Home » Heath, home and cinema – Interview with Hassanah Alice Burton

Heath, home and cinema – Interview with Hassanah Alice Burton

Posted May 2022

Hassanah Alice (hereafter Alice), was born in 1946, the youngest of the four children of James and
Tess Fairfax-Jones who had run the Everyman since 1933. Her memories of the cinema in the 1950s
and 60s are accompanied by fond recollections of her parents and of growing up in Hampstead. After
an adventurous life of travel, work and marriages she settled in rural south west France. This
interview took place in the beautiful garden of her sister-in-law Anna’s home in Gospel Oak at the
southernmost tip of Hampstead Heath.

The Everyman was a regular haunt for Alice as a child. She spent a lot of time upstairs in the
projection booth with projectionist Tom Robinson who had worked at the cinema since its opening
in 1933. She sat on the gramophone and watched the films as they were projected through the
porthole onto the screen There was no sound but she did occasionally see bits of X films. She loved
Tom and always remembers how proud he once was of losing a lot of weight which he described as
the equivalent of a fire extinguisher. Projecting was a skilled job, especially at the Everyman, where
Tom had to project and change reels of both sound and silent (sometimes flammable) films. The
films were often well used and fragile and therefore liable to break. Alice would watch as he expertly
spliced the celluloid together.

She recalls her father checking the takings and also regularly checking the queue which snaked up
Heath Street to the top of the hill. He knew exactly when it reached the point of filling the 300 seat
cinema and Alice remembers accompanying him when he went up to inform the customers.

In the 1950s there was a film club at the Everyman. Members could join for a fee, which allowed
them to attend the fortnightly club screenings in the auditorium at 2.30 on a Sunday afternoon.
Films were varied and included older films like Buster Keaton’s The General, Greta Garbo in Queen
Cristina and Pabst’s early sound classic Kameradschaft. Themed programmes with guest speakers
included art on film, experimental and avant-garde films and contemporary animation. Each
screening was followed by a discussion, attended by about twenty people, in the scruffy
surroundings of the large basement amongst the theatrical props left over from the Everyman’s days
as a theatre in the 1920s. Homemade soup and bread were provided by her mother – and Alice still
has the soup spoons.

As a child, Alice also ‘helped’ her mother with launch parties of the art exhibitions in the foyer,
handing out the drinks and nuts. The exhibitions changed at least monthly and for every new
exhibition there was an opening on a Sunday morning. These were generally selling exhibitions and
Alice was allowed to put the red dots on the paintings. They were usually lively and well attended
affairs as Tess and her exhibitions were an integral part of the thriving Hampstead art scene. Tess, a
practicing silversmith, was always sociable and socialising. She came from a well-off background and
in the 1920s had attended the London College of Arts and Crafts. Unusually for a young woman at
that time she travelled through Africa, in the company of Una Cameron who was to become a
famous mountaineer. Jim and Tess married in 1933 at the same time as taking on the cinema. Jim
and Tess were from different social backgrounds. His family was in the brewing business but he
trained to be a solicitor. Alice describes him a quiet man who was liable to get nervous in company.
That may partly explain his attraction to the quiet, dark and anonymous surroundings of the cinema

Alice spent a large amount of her childhood watching films in the Everyman There were special
children’s screenings in the mornings during the holiday periods and there were always lots of family
friendly films like the Marx Brothers in the main programme. By the time she reached her teens,
however, she suspected that her popularity was often due to possible free entry to the cinema!

For fourteen years both of her parents went annually to Venice for the film festival, and Alice
accompanied them on several occasions. Jim always had press tickets because he was commissioned
by The Times to write reviews. They began their stay on the beautiful and quiet island of Torcello,
regarded by her parents as the ultimate wind down place. They then moved on to La Calcina, a
modest but picturesque old pensione with a terrace café right on the water in Venice. In the latter
years the couple graduated to the more luxurious and elegant hotel Il Cipriano. Venice was the high
point of the year for her father and Alice recalls that he usually went on a diet in preparation for the

By the late sixties, having explored various career routes, Alice was making a living from her creative
skills, printing her own nature-inspired silk screen home furnishings. At that time, she was living the
alternative London life in an amazing glass covered studio apartment in West Hampstead. And her
silk screen workshop was located in the Everyman’s spacious basement. That meant she was
involved with the everyday routines of the cinema and the staff. She was occasionally called upon to
help out in the cinema and even did the music a couple of times, a job usually jealously guarded by
Dennis Lloyd, the front of house manager. She got on well with Adrian Turner the programme
manager who admired her Bohemian lifestyle and appearance.

The Everyman’s programme in the late 50s and early 60s was inspirational, showing a rich variety of
the best in world cinema. Next to the National Film Theatre it was the only repertory arthouse in
London. Its seasons, which included Bergman, Cocteau and Japanese films, were legendary.
Hassanah particularly remembers the impact that the Orson Welles seasons at the Everyman had on
London audiences. Welles’ first film Citizen Kane, which disappeared from view shortly after its
release in the UK in 1941, was given a high profile at the Everyman in 1952 when it re-appeared for a
whole month’s run. Citizen Kane was shown regularly until the late 1950s when it was leased to
television but later made another well publicised re-launch at the Everyman in 1965. Apparently, the
critics who attended the press screening organised by Fairfax-Jones stood up and cheered.
Hassanah also recalls other films that were repeatedly screened and came to be forever associated
with the Everyman. The Gorky Trilogy, by Russian director, Mark Donskoi, based on the
autobiography of writer Maxim Gorky tells the story of how he overcame the abject and brutal
poverty of life in tsarist Russia to join the struggle against oppression. Satyajit Ray’s Apu Trilogy
similarly follows the fortunes of a child in rural Bengal who becomes a writer. Both trilogies, shown
on successive nights, used realist location cinematography to evoke the everyday experience of
childhood and poverty.

Alice recalls her childhood as idyllic. She was born in 1946 at number 2, The Gables in the Vale of
Health on Hampstead Heath, but before she was three the family moved to nearby Manor Lodge, a
large sprawling house which was to remain the family home till the 1970s. Despite its picturesque
appearance it was quite run down, and the heating was inefficient and even dangerous. It had a
large garden with a big sloping lawn where the family played croquet and where the annual party for
all Everyman staff was held. Alex the gardener, who became part of the family, worked there
regularly and for a while there was a live-in manservant called Hazlitt who ran the kitchen and did
the cooking for the numerous dinner parties where guests were served at the round table. Before
she was old enough to help out at the dinner parties Alice used to sit on the stairs and watch. Jim
had a wing of the house for his offices as a solicitor. Tess had a workshop for her silversmithing in
the other wing which eventually Alice shared with her.

The Heath was where Alice spent most of her childhood, often in the company of her father who
shared her love of nature. She was forever adopting and caring for wounded animals. Once, they
both went to Palmers pet shop In Camden Town to spend her pocket money and came back on the
tube a with a grass snake in a paper bag.

Alice was eight years younger than her sibling twins, Martin and Ruth and ten years younger than
Caroline, the oldest child. As the much-cherished ‘baby’ of the family she remembers her parents as
endlessly supportive. She went to Camden School for Girls where she excelled in arts subjects,
followed eventually by teacher training. After 1971, when she left for Canada with her new husband,
she travelled widely and when she eventually settled in France continued her work in silk screen

The Everyman was central to Alice’s life as she was growing up and in her young adulthood. It was
really important to her father to keep the cinema going despite not making a profit when money
was tight. It also played an important part in the life of the local community and she is still proud
that, thanks to her parents, the Everyman made Hampstead famous and was known worldwide as a
special cinema.