Home » The Everyman and Bohemian Hampstead : Michael Williams’ Memories of the 1970s and 1980s

The Everyman and Bohemian Hampstead : Michael Williams’ Memories of the 1970s and 1980s

Posted March 2024

One wet February morning, Michael and I met over coffee in the Everyman’s plush lounge, so different from the shabby cinema of our memories. Once a civil servant, now an academic and writer, Michael recalls with pleasure his experiences at the Everyman Cinema which played such a vital part in Hampstead’s vibrant cultural life and his own cinematic journey.

Michael’s interest in film started in childhood. His mother was a film lover and he recalls her taking him, at the age of seven, to The Vagabond King. This 1956 Hollywood musical set in the 15th century has an irreverent beggar poet, Francois Villon, as its hero. He loved the film and it marked the start of a lifelong enthusiasm for what he calls the ‘glamour of radicalism’. As a teenager he went to plays and films at the Sunderland Empire, an imposing Edwardian theatre which seated 1,800, and which from the1930s also screened films. He remembers seeing Citizen Kane and probably the Russian Hamlet at the film club there. Sunderland also had the usual local fleapits, including the notorious Picture House where he saw Repulsion shortly before it closed in 1966.

In 1967 he joined one of the early cohorts of students at the new university of Sussex where he frequently attended the university film society (Alexander Nevsky and Triumph of the Will stand out in his memory) or the many cinemas in Brighton. As a post graduate he lived in a somewhat downmarket Brighton multi-occupancy house with other avid cinephiles, including Ron Peck, later director of Night Hawks. Michael tended to go two or three nights a week to the cinema, either alone or with a girlfriend. But he and Peck, who took a notebook and small flashlight into films, would often talk about the films they had seen.

In 1974 he moved to London and joined the civil service where he was to work for the next 21 years. He frequented many cinemas including the Academy in Oxford Street where he saw the classic Les Enfants du Paradis as well as first run arthouse films like The Mother and the Whore and Spirit of the Beehive. More locally he went to the Screen on the Hill Belsize Park, the Odeon Swiss Cottage and the Classic down at South End Green. Here he saw a rowdy weekend midnight showing of A Streetcar Named Desire as well as Network. The latter starred Peter Finch whose desperate cry ‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it’ became an iconic catch phrase of the moment. But his main local cinema was The Everyman which he first attended Xmas 1973. He remembers the cinema as basic and austere but he liked that. And the tickets were cheap. Like other London cinemas, late night revivals were introduced in the mid 1970s and were patronised by younger locals. Michael remembers seeing The Fall of the Roman Empire late night at the Everyman. He was a fan of the sword and sandal Hollywood spectaculars and this was one of his favourites. Directed by Anthony Mann and starring Sophia Loren and Stephen Boyd, the film had a huge budget and giant sets. It was part of the Everyman’s successful epic season of 15 mega productions programmed in 1978.

Two other seasons of the 1970s stand out in Michael’s memory. He had an interest in Weimar culture and was particularly excited by a landmark season of German Expressionist films of the 1920s and 1930s in the Autumn of 1974. He attended practically all of the films and still has the accompanying BFI notes. There was an impressive array of ten films, The Blue Angel, Congress Dances, Nosferatu, The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, The Last Laugh, Metropolis, Destiny, Dr Mabuse parts 1 and 2 and Kriemhild’s Revenge. This season was organised by Adrian Turner who was in charge of the Everyman’s programming. Turner says he was always on the lookout for fresh ideas and seasons which might give the Everyman a national profile. The Head of Distribution at the BFI, Ted Heath, made him an amazing offer of a package of ten films, all in new 35mm prints with overlaid music for the silent pictures. Ted Heath did not want the season to go to the National Film Theatre. He wanted a proper commercial run and a life for the films. The Everyman paid a flat rate of £250 for all the titles and according to Adrian Turner it was a ‘colossal success, the perfect Hampstead package’. The season was more or less repeated in early 1978, this time with the addition of a late night Marlene Dietrich season.

Michael also recalls the huge Film Noir season of 42 films which ran in February and March 1976. It was another pioneering season which kept the Everyman at the forefront of independent cinema programming. It was inaugurated with the new style programme notes in A4 format, replacing the familiar postcard programmes which dated back to the early 1930s. The size of the new programmes allowed for a major introductory essay on Film Noir by Time Out film editor Chris Pettit. The principal films which included Double Indemnity and some of the films from the big Bogart season of 1975 were given three or four day runs whilst other titles were shown late at night.

Hampstead in the 1970s was a hub of artistic activities. His girlfriend Patricia (they met in the local laundrette on South End Road} was a picture restorer, and he got to know her circle of artist friends which included a surrealist artist from the 30s generation and Jo Brocklehurst, who became famous for documenting London’s punk scene. He and Patricia inherited some paintings by Helen Digby Smith, another artist friend, that were left over from a local selling exhibition.

Michael loved the whole experience of living in Hampstead. From near his basement flat in Rosslyn Hill he caught the 24 bus daily to work in Whitehall. At home in Hampstead he enjoyed swimming in the mixed pond and walking on the Heath. He tried the chess players café at Prompt Corner, but only once as he was given a ‘humiliating hammering’. He liked Hampstead’s historic pubs and, like other Everyman patrons, he often repaired to the Flask for a drink and post-film discussion.

In 1980 Michael moved to West Hampstead but continued to visit the Everyman until 1985. Now married, he moved to Muswell Hill and finally left London for good in 1989.