Does Croydon Council leader Mike Fisher have a problem adding up?
That certainly seems to be the opinion of the Save David Lean Cinema Campaign, after Fisher made a number of unchallenged assertions in an “interview” with a small circulation local newspaper last week.
In the course of the interview, the florid-faced Fisher tried to make out that his Conservative group’s decision to shut the David Lean art house cinema at the Clocktower had met with little opposition around Croydon.
“I walk around the town and talk to people about the cinema, and most didn’t even know it was there,” Fisher said, not realising that he was highlighting yet another short-coming of his own administration, in failing to raise awareness of a council-run venue.
“The audience figures spoke for themselves,” he added, apparently oblivious to the notion that the most you can accommodate in a 60-seater auditorium is… 60 people.
The facts are that when Fisher and his then arts “supremo”, Sara “Book Token” Bashford, closed the cinema, the venue, together with the bar frequented by its patrons, was actually operating in the black.
The closure was condemned as “monstrous” by locally based national treasure Ronnie Corbett and by Downton Abbey creator, Julian Fellowes, who also happens to be a Conservative peer in the House of Lords.
“The continuation of your support for the cinema would be a very, very minor element in your budget, while its loss to the community, and especially pensioners, will be very great,” Lord Fellowes wrote in a letter two years ago to the then chief executive of the council, Jon Rouse.
Perhaps Rouse did not pass on Oscar-winner Lord Fellowes’s letter to his political master, Fisher?
Because in his interview last week, Fisher claimed he received only “about four letters” complaining about the closure of the David Lean Cinema. This does not tally with the near 1,500 signatures on a petition that was handed in, and then ignored, by Fisher’s Tory-run council.
This is a serious error by Fisher. For by mentioning a specific number of letters, he lays himself open to challenge on matters of fact. Members of the Save the David Lean Cinema Campaign – who have been staging well-supported weekly vigils by way of art house cinema screenings over the past couple of years – have expressed their anger over the council leader’s dismissive attitude to their interests.
Adrian Winchester, the never over-stated chairman of the cinema campaign group, described some of his members as being “perturbed” – a word these days rarely heard anywhere other than the set of the latest Fellowes costume drama – about Fisher’s comments.
“If Councillor Fisher only received ‘about four letters’,” Winchester said, “we would be surprised if he considered these entirely representative of public dismay regarding the closure. Of course, not all the letters would have been sent to him, such as the one that Julian Fellowes sent to Jon Rouse.
“Correspondence the campaign received included a heartfelt letter signed by 52 members of a retirement association, and our petition presented in January 2012 had 1,458 signatures.
“Many of us frequently attended screenings that were completely sold out, but Councillor Fisher’s reference to people being unaware that the cinema was there sounds like an admission that successive councils failed to market the cinema in ways that enabled it to reach its potential.”
Fisher’s apparent poor ability with numbers ought to be a massive worry to the people of Croydon. After all, Fisher has been driving Croydon’s £450 million joint venture property scheme with Laings, the CURV, which includes the £140 million Fisher’s Folly, the new council headquarters building due to open next week.
Let’s hope Fisher has not miscalculated as badly with Council Tax-payers’ money as he has over the opposition to the closure of the David Lean Cinema.
Coming to Croydon
- Old Coulsdon Residents’ autumn meeting: Sep 26
- Have a cup of coffee and help fight cancer: Sep 27
- Help break the chains of human trafficking: Sep 28
- Multicultural entertainment, St James the Great: Sep 28
- Tea at Five at the Spread Eagle: Oct 2-4
- Minster’s musical celebration for Silver Sunday: Oct 6
- Rent at the Secombe Theatre: Oct 9-12
- Debate the future of arts in Croydon: Oct 10
- Inside Croydon: Croydon’s only independent news source, based in the heart of the borough – 262,183 page views (Jan-Jun 2013)
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- Clean Up Croydon! (cleanupcroydon.com)
- Julian Fellowes bemoans ‘Downton’ lag (metronews.ca)
- Brief Encounter (myoldaddiction2.wordpress.com)
The arts will come towards the bottom of any politician’s priority list, whatever he or she may say in the run up to an election.
Adrian Winchester was right to take the matter of art-house cinema into his own hands and he and his fellow campaigners are to be warmly congratulated for their success in presenting films in what we must now call The Spread Eagle Theatre.
I hope they will continue to do so in the coming months and years, and that they will tell Mr Fisher and his Philistine colleagues in all quarters of the council chamber to go take a hike.
The deplorable state of the Fairfield didn’t happen overnight: there are decades of political interference and short-term management that have brought the once market-leading arts complex to its present sad state.
I hope the debate being organised by Charlotte Davies and her colleagues about the future of the arts in Croydon will come to the conclusion that people with a genuine interest in and goodwill towards the arts can do-it-themselves and that the borough will be all the better for that.