David Lean Cinema re-opening is a people’s authentic triumph

STEVEN DOWNES was delighted to return to the Clock Tower’s arthouse cinema when it welcomed home Johnny Moped last month

The David Lean Cinema is re-opened.

Star of the show: Johnny Moped deep in conversation in the packed bar of the David Lean Cinema on its re-opening night

Star of the show: Johnny Moped deep in conversation in the packed bar of the David Lean Cinema on its re-opening night

Please note, Madam Mayor. It is re-opened. Not “opened”.

The fizzy stuff was flowing and the mood was overwhelmingly positive. The Save the David Lean Cinema Campaign had, after years of hard-work and heartache, finally got the council’s padlocks removed and got access to the intimate venue for the purpose for which it was intended.

And there was more than a touch of surreality about it all, too. “It was hard to come to terms with,” said Raymond Burns. “There was Johnny Moped, and he was meeting… the… Mayor of Croydon.” The delight and surprise at such a counter-intuitive meeting of the punk legend and the borough’s civic representative was not lost on those fortunate enough to be  there on this night of nights.

There could not have been a more Croydon movie with which to mark the David Lean’s re-opening than Basically Johnny Moped, the warts-and-all, bittersweet documentary, lovingly told by director Fred Burns, the son of the aforementioned Raymond, who made regular appearances in the narrative of the film through his punk era alter ego, Captain Sensible.

“We were sort of anti- the whole rock ‘n roll, Americanised thing,” Raymond Burns (he was in his “civilian” garb, and wasn’t wearing the Captain’s trademark shades or red beret at the time) told me. And that is so Croydon.

The ultimate subversion: did Croydon Mayor Yvette Hopley know what she was letting herself in for the night she met Johnny Moped? Photos by Diana Vlase

The ultimate subversion: did Croydon Mayor Yvette Hopley know what she was letting herself in for the night she met Johnny Moped? Photos by Diana Vlase

The film is a kind of Spinal Tap, except that this one is for real, something that actually happened, with the action centred in and around Croydon through the 1970s and 1980s, and much of it captured on shakycam home movies. It could never have been fiction: who possibly could have come up with the idea of a band performing an open-air concert tour all in one day, with the venues being outside a Warlingham pub, in the middle of a roundabout, and on the steps of the Fairfield Hall – complete with the appearance of a Blakey-esque commissionaire? It could only have happened in Croydon.

Having been there on the tearful last night nearly three years ago with another Croydon icon, Ronnie Corbett, to be back for the re-opening with the cinema packed, and witnessing the Clock Tower bar bustlingly full, this was a significant vindication for the work of the campaign group following the Conservative council’s ill-informed decision to close the venue in 2011. Apart from Mayoress Yvette Hopley, the only other local politics figure there was the somewhat lonely-looking figure of Councillor Adam Kellett. Apparently, no Labour councillor could obtain a ticket.

There was no great triumphalism, more a sense of three wasted years. As Fred Burns said, “We’ve been waiting for this day for a long time, because we really wanted to get a screening in Croydon, in this cinema, and we really wanted to be part of this occasion.”

All tribute, then, to Adrian Winchester, the chair of the Save the David Lean Cinema Campaign who joined the dots between the re-opening and the film’s Croydon connections: in a previous life, Winchester, too, had been part of the Moped band. Though what the band members saw in Winchester’s musical work that they did not like in Chrissie Hynde, who they managed to fire from the band twice, is anyone’s guess.

Moped, the Captain and the Mayoress cut three strips of 35mm film to mark the re-opening. Now the Campaign is staging regular screenings of suitable arthouse movies, usually on Thursdays, though tickets can be hard to get hold of: two screenings after Moped all sold out.

If you get a chance to see the Moped film, do so (it is available via download here). It is a delightful capturing of an era which flitted through the national consciousness just before Thatcherism. And if you get a chance to go and see Johnny Moped and his band perform a gig – they still do two or three gigs a year, when Johnny’s able to get the time away from his responsibilities as a full-time carer – then try to get along. It will be different.

  • Tickets for all screenings are £7.50. Concessions (Freedom Pass holders, full time students, claimants and disabled) £6. Bookings can be made online via TicketSource 

David Lean Cinema May programme

Thu May 1 at 2.30pm and 7.30pm THE RAILWAY MAN (15) 2013 AUSTRALIA/UK 116 min Director: Jonathan Teplitzky
Starring: Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman, Jeremy Irvine, Stellan Skarsgård Eric Lomax was one of thousands of Allied prisoners of war forced to work on the construction of the Thai/Burma railway during WW2. Years later, he found out that the Japanese officer who had tormented him was still alive, and faced the decision of whether to confront him.

