Hello, my name is Margaret O’Brien and I am a film historian with a particular interest in the social importance of cinemas.
This website is devoted to the story of the Everyman Cinema Hampstead from the year of its opening in 1933, throughout its history as an independent cinema.
The Everyman, one of the oldest repertory cinemas in the world, screened a diverse programme of world cinema, documentaries, and classics of film history until the year 2000 when it was bought by a new business, soon to become the Everyman Chain.
The cinema, a modest building which started out as a drill hall, remains an iconic presence in Hampstead, and many locals and other Londoners retain strong memories of the experience of watching films or working there. From its earliest days this local arthouse offered cheap access to all kinds of films, and was very much a part of the life of the village, as well as being a beacon of film culture in London.
This site will evolve as I gather more material about the history of the Everyman. Please help to build up the story of this unique cinema by contacting me with memories and memorabilia such as old programmes and photographs. And, if you would like to contribute a guest blog, please do get in touch.
The Everyman, the UK’s first repertory cinema, opened on Boxing Day with René Clair’s Le Million (1931) supported by a Mack Sennett comedy Turbulent Timber, a Disney cartoon and Paramount News.
Originally a Victorian drill hall the building had been transformed in the 1920s into the famous Everyman Theatre. The mission of the new cinema owners, solicitor James Fairfax Jones and his artist wife Tess, was to show good films, mostly revivals, from around the world. Despite the odds against the venture, they made a success of this small 285 seat cinema.
The beginning of regular foyer exhibitions, curated by Tess, often by Hampstead artists. In 1935, for example, there was an exhibition of modernist avant-garde art by Ben Nicholson, Henry Moore, John Piper and Barbara Hepworth who lived and worked in or around the local Mall Studios.
The first Marx Brothers Season. It was so successful that it was repeated in 1937, 1938 and 1939, and regularly after the War, for many decades to come. Seasons of directors and stars – of René Clair, Paula Wessely, Alfred Hitchcock and others – were pioneered by the Everyman and became a distinctive part of its appeal.
The cinema survived the first months of the War, using the basement as an air raid shelter which, according to the publicity, could hold the entire audience and was the best for miles around. Blackouts, bombs and lack of films forced the cinema to close in September 1940.
The cinema was sub-let to Vincent Beecham, a family friend of Fairfax-Jones and an early cinema proprietor. The twice-weekly programmes of mainly British and American revivals did well, but the Everyman was returned to Fairfax-Jones in early 1946.
The Fairfax Joneses re-opened the Everyman in February. At first prewar favourites, including Mädchen in Uniform, and the Paula Wessely films, were shown. When films were imported again from abroad, Everyman audiences were introduced to more recent productïons like Renoir’s The Southerner and Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible. But it was Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane which proved the most popular, playing repeatedly in 1946 and beyond.
The Everyman celebrated its twenty first birthday with a booklet looking back at its significant films and art displays as well publishing appreciations from film makers and critics. But the cinema was also looking forwards: the new wide screen projection cinemascope was installed, and a refurbished foyer gallery was opened.
Another look at Bergman, the fourth season of this seminal director, became a regular feature, culminating in a seventeen-film tribute in 1977. During the 1960s, with the flowering of auteur cinema, the Everyman was in the forefront of promoting world cinema with the works of directors like Satyajit Ray, Godard and Antonioni.
The death of Fairfax Jones in April marked the end of an era. Control of the Everyman passed to the family trust, and a series of programming managers was employed, most notably Peter Howden, whose seasons and double bills became legendary in the 1980s and 1990s.
Grants from the London County Council and Channel 4 enabled the refurbishment of the Everyman and a café was opened in the basement in 1986. These were difficult times for cinemas, especially the independents. Cinema attendances nationally were at an all-time low and video was taking off, ultimately reducing the appeal of the Everyman revivals.
A café was opened in the basement
‘Forget petty distinctions between highbrow, lowbrow, age, language or origin – in the great tradition of sixty years of the Everyman’, was the message in the Summer programme of ‘the oldest repertory cinema in the world’. 175 daily changing double and triple bills were advertised, included Tarkovsky alongside Russ Meyer and Martin Scorsese, and Jazz on Film alongside Frankenstein and Dracula. Cheap tickets and creative programming, however, were not enough to save the cinema from further financial decline.
Pullman Cinemas, a small chain, took over the Everyman and invested £800,000 in its refurbishment.
The café was removed and a bookshop installed.
After continued heavy losses Pullman put the cinema on the market.
The Everyman was bought by a young property entrepreneur, Daniel Broch, and the cinema became the first of Everyman Cinema Group which now runs 38 ‘boutique’ or ‘lifestyle’ cinemas, a successful business model in tune with new cinema going habits.
A second screen was opened in the basement
A refurbishment updated the lounge, removed the bookshop and moved a bar into the space.
Broch resigned. The cinema is run by the Everyman Cinema Group which now has 38 cinemas.