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?
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.