Thu May 8 at 2.30pm and 7.30pm WADJDA (PG) 2012 SAUDI ARABIA/GERMANY 98 mins (subtitled) Director: Haifaa al Mansour
Starring: Waad Mohammed, Reem Abdullah The first Saudi feature film by a female director is the charming and acclaimed story of a defiant 11-year-old girl who attempts to win her school’s Koran recitation competition so she can buy a bicycle.

Sat May 10 at 2.30pm only BLUE JASMINE (15) 2013 USA 98 mins Director: Woody Allen
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Sally Hawkins A New York socialite arrives in San Francisco, swapping a gilded life as a banker’s wife for her adopted sister’s flat in a working-class neighbourhood. Cate Blanchett’s portrayal of the charismatic but increasingly troubled Jasmine won her the Academy Award for Best Actress.

Thu May 15 at 2.30pm and 7.30pm THE INVISIBLE WOMAN (12A) 2013 UK 111 mins Director: Ralph Fiennes

Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Felicity Jones, Kristin Scott Thomas, Tom Hollander An adaptation of Claire Tomalin’s book, exploring the stormy but enduring affair between actress Ellen Ternan (played by Jones to wide acclaim) and the far older Charles Dickens (Fiennes).

Thu May 22 at 2.30pm and 7.30pm THE ROCKET (PG) 2013 AUSTRALIA/ THAILAND/LAOS 96 mins (subtitled) Director: Kim Mordaunt

Starring: Sitthiphon Disamoe, Loungnam Kaosainam, Suthep Po-ngam A huge audience hit at film festivals worldwide, this exciting and highly original film tells the story of a supposedly cursed boy battling to overcome his family’s hardships, culminating in a spectacular rocket-building contest. Beautiful scenery and delightful performances make this a must-see.

Thu May 29 at 2.30pm and 7.30pm DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (15) 2013 USA 117 mins Director: Jean-Marc Vallée

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto Winning acting Oscars for McConaughey and Leto, this is the story of an ordinary Texan man who took on the medical Establishment to obtain affordable AIDS medication for himself and others.

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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3 Responses to David Lean Cinema re-opening is a people’s authentic triumph

  1. Anne Giles says:

    Fantastic. Thanks for that. I have just booked two tickets for The Railway Man and have printed them out. Looking forward to it.

  2. A very warm welcome back indeed.

    However the cynicism surrounding the Tory Council in their arrangement with the Cinema Campaign is breathtaking. Just a few weeks till the local elections and hey presto, Croydon Council take the cinema out of mothballs and decide they can work with the Save the David Lean Cinema Campaign after all.

    Let us be very clear what has happened here.

    The Tory Council has closed the Clocktower Complex including the dedicated gallery, museum education rooms and Braithwaite Hall. They lost an annual grant from the Arts Council of almost £100,000 in the process.

    Reluctantly they have bowed to the pressure of the David Lean Cinema Campaign and lent them the space as and when they wish to book it. The council is still officially making the now re branded ‘David Lean Cinema and Auditorium’ available to hire to any commercial or community group.

    It was therefore very sad to see one of the leading figures in the destruction of our Arts involved in the re-opening of the David Lean Cinema. You can’t escape from the fact that the Tory Council has led a scheme of destruction that has concluded in the destruction of the Clocktower, the closure of the borough gallery, the closure of the Warehouse Theatre and what can only be euphemistically termed the ‘re-invention’ of the London Mozart Players.

    Allowing the David Lean Cinema Campaign to use the facilities is not the same as the re-opening of the David Lean Cinema.

    Labour’s manifesto for the Council elections in a few weeks time includes re-opening the David Lean Cinema on a permanent basis. Hopefully, in partnership with the Cinema Campaign. We need to rebuild our Arts in Croydon, and we need a Council that is positive and supportive of the Arts.

    Timothy Godfrey
    Labour’s Spokesperson for Culture, Croydon Council

  3. catswiskas says:

    That’s great news, Timothy! So Labour will be reopening the cinema on a permanent basis. Just to clarify: will it continue to be staffed by kindly volunteers or a team of appropriately waged staff?

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