Cinema campaigners launch petition to Save The David Lean

The latest issue of Shirley Life magazine is now available online, with its usual eclectic mix of local news and views.

Oscar-winning film director Sir David Lean, one of Croydon's most famous sons, his local legacy "trashed" by the council

Among the articles is a passionate case for saving the Croydon Clocktower’s arts centre, written by Adrian Winchester, who is heading up a campaign to re-open the much-loved venue.

The Save The David Lean Cinema Campaign has its first meeting next Wednesday, June 22.

In his article, Winchester paints a picture all too familiar to residents of Croydon, of long-term undermining of the arts centre’s original, inspired business plan.

Yet as Oscar-winner Lord Julian Fellowes highlighted in his letter to the Philistines in charge at Croydon Council, even now closing the David Lean Cinema is a “meaningless” cut which will save the council no money and merely deny residents a valuable service.

Consider these points:

  • 75 per cent of local residents are against the arts cuts and closures (source: Croydon Council).
  • Croydon Council (deputy leader: Dudley Mead), after axing its arts programme because of the terrible national economic situation, managed to find £1.5 million funding for the Fairfield Halls (chairman: Dudley Mead) on top of £27 million in capital fund spending for Fairfield over five years.
  • According to Croydon Council its arts consultation “identified the Clocktower and David Lean Cinema, Museum of Croydon, Local Studies and Archives, and the Arts participation programme as areas of the service that were particularly valued.”
  • In 2010-2011 the David Lean Cinema delivered its popular programme under budget.

In that context, Winchester’s account makes fascinating reading:

Opened in 1993, Croydon Clocktower was a visionary project which succeeded in incorporating the town’s Central Library; the Museum of Croydon; a cinema; a theatre/performance space; a shop; a café; a tourist information centre and more into a complex that was largely new, but also utilised parts of the old Town Hall. Strikingly modern architecture was harmoniously fused with Victorian elegance, resulting in an arts and cultural centre described by Time Out as “The jewel in Croydon’s crown”.

The 68-seat David Lean Cinema, named after the famous director born in Croydon, opened in early 1995. The Clock Tower’s website called it: “an intimate, air-conditioned oasis where the most popular films aren’t necessarily blockbusters and where a well-crafted script and skillful cinematography are valued as highly as a pretty face and the latest special effects.”

I saw Heavenly Creatures there in the first month and immediately liked its distinctive charm. It’s a small cinema, but the screen appears quite substantial and the comfortable seats and soothing colours contribute to the relaxed ambiance.

It was highly successful in building up a loyal audience and the afternoon screenings were frequently sold out. These mostly retired enthusiasts enjoyed films such as Tea With Mussolini, but were also willing to embrace subtitled films and the cinema’s quirkier choices. The imaginative programming did not ignore the mainstream and it was also a pleasure to see, for example, the latest James Bond film in a quiet environment.

I appreciated the sense that you were amongst a discerning audience that genuinely wanted to watch the film. The cinema became so highly respected that the BFI made it the most southern venue used during the London Film Festival.

A scene from the Julian Fellowes-written Gosford Park, the most popular movie among David Lean Cinema-goers

Regretfully, over the years the Clocktower’s shop was closed; the tourist information centre moved out and the box office near the Katharine Street entrance shut. The cinema’s Saturday late shows ended, followed by all Sunday and Tuesday evening screenings. This was disappointing but bearable in comparison to the Council’s decision this year to close the cinema, end performances in the adjacent Braithwaite Hall and scale down the museum and exhibitions. Despite the resulting gloom, the cinema went out with a blaze of glory with a final April season “celebrating 16 years of fiercely independent programming”.

This featured appearances by two guest curators: legendary Croydon comedian Ronnie Corbett and Oscar winning script writer Lord Fellowes, who wrote Gosford Park, the most popular film ever screened at the David Lean, and the recent TV series Downton Abbey.

