Posted by Adrian Turner, January 2022
The Everyman was like a University to me. I had left school at 16 and had done a variety of boring jobs, starting off by working in an amazing building, the Royal Exchange in the City of London. My Dad worked there so he fixed a job for me which I endured for a year or so until they lost patience and asked me to leave.
I had fallen in love with movies in 1960 when I was in a school party taken to the Empire Leicester Square, London, to see Ben-Hur. I was thirteen at the time and after that I’m afraid I often played truant by taking the train to the West End to see the latest releases. In this way I quickly learned the geography of the West End by knowing where all the cinemas were. I remember in 1963 seeing in just one day How The West Was Won at the Casino Cinerama, The Cardinal at the Astoria, Charing Cross Road and Zulu at the Plaza, Lower Regent Street. I think it was a trip in 1964 to the Columbia, Shaftesbury Avenue to see Stanley Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove that first made me aware of the film director as someone of importance. Dr Strangelove seemed like someone’s personal creation.
After I left school I met a young man, Fred, who was the son of my dad’s mistress. He wrote for The New Scientist magazine, he was a Cambridge graduate, extremely clever, and lived just off Kensington High Street. At the time I was living in Leigh-on-Sea, or Leigh-on-Mud, and sometimes spent weekends with Fred and his flatmates, all just as clever with a wide circle of friends, many of whom would end up on TV or in films. They played weird music by Miles Davis and John Coltrane. And they talked about films a lot, movies I had never heard of, such as Citizen Kane, The Seventh Seal, Last Year in Marienbad, Eight and a Half. I committed the names of their directors to memory. Orson Welles, Ingmar Bergman, Alain Resnais, Federico Fellini. I’d meet them all in due course.
In this way I veered myself towards arthouse cinemas. I started buying magazines – Films & Filming and Sight and Sound. S&S was far above my pay grade and seemed to disdain everything except films in French, Italian or Swedish. Nevertheless, I resolved to track down every movie they gave three or four stars.
By 1966 I had discovered the Everyman. We were living in West Kensington, in a flat overlooking the tennis courts at Queen’s Club, and I’d occasionally make the trek to Hampstead. I had a girl-friend, Helen Weisz, a dead ringer for Rachel Weisz, and I dragged her up to Hampstead to see Last Year in Marienbad. Big mistake that, though I found the movie mesmerising even if I couldn’t explain why. Still can’t.
In 1968 I moved into a small flat in St John’s Wood, in a square behind the Abbey Road recording studios. Every day for years I walked over the most famous zebra crossing in the world. I now had a job at London Weekend Television in Wembley – a boring, non-creative chore but LWT was an exciting place to be and I met some interesting people, notably David Frost, Peter Cook, John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and cultural maestro Humphrey Burton. In the lift one day I came face to face with John le Mesurier. ‘You are in my favourite film!’ I told him. He looked at me flabbergasted. I said, ‘Ben-Hur!’ I think he’d forgotten all about it. I became friendly with Marek Kaniewska, who subsequently directed Paul Newman; with David Yallop who became a noted author, and Jon Roseman who became a major talent agent. Yes, LWT was an experience. It was also where I met my future wife.
The Everyman was a pleasant half-hour walk from home – up to Swiss Cottage and then the climb up Fitzjohn’s Avenue lined then as now with splendid Victorian mansions. I must have gone to the Everyman two or three times a month. They were always showing something interesting.
In 1969 I saw an advertisement – ‘London repertory cinema requires Assistant Manager.’ I applied and in my letter I stressed that while I had no experience I did have a lot of enthusiasm. I supplied a list of the last films I had seen and took care to include three or four which could only have been seen at the Everyman. I think they were looking for someone with the personality needed to engage with the public.
I was interviewed by the Everyman’s proprietor, James Fairfax-Jones, and the manager, Dennis Lloyd. I got the job and took quite a pay cut. I seem to remember the Everyman were paying £12 per week.
