it had happened. How had this been allowed to happen? Why hadn’t the people of the area gone to save it?

I remember sitting on the top deck of the trolleybus and being in my daze. My fellow companions were a few young men of working age on the bus. They were in jolly mood, as they smoked their cigarettes and joked with each other. They each had their hair cut short in the current fashion and were dressed in new suits that buttoned up high at the front. This look was known as the Italian look and was all the rage at the time. I remember that one of the group started to whistle Tea for Two Cha Cha, which was a hit at the time by Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra. Soon they were whistling in unison. Had I been more myself, I would have joined in, but I could not. At that time, the radio and newspapers were full of reports that the Cha Cha Cha was the latest craze and would soon be sweeping the country as we danced to its rhythm. In addition, the reports mockingly stated that therefore it would not be long before rock ‘n’ roll was on its last legs and could be buried! Suddenly, it all proved too much for me. I saw that dark black rain cloud of misery and gloom install itself above my head and I felt myself begin to slip further and further down into that bottomless pit of despair. The combination of rock being about to die and the closure of the Odeon caused my mood to be melancholy and I knew that my feeling of hopelessness would not pass anytime soon. Along with my whistling companions, I somehow managed to get off the trolleybus in Hackney. Obviously I must have planned to re-visit the Hackney, but understandably by this time my heart was no longer in it. All I wanted to do was to go home and tell my parents of the terrible news. I felt the need to share the loss and to be with people who would understand. Naturally every time I hear Tea for Two Cha Cha, I still feel a certain sadness. I also have to remind myself that the Cha Cha Cha did not herald the demise of rock after all. I have learned that in life one has to take consolation from wherever one can.

As it happens, things could have been worse. What I thought was bringing only gloom, as it turns out, brought a kind of salvation for the Odeon Hackney did not suffer the same fate as many other cinemas. As tragic as it was that it closed as a cinema, it was not demolished and immediately became a Top Rank Bingo Hall. Although I saw the use of such a majestic building for the purpose of playing Housey Housey for money as an insult to the memory of the one-time much loved cinema, it was this that saved it from the wrecking ball. Today, despite passing to different owners and now having a less than impressive exterior, the building still flourishes as a Mecca Bingo Hall. In fact the one-time Odeon Hackney has functioned as a Bingo Hall for a longer period of time than ever it did as a cinema. I have learned that one cannot have everything in life and that one has to accept even the smallest of victories with good grace.

The other ABC of the area, the Regal, was in Hackney at the corner of the intersection of Mare and Well Streets. It opened in 1936 with William R. Glen as architect. The cinema was a typical art deco ABC cinema, large and cavernous and with a decorative foyer and auditorium.

ABC Regal, Hackney

I only went there a few times and as impressive as the décor was, the place seemed cold and lacked the intimacy offered by some of the other less elegant cinemas of the area. The first film that I saw there was The Prodigal. I had gone to see it purely and simply because, at the time, I had a lusting for Lana Turner. I remember that Robbie the Robot stood motionless in the foyer at the time. I was not impressed by him, I am sorry to say. At the time, I was not interested in Science Fiction. It would take many years, before this would happen.

Poster: A Question of Adultery & Man on the Prowl   Robbie the Robot: Forbidden Planet   Poster - The Prodigal

The last film that I saw at the Regal was called A Question of Adultery and was absolute rubbish. I remember that I had accompanied my mother on a trip to see my grandmother who was living in London Fields at the time. I was happy to do this as it meant that I could miss school. Mercifully, after a short time in my grandmother’s home, I was allowed to escape and leave my mother and grandmother together while I went to the pictures. I remember going to see this film purely and simply because it had been given an X certificate, which meant that no one under the age of 16 would be allowed entry to the cinema. It was only natural for all kids who were under age to want to try to get in to any film given such a certificate since it was believed that there were going to some juicy bits in it that would titillate a young gentleman. Some hopes with that boring film! Anyway, since I was about 14 years old at the time, I was very pleased and felt very grown up when I got into the cinema without being questioned about my age.