On the penultimate night, Ronnie provided an entertaining introduction to Brief Encounter and also praised the cinema, saying: “We must start a campaign so that this darling place isn’t trashed.” A growing sense of how deeply missed this outstanding cinema would be inspired me to respond to his call and find other like-minded people.

The result is a non-confrontational and non-political campaign that hopes the council will participate in constructive dialogue to reconsider the cinema’s future. We are delighted to have the support of Lord Fellowes, a Conservative peer who acknowledges a need for cuts but considers the David Lean “a well-run operation which more or less pays for itself, a real bonus to the community.” We feel it was closed with indecent haste – following a consultation exercise that was largely ignored – and without any attempt to consider possibilities that could have drawn upon the goodwill that the cinema generated.

Although the Council announced that the cinema will be ‘moved’ to the Fairfield Halls, a subsequent report stated that a Council £1.5 million grant “commits Fairfield to rebrand its cinema programme”, thus implying that a few afternoon “David Lean screenings” in the Ashcroft Theatre would represent an acceptable alternative!

  • The first meeting of the Save the David Lean Cinema Campaign is next Wednesday, June 22, from 6.30pm upstairs at the Green Dragon pub on the High Street (thanks to the nice people at the Dragon, at no hire charge to the organisers).
  • Winchester has established a Facebook group for the Save The David Lean Campaign. Click here for its news and updates.
  • Follow updates on Twitter: @SaveDavidLean
  • And sign the official petition by clicking here.

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2 Responses to Cinema campaigners launch petition to Save The David Lean

  1. mraemiller says:

    The fact that the council has “decided” something doesn’t automatically mean the end.
    There is an organisation to which you can complain about the Council not following proper decision making proceedures if you believe this to be the case.
    It is the much ridiculed Council Ombudsman.
    A quango so popular it has an entire website dedicated to its abolition
    However, before you can complain to the LGO it is a little known fact that you have to complain to the council CEO.
    The Council CEO is the person who runs the Council and not be confused with the Council Leader who is the elected representative who thinks that they control what the Council does.
    Wait 3 months and then when they dont reply forward your initial complaint letter onto the LGO – by this time
    you will have forgotten why you started but if you are clever you will have accumulated a number of
    FOI request results in the meantime to answer such questions as what exactly was the turnover, ticket sales
    and overheads of the David Lean cinema with which to help make your case.
    This is to make the whole process much more time consuming and tedious so that people give up
    but it is possible to get council climbdowns.

    The reason for the existence of the LGO is to avoid situations where local councils are regularly taken to expensive judicial review such as the ASSOCIATED PROVINCIAL PICTURE HOUSES, LIMITED v. WEDNESBURY CORPORATION case
    Remember councils dont engage in consultations because they care what you think
    It’s a legal requirement. Usually they have already made the decision and this is bottom covering.

    You dont need to prove that the evidence on which the decision is based is false or bad evidence either.
    “Once that question is answered in favour of the local authority, it may be still possible to say that, although the local authority have kept within the four corners of the matters which they ought to consider, they have nevertheless come to a
    conclusion so unreasonable that no reasonable authority could ever have come to it.
    In such a case, again, I think the court can interfere.”

    It’s something to do with whether the Queen is an absolute monarch or not. I forget the details…

  2. mraemiller says:

    The other things that get me about this is that if you look at options 1 and 2 of the Council’s original consultation which consists of the opportunity to pick between 5 impossible options – it insinuates that the cost of running the David Lean is in the region of £500,000 [option 2 – option 1].

    How on earth is it possible for any art house cinema to run at a loss of half a million pounds?
    Who’s running it Erich von Stroheim?

    The whole place can only have a maximum ticketsale turnover f about £600 per showing so how is it possible to lose £350 a showing.
    For half a million pounds you could employ up to 25 people at £10 and probably make half a low budget feature film – the figures purported seem the more you think about them to be fantasy.

    If the Exhibit in Balham and the Prince Charles in London can make a profit with no arts council funding – what’s wrong with the David Lean? If these figures were real there wouldn’t be an art house cinema in the country …?

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