Fairfax-Jones, or F-J as everyone called him, was a local solicitor – a commissioner for oaths no less – who just happened to like movies, though he would never have called them by that Americanism. He had bought the Everyman in 1933, converting it from a theatre and inheriting the name. F-J was very Old School, posh, with a military bearing, invariably in a three-piece suit, and with a twinkle in his eye. He lived locally with his wife Tessa in a sprawling house called Manor Lodge. Next door there was a house with a blue plaque announcing that the Indian writer Rabindranath Tagore had once lived there. This was in the Vale of Health, a part of Hampstead that was tucked away, hidden from the world. It was a hamlet within a village within a city. Beyond it lay the wilds of Hampstead Heath which ran all the way up to Highgate.
Manor Lodge was idyllic, what I might later have described as Provençal, with a large, slightly overgrown front garden and a separate wing for F-J’s legal offices, or chambers. The main house was filled with books and paintings. For some reason F-J took a shine to me and I was invited to Manor Lodge quite often, just for tea and a chat. He slowly eased me into his world. I couldn’t believe my luck.
The Everyman itself was a bare bones cinema. No frills or fluff, none of the opulence or flights of fantasy that many sought in cinemas. It wasn’t a flea-pit of the sort seen in The Smallest Show on Earth though aspects of that classic little comedy were real enough at the Everyman. There were never advertisements, trailers, let alone a kiosk selling Butterkist and Kia-Ora. The seats were hard and the screen did not benefit from the luxury of curtains, just a green footlight. The roof was wooden and vaulted, what you might call budget hammerbeam. The toilets, especially the gents in the basement, were fairly basic. In the foyer was a small commercially run art gallery, curated by Mrs F-J. The interval music was chosen by manager Dennis, always classical and meticulously transferred to tape from his LP collection. It was all . . . so very Hampstead.
Being a cinema manager wasn’t an especially onerous task, although there was I suppose an overall responsibility for the safety of a potential 302 paying customers and staff if, say, a fire broke out or if someone had a heart attack which, fortunately, no one ever did. However, there was the occasional momentary loss of bodily self-control which meant a rapid cleansing of the ablutionary facilities. That was what real cinema management was all about, not choosing this Godard over that Visconti but mopping up after someone’s stinking mess.
Dennis Lloyd had been the manager for many years and he showed me the ropes. On my first day he took me through the opening and closing procedures, a routine of chains and padlocks and, in winter, attending to the incredible vintage gas heaters which hung from the walls of the auditorium. When those heaters were on you could hear the gas hissing and see the pilot flames. They broke down frequently.
Dennis was in his mid-50s, a solitary figure, difficult to chat casually with. His private life was a closed book. He was always with a tweedy suit and tie, the corporal to F-J’s brigadier. Dennis lived in Wembley with his ailing mother and rode to the Everyman on an old motor-cycle. He resembled Richard Attenborough in Seance on a Wet Afternoon. Nevertheless, we got on extremely well. He realised I didn’t want his job, merely creative control of the cinema.
Upstairs was the projection box which was equipped with two Westrex 35mm projectors. These ran on carbon arcs which had their own distinctive sound and smell. On the wall between the projection box and the auditorium were several heavy fire shutters, needed because the Everyman was one of the very few cinemas in Britain licensed to show nitrate prints. One spark would set the whole place alight. A nice man came regularly to service the machines and I remember being madly impressed when he told me that another of his regulars was Stanley Kubrick’s home cinema.
Attached to the projection box was a fairly large sitting room for the projectionists’ sole use. It was filthy and stank of cigarette smoke, as did my office and Dennis’s domain which had the big wall safe and fireplace. Dennis smoked a pipe and I smoked unfiltered Chesterfields or Pall Malls. The whole place reeked of tobacco.
The chief projectionist was Tom Robinson, about 60, kind-hearted, slightly coarse. He had opened the Everyman with F-J on Boxing Day 1933 and had stayed loyal ever since. A family man, he lived in Edgware. He wasn’t really a film buff but he cared a lot about presentation. His assistant was Harry Walsh, of unknown age and a transvestite. One day he might be a man, another day a woman, whatever mood took him, though he wore high heels every day. He had a strong northern accent, waist-length grey hair and lived alone in a faraway world called South London. He looked desperately unhealthy, he chain-smoked and liked to shut himself away in the projection box and never see a soul. When he left the building I would watch people stand and stare at him as he walked over to the Tube station. But like Tom, I trusted him completely.
