Home » A cinema for all seasons, the Everyman in Hampstead: Michael Darvell’s early memories of going to the pictures.

A cinema for all seasons, the Everyman in Hampstead: Michael Darvell’s early memories of going to the pictures.

Posted by Michael Darvell January 2022

I have always been an avid filmgoer, even from a young age. I suppose as a child I was taken to the pictures by my parents, as the cinema was the only form of public entertainment available to most families. In the 1940s and ’50s cinema tickets were cheap, filmgoing was an informal activity which you generally didn’t have to book for in advance, although you might have had to queue for a seat. Every town had several cinemas, all mostly within easy reach. 

Living in the Borough of Harrow in north-west London, I had a good choice of picture houses. We lived between Pinner and North Harrow, so our nearest cinemas were the Langham at Pinner and the Embassy North Harrow. Both were ABC cinemas and both were a short walk or bus ride away. There were other cinemas in the area including the ABC Dominion and the Granada in Harrow, the Odeons in Wealdstone and South Harrow, the Gaumont Rayners Lane, the Essoldo at Belmont Circle and the Shipman and King houses, the Rex at Northwood Hills and the Astoria and Rivoli in Ruislip. I visited them all during my early film-going days.

However, when I began to attend college in north London, my cinemagoing scope widened even further. I was by then living in Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire while studying at the North-Western Polytechnic in Kentish Town (now the University of North London), so from 1962 I had the whole of London’s cinemas at my beck and call. However, as I was studying in and around Hampstead, after my classes were over I generally headed for the Odeons at Swiss Cottage or on Haverstock Hill, the Playhouse by Hampstead Heath, or one of the cinemas on Kilburn High Road, the Classic, the Gaumont State, the Grange or the Essoldo. Having said that, however, my favourite cinema in those days was definitely the Everyman on Holly Bush Vale, off Hampstead High Street, NW3.

I liked the Everyman mainly because it screened films I couldn’t ever see anywhere else. These were mainly the foreign films that rarely if ever came to the cinemas in Harrow or Hemel Hempstead. In April of 1962 at the Everyman I caught up with many of the early Ingmar Bergman films such as A Lesson in Love, Journey into Autumn and Smiles of a Summer Night, the last being adapted later by Stephen Sondheim for his musical A Little Night Music. I had already seen The Seventh Seal because my local film society had screened it in the late 1950s, along with Wild Strawberries. However, being a completist, I was pleased to be able to catch up with the less familiar Bergmans at the Everyman which for several years had an annual season of the Swedish director’s work.

In March and April 1964 the ‘Another Look at Bergman’ season also included some titles for which some of the films’ distribution rights were about to expire. This was a mixture of early and later Bergman such as Port of Call (1947), Summer Interlude (1951), Waiting Women (1952), A Lesson in Love (1953), Journey Into Autumn (1954), Smiles of a Summer Night (1955), The Face (aka The Magician, 1958) and The Devil’s Eye (1960).

The month of May 1962 Jim Fairfax-Jones scheduled a trio of French films that he considered were ‘Three Charmers from Rene Clair’, namely Les Belles de Nuit, Porte des Lilas and An Italian Straw Hat. With the last title Jim also showed a Chaplin short called Champion Charlie to make up a completely silent programme, something that no other cinema at the time would have dared to do, outside of the National Film Theatre or a local film society.

Later in the same year there was a mini-season of films by Michelangelo Antonioni – Le Amiche, Il Grido and the director’s masterpiece, L’Avventura. These were followed by the first in a new series of ‘Underrated Films’, screenings of Rene Clement’s Plein Soleil, a thriller based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Talented Mr Ripley, which had had a short run in the West End but was then distributed in a dubbed version called Purple Noon which I remember seeing at the Gaumont Watford.

The Everyman was not only devoted to screening foreign films, for it had to show by law a certain number of British product under the quota regulations. In 1963 a group of disparate films formed a season of home-grown programmes, namely Tony Richardson’s adaptation of John Osborne’s play Look Back in Anger, Guy Hamilton’s The Devil’s Disciple, from the George Bernard Shaw play, and Fred Zinnemann’s The Sundowners. There were also regular American seasons that included such titles as John Cromwell’s The Goddess, John Ford’s The Last Hurrah and Billy Wilder’s classic comedies One, Two, Three and The Apartment. 

It wasn’t just films that interested Jim Fairfax-Jones, for he used the Everyman foyer as an art gallery to exhibit among others the work of local Hampstead artists, Joan Moore’s watercolours of Greece, drawings by Arthur Quesnel and the silhouettes of Lotte Reiniger which coincided with screenings of some of her short films which were shown as a supporting progamme to the main feature. Most of Jim’s programminmg included a range of documentary shorts, which most cinemas in his time ignored, as they also do now. The Full Supporting Programme is no longer with us, apart from the usual commercials and trailers which these days provide the only  support to the main feature.

Another advantage about the Everyman when Jim Fairfax-Jones was running the show was the complete lack of advertising films or trailers for forthcoming attractions. Jim produced his own screen ‘announcements’ for future programmes, thereby dodging all the hype that surrounds the commercialisation in the movie industry. But then I suspect that he only screened the films that he personally loved or admired. That is what made going to the Everyman cinema such a joy.