Tag Archives: London cinemas

Maurice Cheepen

My father’s contribution to the war effort was to operate radar stations, monitoring incoming enemy aircraft, others found themselves slowly fighting their way across Europe.

For some, with a seemingly safer war, were hugely valuable in raising the morale of Londoners. Maurice Cheepen, a Jewish immigrant from Nazi Germany ‘did his bit’ in an extraordinary fashion.

[B]UILT ON THE SITE of an old brewery, at a cost of £250,000 (£17 million in today’s money), the Troxy Cinema on Commercial Road was the largest cinema in England.

The first film to be shown was King Kong, with the first customer entering its lavish foyer in 1933 being rewarded with a gold watch.

But it was Maurice Cheepen who ensured that ‘Stepney’s Luxurious Troxy’ was the most prestigious entertainment venue in East London. Poverty, the 1930s Depression and looming storm clouds, Eastenders needed someone like Maurice to lift them out of the gloom.

Maurice Cheepen

A horse-drawn pumpkin coach to advertise Cinderella; Dracula promoted by a vampire handing out leaflets; and ‘red Indians’ telling the local populace about the latest western, that’s how Maurice entertained them.

In the Blitz, with the audience trapped inside the Troxy during a bombing raid, Maurice led a rendition of “There’ll Always Be An England”. Later a wag retorted after a bomb landed nearby “I’m not sure about that!”

Naturalised in 1935 the London Gazette of 5th April 1935 reported:

LIST of ALIENS to whom Certificates of Naturalization have been granted by the Secretary of State, and whose Oaths of Allegiance have been registered in the Home Office during the month of March 1935. The date shown in each case is the date on which the Oath of Allegiance was taken.

Cheepen, Morris (known as Maurice Cheepen); No Nationality; Cinema Manager;

26 Rowhill Mansions, Clapton, E.5. 6th March 1935.

Maurice rewarded his adopted country with a plethora of entertainment goodies. One of his most outlandish stunts was dreamt up in 1952 when the film Where No Vultures Fly was about to be screened. Maurice had live vultures caged in the foyer, one ‘escaped’ and flew around the auditorium. Could Maurice have deliberately released the bird to promote the feature? We will never know.

In 1960 the last film was shown at the Troxy, by which time Maurice Cheepen had retired. The building became a bingo hall and a rehearsal studio, now restored to its former glory it is one of the finest venues in East London.

Featured image: Troxy, Commercial Road by Robin Sones (CC BY-SA 2.0)

My Beloved Phoenix

Going to the cinema is not just about the film, it is, or should be, a total cinematic experience and for me, there is a special place in London where you can find just that – The Phoenix Cinema in north London. East Finchley, N2 to be exact.

As you sink into your maroon upholstered chair and the lights dim, around you is
the history of cinema going in this
country.

[O]pened in 1911 as the Premier Electric Theatre having been built in 1910, the Phoenix is one of the nation’s oldest cinemas. The vaulted ceiling was built with live orchestras for silent films in mind and now it provides perfect acoustics for special events with live music or Q&As. The  auditorium was originally the other way around but in the 1930s and by now known as The Coliseum,  the projection box was moved  to the High Road end,  the lovely art deco frontage was added, the wonderful Mollo and Eagen gold reliefs were installed alongside the aisles and an enhanced ‘rake’ was put in place. That means, even today, if someone with ‘big hair’ sits in front of you, you can still see the screen!

The name was changed again, this time to The Rex. Under Charles and Kitty Cooper in 1975, it became The Phoenix and programmed the best of world cinema. Under threat of property development in the mid 1980s, public support refused to let the Phoenix go and it became a charitable trust devoted to showing the best of independent films and to reach out to the local community and beyond. This gem of a building is still doing what it was built to do over one hundred years ago.

There is a lovely cafe too, famous for its excellent home baked cakes. Visit and enjoy! The Phoenix Cinema, High Road, East Finchley, London N2. Nearest tube: East Finchley

This is a Guest Post from prize-winning Blue Badge Guide and author of Jewish London Rachel Kolsky. With Go London Tours she leads guided walks throughout the year focussing on the ‘human stories behind the buildings’. Rachel is a Trustee of The Phoenix and previous Grillee.

Picture: Phoenix auditorium ©Maurita Van Droogenbroek