Take a walk through the lost cinemas of Kentish Town

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Writer Nigel Smith and artist Sam Nightingale went in search of the former picturehouses that we pass, without thinking, on a daily basis…


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Palace Cinema
Palace Cinema, by Sam Nightingale. Buy the limited edition print of this image in our online shop

Christmas and the movies go hand in hand, don’t they? So why not join us for a seasonal wander with the ghosts of cinema past…

But first, a sad truth: there have been no ‘flicks’ in Kentish Town for nearly 40 years. And yet at one point, eight different silver screens were aglow across the neighbourhood.

So I decided to go in search of NW5’s picture palace past. Was it indeed a Wonderful Life back then?

Forum 1934-1970
Forum 1934-1970

It’s a grey wintry morning as I meet artist Sam Nightingale at the Forum, which opened in 1934 to great fanfare. “You will never leave this theatre without feeling that you’ve had your money’s worth”, promised entrepreneur Herbert Yapp, who founded another in Ealing the same year.

Like everyone I’ve seen dozens of gigs at the Forum but until today have never actually been behind the building. “It allows you to get a feel for how big the screens were,” says Sam.

Sam’s work explores what calls “the architecture of film”. This includes the physical presence – or lack – of cinemas as a way to examine how memory and history collide in our urban environment.

The plaque at the front reads J. Stanley Beard. The architect designed two dozen such venues in the capital between 1913 and 1937 in a style described as “excellent, if stylistically slightly eccentric” by architectural historian Richard Gray, in his book Cinemas in Britain.

Looking afresh at the façade, I notice the gargoyles on the entablature above the pillars and signage for the first time.

Anyone with memories of seeing films there will likely recall the Forum as the ABC, the chain that took over the year after it opened. Inevitably, when it closed in 1970, the venue became a bingo hall then an Irish dance centre before its triumphant rebirth as the Town & Country Club in the 1980s. It reverted to its original name in 1993.

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  • Niki Barnett-Henry

    I used to go to the Forum for Saturday Morning Pictures in the 60’s. There were all the regular serial films like Zoro and the famous 5. Kids would bang their feet on the back of their upturned seats when there was a chase with a villain. If the film broke down, the organ used to come up and play us some tunes until the projector was fixed. We used to sing the ABC song at the beginning. (That scene in Gremlins always reminds me of this). It was sixpence to get in and we got sixpence to spend. Also brings back memories of the small of stink bombs.

    • Ken blake

      I used to live in gospel oak and used to go to the forum for sat morning pictures too. I remember one of us used to pay and then go and open the exit doors by the toilets to let the rest of us in , we were naughty kids then . Remember the yoyo competitions on stage also .good memories.

  • Niki Barnett-Henry

    There was also a cinema at the bottom of Gaisford street called…….The Gaisford. I don’t remember it as I was too young, but my Mum was an usherette there. Apparently they used to turn the heating up when there was a desert film on to sell more drinks in the interval. Hahaha.

  • Pam Williams

    I have many happy memories of The Forum in the sixties, including my first date!

  • Sabrina Jillah

    Hello, this article is fascinating. I work in Kentish Town and have often walked past these building without realising the history. Do you have a photo of the Electric Alhambra when it was open?