Site of The Regal, HackneyThe Regal Hackney was closed in 1981 and like so many other cinemas became a Snooker Hall. The game had become very popular due to BBC 2 coverage in the 1970s and many old cinemas were incarnated as halls. However, this new life was short lived and the building was soon closed permanently. It was eventually demolished in 1998 and an Iceland food store now occupies its site. What is interesting about this store is that the new building still follows the original sweep about the corner of the intersection of Mare and Well Streets, which I find rather elegant and respectful of the owners. It is in keeping, and in a way charming that they should pay homage to the important building that once occupied the site.

As with the Odeon Hackney, the Odeon Mile End was one of Oscar Deutsch’s original Odeons and opened on 17th October, 1938. It was designed by Andrew Mather and featured a distinctive Odeon style tower. Unfortunately, I never went inside since I had no reason to, as there were two other Odeons closer to our home should we which to enjoy a film on general release on this circuit. I truly regret this since judging by the pictures that I have seen, as the auditorium was both interesting and attractive with large decorative painted floral panels on the side walls close to the proscenium. Despite extensively remodeled in 1968, as ticket sales fell, the cinema was eventually closed in June 1972. It reopened as the Sundown Venture in September 1972, but was closed once more in January 1973. It remained closed until 1975 when it reopened briefly as a cinema specializing in Bollywood films. However, eventually it eventually closed permanently in 1978 and sat empty until it was demolished in May 1984 to make way for an office and residential block.

Odeon Mile End - exterior
Odeon Mile End - interior

According to my classification of the cinemas in my area of the East End, I now come to those cinemas thought of as good ones. There were two: the Excelsior Bethnal Green and the Foresters Cambridge Heath Road. I will not talk about the Excelsior here, but will return to it later.

The Foresters, Cambridge Heath RoadThe Foresters cinema was practically our next door neighbour since it was a mere quarter of a mile further down Cambridge Heath Road from my parents’ shop. Despite its proximity, I rarely went there. It originally opened as a hall attached to the Artichoke Public House in 1825 and was converted to the Foresters Music Hall in 1889. In 1912, films began to be screened at the cinema and did so until 1917, when it closed and remained so until 1926. It re-opened as the Foresters Super Cinema after extensive alterations and had a seating capacity of 674 in the stalls and 383 in the balcony. In June 1937, the cinema was taken over by Odeon. It suffered damage during the war and was closed for restoration between April 1947 and October 1949. Once the cinema was re-opened, it screened the same films as the Gaumont circuit, however it was never owned by Gaumont. The Foresters closed permanently in August 1960 and remained unoccupied until 1964 when it was demolished and replaced by a block of flats.

It is hard to understand why I went to this cinema so rarely and why I should never went there with my parents. The main reason for this must have been that the presentations offered here must have been less appealing than those showing at the Empire Mile End, which was where we usually went. Of interest also is that although this cinema showed the same films as the Excelsior Bethnal Green, which was about a mile and a half from our shop and just off Bethnal Green Road, my mother would always choose to go there rather than to the Foresters. Since I liked the Excelsior too and held it in high esteem, I never questioned this decision.

The exterior of the Foresters was decidedly unremarkable and little was made of it in order to attract patrons. The front had a large area that cried out for decoration, but the best that the management could do with it was to have the name of the cinema across the top and tell us that the cinema was a Gaumont and at your service and was the best place to come for entertainment. Below this was a billboard with the week’s films pasted onto it. There were several windows for posters at ground floor level and there was always a potted shrub close to the entrance, which was generally chained down. I remember the box office was close to the entrance doors and following the purchase of a ticket, patrons walked along a corridor and entered the auditorium by passing through a curtain. Around three both sides of the auditorium were elevated open boxes, a style reminiscent of the seating plan common to Music Hall. I cannot say that I went to this cinema more than half a dozen times, if that, and have no memory of the décor or of its comfort. What I can remember of it was that it did not have a large auditorium and that it was quite narrow. The only films that I can remember seeing there were The Prince who was a Thief, The Desert Song and Peter Pan.

Poster - The Desert SongI had absolutely no intention of seeing The Desert Song, and it is quite curious how I came to see it. I remember that my mother accompanied me to the cinema and was in a somewhat agitated state. I was not very old at the time and was surprised that I was going to the cinema without having to ask and was being allowed to go at such a late hour. I should have realized that something was up, as these events were far from normal. Whenever I went to the pictures without my parents, I was never accompanied to the door by a parent. This would have been potentially humiliating since one could have been seen by one’s friends.