As the assistant manager I did a three-day shift, then a four-day shift. Dennis and I crossed paths on Wednesdays. Consequently, I had to deal with cash, usually not a great deal of it, and every night I had to pay the part-time staff and account for the box-office takings, put it in a bag, and drop it into the night safe at the bank across the road. I could have been mugged but this was Hampstead. The next morning I had to telephone Manor Lodge to advise them of the previous nights’ business. They were inured to disappointing news.
As a cinema manager you dealt with the public and in the Everyman’s case they were entirely pleasant and often up for a chat. In the eight years I was there I can only remember one awkward customer – a man named Michael Winner who demanded a free seat. David Lean (who came to see Top Hat) didn’t want a free seat, neither did John Gielgud, Kingsley Amis, Joan Bakewell, Peter O’Toole, cabinet ministers, or any other of the luminaries who came through the Everyman’s doors on a regular basis.
There was also, just the once, a Royal visit. On 1 March 1977 Frank Sinatra was playing the Royal Albert Hall. His friend Princess Margaret had tickets. Quite by chance we were having a season of MGM Musicals. On 28 February the phone rang and a voice said it was Kensington Palace. HRH Princess Margaret wanted to see High Society that afternoon and would be bringing her two young children with her. And at 2pm a Rolls-Royce arrived to disgorge the Royal party into our spartan picture house. To coin a phrase from Sir Tim Rice, I was at sixes and sevens and they were dressed up to the nines. Suit and tie for the young boy, an incredible mink coat for Margaret.
The local police station sent a constable to stand at the front entrance, a security man saw High Society with the Royal party and I had another security man with me in the upstairs office. He paid for their tickets. Before the film ended he was on the phone organising all the traffic between Hampstead and Kensington, meaning there would be police at major junctions and traffic lights would be neutralised. If this sounds excessive, this was at the height of the IRA bombing campaign.
When the film ended, I was at the door, ready to discuss the subtleties of Charles Walters’s direction, the great performance of Mr Sinatra and the respective merits of High Society and The Philadelphia Story. But HRH just swished past me, a blur of fur, without even a look, though her two children shook my hand and thanked me for my hospitality. They had enjoyed the film, they said.
During my time there, two other things stand out. The change to decimalisation and the three-day week, when we all reverted back to the 18th century by living in candelight for much of the day. Like all cinemas, the Everyman was half on, half out.
F-J and Tessa had four children. Tessa herself was quite a large woman and was what one used to call ‘tweedy.’ She seemed country rather than city, like a landowner’s wife. Although she ran the Everyman’s art gallery, she never struck me as being arty or highly cultured. However, she was a graduate of the Central School of Arts and Crafts and a practicing silversmith. For over 50 years she curated the Everyman foyer gallery and would arrive once a month with the artist and somehow shoehorn the paintings into the Everyman’s fiddly aluminium frames. From the 30s and beyond she curated shows to go with the film programming, for instance Lazare Meerson’s set designs for the René Clair and Jacques Feyder films; Lotte Reiniger’s silhouettes to go with the shorts, and she showcased the early works of local modernist artists like Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson and Henry Moore. The foyer itself was small but intimate, with a few chairs and a sofa, almost like someone’s sitting room. The paintings were for sale and it would be up to me or Dennis to manage a sale and put a red dot on the glass.
The eldest of their children was Caroline, followed by twins Martin and Ruth, and Alice, the youngest. I rarely encountered Caroline, Martin or Ruth but Alice was around the Everyman a great deal since the spacious basement was her own studio where she made home furnishings with splendid silk screen patterns. Alice wasn’t a hippie but she most definitely was Bohemian in her appearance and her lifestyle. I thought she was utterly captivating, fabulous, initially an alien, quickly a friend. She lived in this amazing place in West Hampstead, an artist’s studio that was, more of less, a massive greenhouse which looked like it had been designed by Gustav Eiffel. It was once used as a movie location and Alice invited me down there to watch the filming. The director was Don Siegel, the stars were Michael Caine and Delphine Seyrig and the movie was then called Drabble. It was drivel. But, boy, was that an exciting day for me! For the first time, I actually touched Hollywood.
