The latest issue of Shirley Life magazine is now available online, with its usual eclectic mix of local news and views.
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.
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.
- Tory peer condemns “meaningless” cut at David Lean Cinema (insidecroydon.wordpress.com)
- Ronnie Corbett calls for campaign to save David Lean Cinema (insidecroydon.wordpress.com)
- Croydon arts policy: no librarians, but £1.5m for Fairfield Halls (insidecroydon.wordpress.com)
- How Croydon Council tries to hide a consultation (Part 94) (insidecroydon.wordpress.com)