After my mother paid for my ticket, she asked an usherette to keep an eye on me. The usherette led me into the auditorium and I was given a seat in the expensive seats. The usherette kept her word and an eye on me as asked. After the film ended, the usherette said that she would walk me up to the shop. I remember thinking that she was very pretty and was quite taken with her. When I got home, I found the shop closed and my mother waiting alone for me in the shop. This was truly remarkable, because normally at that time, the shop would be full of folks enjoying a late snack. I remember that my mother looked tired and upset. She said that my father had been taken ill and was now in bed and that I had to be quiet when going upstairs.

Taken ill is a euphemism for drunk! Later I learned that my parents had had a row earlier in the day, and as was typical of my father, had run off and solved his problem by getting drunk. My father, like Blanche du Bois, was the kind of person who relied on the generosity of strangers and had been brought home after passing out outside the pub. As my mother would put it in old East End parlance …. it was either this or else the basket!

In Victorian and Edwardian times, and to a lesser extent, during my childhood, when someone got drunk and passed out, unless their companions could get them home, the police would be called to take care of them. In those days, taking care meant bringing out the basket. The thought of the basket was enough to make the most stout-hearted turn pale and would be certain to bring shame to the family. My mother’s stepfather was a very big drinker and was generally drunk. Most of the time, he was able to get home with only minor skirmishes with passersby. He was apparently a robust man and capable of holding his own during encounters with the police. In those days, policemen were also robust and not faint-hearted. They carried no weapons other than small truncheons, but generally they could take care of abusers of the law without need of them. According to my grandmother, my step-grandfather once put six large policemen into a nearby horse trough filed with water while in a drunken rage. Following this, he is said to have passed out requiring him to be brought to the police station in the basket.

The basket was a large whicker chaise longue on wheels. The disabled was lain on the chaise longue ensuring that the head was raised and then one or two policemen would wheel the infirmed through the streets to the station. Although family members would feel shame at the thought of their loved one being drunk and passing out in public, this was considered nothing compared to the shame and humiliation they would experience should the loved one require wheeling through the streets in the basket.

Apparently my father had passed out on the street outside a pub. Luckily, he was well known to the landlord of the pub. This was fortunate for him, since the landlord allowed him to be brought into the pub and out of the way of the prying eyes of the police. Had the police found him first, then it would have been the basket for him and further shame for us. The landlord telephoned my mother at the shop to give her the news and in order to spare me from seeing my father in a such a state, I was sent off to the pictures while my poor mother was left to clear up the mess alone. Sadly over the years, my mother was not able to shield me from such events and soon, we were sharing the humiliation together.

There were four passable cinemas in the area: the Essoldo Bethnal Green, the Empress Hackney, the Hackney Pavilion and the Mayfair Brick Lane. I will not talk about the Essoldo and the Empress here since despite their seemingly lowly status by classification, they held a very special place in my memory, which I will discuss later.

Hackney PavilionThe Hackney Pavilion was on Mare Street on the other side of the road and almost directly across from the Hackney Empire. It was opened in May 1914 and had 1,500 seats. In April 1928 it was taken over by PCT and by the time it closed on 22nd January, 1972, it had a seating capacity had been reduced to 1,117. At the time of closure, the cinema was part of the Gaumont Circuit. It was later demolished and the site was used for a branch of Barclay’s Bank. By the time I became aware of the Pavilion, it had seen better days and was not in an especially good state. Despite this, it was possible to see that the cinema must have been an attractive building at one time, since it had retained its interesting exterior and entrance area complete with steps and a small capula decorated with terracotta tiles.

The Mayfair Brick Lane opened in January 1936 and was built on the site of the Brick Lane Palace and was acquired by Eastern Cinemas in 1937. The cinema became part of General Cinemas Financing, which in turn merged with Odeon Theatres Limited in 1943. I remember that the façade was flat and of white and yellow with the name of the cinema across the top. As with the Foresters Cambridge Heath Road, the current features were advertised above the entrance doors. I never visited the cinema, but I do remember some of my classmates that lived in this area saying that it was not bad – to us kids, this was a reasonable recommendation especially when I think of what they might have said. I was told that the auditorium consisted of stalls and balcony with a seating capacity of 1,500 and that the décor was in the art deco style. The cinema closed in July 1967 and was sold to an independent company who reopened it soon after and used it to screen Bollywood films. It later closed permanently as a cinema and was then used as a store and indoor car park. In the 1990s, the building was demolished and replaced with a block of flats and a restaurant.