The Everyman staff usually met all the Fairfax-Jones clan at the annual summer clambake held in the garden at Manor Lodge. It was an interesting occasion, a bit like the Lord and Lady of the Manor spreading gratitude and cheer among their servants. For some of the usherettes it seemed like the highlight of their year. And why not?
The usherettes! And don’t forget the box-office girls and boys. What an extraordinary bunch they were. There were essentially two shifts. The afternoons were the domain of three elderly women. There was Birdie, full-blooded Irish, sassy and witty; there was Maud, a bit grim, skeletal, edging into dementia and heavily made-up; and Sally Bloomfield, the incredible Sally, almost totally deaf, with other medical issues, but so so kind. She lived down the road in what I always think of a typical Hampstead family – her parents were refugees, her mother fussing in the kitchen, her father a professor with more books in his house than the British Library.
Often in the cash desk was Mrs Heal, dressed in a shawl with dripping jewels. She was part-owner of Heals, the ultra trendy furniture store on Tottenham Court Road. Her daughter, with mane-like red hair, sometimes did a shift in the evenings, as did the gloriously Nordic-looking Anna who ended up marrying Martin Fairfax-Jones. In the evenings, the usherettes were mainly French and Italian students or au pairs. No one did this work for the money. They all liked the Everyman, they liked the company, the friendship, and they liked the movies it showed.
Working at the Everyman meant being a respected part of a community if not a pillar of it. I found the village scene convivial, even if it was more subdued than other parts of London such as the King’s Road area or Notting Hill. Maybe because of the Heath, Hampstead seemed more country than city, despite the Tube station which was London’s dankest and deepest. Escalators didn’t have the reach so it was clanky old lifts and you emerged into the light to the sound of Bob selling the News and Standard! As a manager of the Everyman I was, after all, a local tradesman like news vendor Bob, like the greengrocer or the butcher or the owner of the High Hill Bookshop, Ian Norrie, who always seemed to be in a bad mood.
Opposite the Everyman was a great bakers and a wonderful patisserie called Louis. Up the hill was Hampstead Hi-Fi which sold expensive audio equipment and only classical records. One of the assistants was the nephew of the conductor Jascha Horenstein. On Flask Walk future novelist and humorist Joseph Connolly ran a secondhand bookshop specialising in modern first editions. Also in Flask Walk was the eponymous pub in which the pot man would go round collecting used glasses and making sure he gulped down everyone’s dregs most of which ended up on his shirt. I thought he was disgusting.
On Perrin’s Court, a pedestrian thoroughfare, there was a great local restaurant, The Spinning Wheel, a fancy contemporary knick-knack place called That New Shop and the modern offices of the local newspaper, The Ham and High, whose legendary editor Gerry Isaaman, hired me as the paper’s film reviewer when Tom Hutchinson moved to the Sunday Telegraph. And every Wednesday afternoon, after my shift, I would walk down to a rather manky coffee shop, called the Prompt Corner, to play chess for money with various mittel-Europeans who all seemed to have numbers tattooed on their arms. Yes, Hampstead sometimes felt like being in the country, Stow-on-the-Wold perhaps, but in that smokey cafe you could have been in Warsaw or Budapest.
Apart from Louis, all of these places are long gone. It is a vanished world.
The Everyman’s reputation lay in its programming of mostly foreign language films in linked seasons. I saw this as something of a limitation but certainly for the first year or two I was happy to go along with F-J’s tried and tested choices. As far as I remember he went very rarely to the cinema – in fact, I can’t recall having a serious conversation about movies with him at all. The furthest we got was at a summer party when my wife told him she had just seen François Truffaut’s Jules et Jim and adored it, especially the music. ‘Come with me,’ he said, and they walked into another room where he played the soundtrack for her.
I don’t recall him ever saying that he and his wife had gone to see a film at the local Odeon or to the West End to see the latest film at the Academy or the Curzon. All I remember is seeing The Go-Between with him at MGM’s little preview theatre in St James ’s Street.