Tragically, we now come to the cinemas classified as dumps. As I have said, dumps and fleapits are harsh terms and somewhat unfair. Be that as it may, I classify these cinemas based on their look, charm and comfort. Sadly, the Museum Bethnal Green, the Standard London Fields and the Palaseum Commercial Road easily fell into this category.

The Museum, Bethnal GreenAccording to the records, an application to build a cinema in Cambridge Road was made in 1910 and again in 1913 by the Bethnal Green Cinema Company. The original cinema that was built on the site had a seating capacity of 500 and was named the Museum, after the nearby Bethnal Green Museum or the Museum of Childhood as it likes to be called now. Be that as it may, the original cinema underwent reconstruction in 1931 and the remodeled building then had a seating capacity of 802. The Museum was apparently renamed the Odeon in 1950, but I never heard anyone call it by that name. It was always the Museum or else some derogatory term was used. Regardless of its name, it closed in 1956 and was replaced by a building consisting of office space and a launderette where the auditorium once was. The launderette has since been closed and left derelict with whitewash on the inside of the windows.

It grieves me to say that the Museum Bethnal Green, although part of the Odeon circuit, must surely have been the worst of all their cinemas. It was a truly unattractive cinema and I doubt if it ever had seen better days by the time I knew it. The cinema appeared small to me – very small – and had no circle and was totally devoid of charm and comfort. According to those that know, the auditorium was said to be thirty feet wide. I find this hard to believe, but I am most likely prejudiced against the place! The auditorium had little if any decoration on the walls. Nothing about the place was inviting. I have recently learned that the poor place was never fitted to show films in CinemaScope! Obviously, I was not alone in finding the cinema to be without merit.

My mother disliked the cinema very much and would only go there if she really wanted to see a particular film and did not want to travel the extra distance and go to the Odeon Hackney. I went to this cinema perhaps three times in all. I remember seeing Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Walt Disney’s Alice in Wonderland here. The third film was a really silly film called It grows on trees. This referred to money and, as young as I was, even I could tell that this film was total rubbish. I remember the film quite clearly since my mother was in hospital just a little further up the road in the Bethnal Green Hospital at the time, and I was not allowed to visit here. Those were the rules in those days. No children were allowed onto adult wards. My mother spent six weeks in hospital. Thanks to the kindness of the sister-in-charge, I was allowed into the central court of the garden each Sunday afternoon for a few minutes. My mother would come to the window of the kitchen on her ward and we would waive to each other. We would both weep copious tears. I remember being was miserable during that time. Is it any wonder that I did not enjoy the film!

Although the Standard was considered to be in London Fields, it was found about two hundred yards along Goldsmith’s Row off Hackney Road, and one would think that it would be in either Bethnal Green or Hackney. But division of London Boroughs is decided upon by Town and Country Planners and not by people like me – hence it being considered in London Fields. The cinema first opened in 1911 and was originally called the Electric Cinema. This name was quickly changed to the Olympia Cinema and was changed yet again in 1912 to the Standard. The façade was re-built in 1927 and again in 1935 when it was given an art deco façade. The original seating capacity was 882, but was increased in 1935 was increased to 1,153. The Standard closed as a cinema in 1960 and became a bingo club. Later, it became a snooker club and remained so for a number of years. In August 2006, the building was demolished.

The Standard, London Fields
The Standard, London Fields

This cinema was part of the Granada circuit and did not show very interesting films until Granada began to show the films produced by 20th Century Fox. When I knew this cinema, like the Hackney Pavilion, it had decidedly seen better days. I never visited this cinema so cannot comment on its interior and décor. I do remember that the exterior was not especially attractive and I can recall no special features of it. Photographs definitely reveal it to have been an attractive building, but war and neglect brought about its decline.