He subscribed to the two magazines, Monthly Film Bulletin and Sight and Sound, and he read Dilys Powell in The Sunday Times and CA Lejeune in The Observer to keep track of the latest releases which one day might grace the Everyman’s screen. And then there was F-J and Tessa’s annual trip to the Venice film festival, a treat bankrolled by the Everyman. They would arrive a few days before the festival started and stay across the lagoon on the island of Torcello at a bliss-out place called the Locanda Cipriani. And then they would move across to Venice itself and stay at the Cipriani, one of three deluxe hotels in the city at the time. From there they would take the launch over to the Lido where the festival was based. He socialised, he may have seen a film or two, and came back with a list of titles destined for Hampstead in due course.
The bedrock of the Everyman year were solid seasons of old favourites. The opening film Le Million of 1933 always paid us a visit. Every year we ran The Maxim Gorky Trilogy and The Marx Brothers. There was always a season called ‘Summer Revivals’ of lighter fare and in the autumn ‘Off The Beaten Track’ which was a ragbag selection of arthouse faves like Fellini, Godard and Bunuel. All very Hampstead.
Movies were always shown from Mondays for seven days. Programmes were at 2pm, 4pm, 6pm and 8pm with an accompanying short if necessary. Problems occurred if a film ran for, say, 138 minutes because that meant programmes at 2pm, 5pm and 8pm with a longer short. It was inflexible because F-J believed our regular patrons always knew the showing times. We published little cards with a month or two month programmes and sent them out on a mailing list. We took advertisements in What’s On in London, the Evening Standard (not the Evening News), the Listener, The Lady and the New Statesman. There were also the trademark yellow quad posters at strategic Tube stations.
We survived on the goodwill of various film distributors. The arthouse films were largely owned by three companies – Connoisseur Films which was run by George Hoellering who also ran the Academy Cinemas in Oxford Street. Hoellering was a sort of legend, high and mighty, and F-J was terrified of him. Then there was Contemporary Films run by Charles and Kitty Cooper who owned the Paris-Pullman Cinema in South Kensington. And Gala, run by the glamorous Kenneth Rive who operated a small chain of Gala Cinemas. Hoellering, the Coopers and Rive were all pioneers, taking on unknown directors and films and bringing them an audience. Roger Wingate, who owned the Curzon in Mayfair, was a far too aloof for the likes of us.
Somehow F-J persuaded all these companies to rent out their films for a flat rate of £25 per week rather than the normal percentage deal. This meant that if a film was packed out the Everyman would make a lot of money and if a film flopped losses would be minimal. Amazingly, F-J did an identical deal with the major distributors such as EMI, Columbia, Fox and Warners.
Every Monday afternoon I would sit in the back row and watch the first performance. Mainly this was to check the quality of the print and very often they were quite poor, sometimes almost un-runnable. The worst tended to come from Gala which owned most of the Bergman catalogue and several key movies like Eight and a Half and Pierrot le Fou. Ken Rive worked with as few prints as possible and once a 35mm print like Pierrot le Fou had done its first run in London and then traversed the country’s arthouses and BFI Film Theatres it had become worn and scratched and shorn of a minute or two. Amazingly, our loyal patrons put up with it. I can’t recall a single incident when anyone demanded their money back.
By 1971 F-J was becoming ill. There were a few stays at the King Edward VII Hospital for Officers in Marylebone. I remember he said, ‘Isn’t it time we did Bergman again?’ So I went ahead and planned the season, making it the biggest the Everyman had ever done. I called it ‘Bergman Revisited.’ In his hospital bed he told me how much he liked that.
I remember arguing a case for a Humphrey Bogart season which F-J resisted simply because he didn’t think it fitted the Everyman ethos. But he relented and the Bogart season was a massive success. One major Bogart movie The Big Sleep was never shown outside the National Film Theatre because United Artists in London didn’t have a print. I contacted Clyde Jeavons at the National Film, Archive and arranged to have limited access to their collection, the result of which was that we ran The Big Sleep for four days and it was a full house for every single performance. It was by far the biggest money-spinner the Everyman had ever shown. And because they didn’t have a print, UA waived the £25 fee!
F-J died in April 1973. His death was marked by several affectionate obituaries. The local paper, The Ham and High, said, ‘He was the modest, occasionally irascible but always deeply caring father of Hampstead’s Everyman Cinema, a man with obstinate foresight and courage, who proved time and time again his faith in the film as a work of art. [He] earned himself a special niche in cinema history and in Hampstead’s history too.’
With the death of F-J my own role changed. F-J’s son, Martin, became Managing Director and he quickly came to see me, asking me if I would take over all the programming responsibilities, alongside Dennis who remained as manager. Martin was a graphic designer with, I thought, little interest in movies. Certainly I had hardly met him in the past few years. Nevertheless, he wanted to become involved and understand the business. He also undertook to revamp the Everyman’s little programme cards and make them visually striking. The yellow posters would not be changed.
I was keen to widen the Everyman’s programming and also make changes to its format. I thought the week-long run had had its day, so to speak, and one only had to look at the National Film Theatre and also the Electric Cinema Club in Notting Hill to see that shorter, even daily, runs was the way forward. Within a short time the Everyman had two programmes a week and Saturday late-shows were also introduced. I resisted double-bills of the sort that was the Electric’s stock-in-trade. For one thing, the logistics of all those 35mm prints would have been a great burden on our two projectionists.
I was always on the look out for fresh ideas and seasons which might give the Everyman a national profile. Somehow it happened. The BFI had a man called Ted Heath who was head of their distribution department. He offered me an amazing opportunity – a season of German Expressionist movies of the 1920s and 1930s, including Caligari, Nosferatu, Metropolis, Dr Mabuse and The Blue Angel. All in new 35mm prints, though purists might have questioned the overlaid music for the silent pictures. Ted didn’t want the season to go to the NFT. He wanted a proper commercial run and a life for these pictures. We paid I think a flat rate of £250 for all the titles and it was a colossal success, the perfect Hampstead package.
We held the British premiere of Francois Truffaut’s 1968 movie Mississippi Mermaid, even though it was dubbed. We recalled Bogart with an even bigger season. We ran as many Billy Wilder pictures as we could get in a season called, naturally enough, ‘Running Wilder.’ Around this time the NFT was having a feud with MGM so I embarrassed them a little by staging seasons of Greta Garbo and MGM musicals, sometimes using prints sent specially from Culver City.
In 1976 we did a big season called Film Noir, accompanied by a long essay for the programme written by Time Out Film Editor Chris Petit. The Big Sleep came back for that, of course. That season ran for three whole months. We held a press show to publicise it and I was surprised by some national critics who mocked the term ‘film noir.’ Now it’s part of the vocabulary.
Three years passed and I had a ball doing this, basically asking myself what do I fancy seeing and putting it on. Eventually, though, I found the Everyman just a bit too claustrophobic, a bit limiting, a dead end if you like. I also found it a luxury I couldn’t really afford anymore. For maybe ten years I had been going to the National Film Theatre. On one of my earliest visits I witnessed Jean-Luc Godard go on stage and punch his producer in the face, only to manhandled off the stage by the NFT’s manager Mike Wesson. Later on I saw Sam Peckinpah drink Jack Daniel’s and throw a flick knife into the stage. I saw Alfred Hitchcock interviewed by Bryan Forbes and, of course, I saw many movies. It became obvious to me that I should work there and in 1977 that is exactly what I did.
I credit (or blame) F-J for indirectly getting me that job in the NFT’s programme planning department. One evening F-J held a dinner party at Alice’s studio in West Hampstead. Looking back I think he wanted to introduce me to some of his friends in the film trade. Dilys Powell was there, and Lindsay Anderson, and so too was Leslie Hardcastle, the Controller of the NFT. Leslie gave me a lift home. I bumped into him every so often and I think that might have helped me get the NFT job.
My last month at the Everyman was quite emotional. It was hard to let go and to say goodbye to that cosy little existence. I will always have the fondest memories of it. I got a letter from that nice man Stanley Kubrick wishing me well at the BFI. And shortly before I left a friend of mine called up. This was John Baxter, author of many noted movie books. He wondered how I could possibly work at the NFT ‘with Leslie Hardcastle and Ken Wlaschin, two of the most difficult people on the planet.’ And that, possibly, is another story.
– Adrian Turner, Norfolk, December 2021.