One of the roads that form the intersection known as Mile End Gate is Sydney Street and it was along this street that the infamous Sydney Street Seige took place. Sydney Street connects Whitechapel/Mile End Road with the Commercial Road. Across Commercial Road, almost adjacent to Sydney Street, was the site of the Palaseum Commercial Road. Like the Hackney Pavilion, the Museum Bethnal Green and the Standard London Fields, it had seen better days. I never visited the cinema since the time I saw it, the poor place was in a sorry state and was totally lacking in charm. I used have a friend who lived on Anthony Street, which was one of the streets adjacent to where the cinema once was. I remember his telling me that it was not especially interesting inside – these are my words and not his, by the way – his were more colourful.

Apparently the Palaseum was first opened as Fineman’s Yiddish Theatre on 2nd December, 1912 and seated 1,000 patrons. It was later taken over by United Pictures Theatres and then by Gaumont management, as part of the UPT circuit. In 1934, it became part of the ABC/Regent Circuit and had a seating capacity of 920 at that time. The cinema next passed to the control of Southan Morris in 1949 and then by Essoldo in 1954. It closed on 19th March, 1960, but reopened on 18th October, 1961 as the Essoldo and closed once more in September 1966. It later reopened as the Palaseum and showed Asian films until 1985. In October of that year, it was closed and demolished to make way for the re-positioned Watney Market. Judging from pictures taken before the war, it was once an attractive building and I regret not having had the opportunity to see it in its prime.

The Palaseum, Commercial Road   Entrance to Watney Market

Although not strictly in my area, the Troxy found further along the Commercial Road, was certainly the most glamorous of the cinemas that were close to my home. The cinema was opened 11th September, 1933 and had 3,520 seats. It was taken over by Gaumont Super Cinemas in August 1933 and was closed 19th November, 1960. Once it closed as a cinema, it was leased by the Royal Opera in 1963 and became the London Opera Centre and was used as a rehearsal hall and workshops. In 1992, it became a Top Rank Club and used for bingo. The cinema is impressive from the outside and was given a Grade II listing in January 1991. Recently the Troxy has been bought and has undergone tremendous renovation and is now returned to its former glory.  Recently I was lucky enough to visit the building and witnessed its transformation myself.  To say that the interior is glorious would be an understatement.  It is spectacular!  Its organ has been renovated and hopefully there will concerts given soon.  The building is a credit to its new owners.

The Troxy, Stepney - exterior   The Troxy, Stepney - interior
The Troxy Stepney

I would like to thank Mr. Kevin Wheelen and Mr. Brian Hall for providing the photographs used here. I am truly grateful to them for their time and effort.

Reflection from Peter Thurgood

Regarding the Standard Cinema in Goldsmith Row: When the cinema re-opened, I was a teenager and had recently moved around the corner to Whiston Road. I remember my mates and I getting very excited, as the American western star, Forest Tucker was personally going to open it. I didn't get to see him, but I did boast to a few girls, saying that I had.





The Kenninghall Cinema in the 1960s
The photograph has been obtained from the Hackney Archives Department


Letter from:
The Secretary
Friends of Clapton Cinematograph Theatre

Dear Charles (and Visitors to this website):
I would be grateful if you would feature the following message on your wonderful website (Eastend Memories at http://eastend-memories.org). I am secretary of the Friends of Clapton Cinematograph Theatre and we are running a project to record the memories of anyone who used to go to the old Kenninghall Cinema on Lower Clapton Road, Hackney (a photograph of the cinema in the 1960s is shown above this letter). When it was built in 1910, it was known as the Clapton Cinematograph Theatre and it still retains its historic character, including the old cinema auditorium, gilded decorative barrel-vaulted ceiling and original proscenium arch. Information on the history of the building can be obtained from the following website: http://www.saveourcinema.org

Sadly it is now under threat from a planning application submitted to Hackney Council by its new owners, and an on-line petition has already collected over 700 signatures from local people and cinema historians, such as Dr Nicholas Hiley of Kent University, who says of the building "Such survivals from the earliest days of cinema are rare and should be preserved as an important part of British social history".
We are seeking to preserve not only the historic fabric of the building but also personal memories from residents and former residents of Clapton. So if you, a relative or friend used to go to children's matinees, cuddle up to your girlfriend or boyfriend in the back row or even sneak into a film through the fire exit, do get in touch with Julia Lafferty at info@saveourcinema.org.

With best wishes
Julia Lafferty
Friends of Clapton Cinematograph Theatre

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