THE LAST TIME I watched a film at the Everyman cinema in London’s Hampstead was in the 1960s. In my book “Beneath a Wide Sky: Hampstead and its Environs”, which I published in 2022, I described the cinema and my recollections of it as follows:
“It was at the Everyman that I went to the cinema for the first time in my life. My parents, who were not regular cinemagoers, decided that the rather sad French film, “The Red Balloon” (first released in the UK in late 1956), was a suitable production to introduce me, a four-and-a-half-year-old, to the joys of cinema. My parents, who tended to avoid popular culture, probably selected the “Red Balloon”, an arty French film, because it was a little more recherché than the much more popular Disney films that appeared in the late 1950s. The cinema, which still exists, was, according to Christopher Wade, built in 1888 as a drill hall for The Hampstead Rifle Volunteers. Then, in 1919 its windows were bricked-in, and it became MacDermott’s Everyman Theatre. In 1933, it became a cinema. I saw many more films there in my childhood and adolescence. Every year, there used to be a festival of Marx Brothers films in the summer months. I loved these films and used to visit the Everyman on hot sunny afternoons when I was often the only person in the auditorium. In those days, the cinema’s auditorium had a strange smell that strongly resembled household gas. Indeed, there were gas lamps attached to the walls of the auditorium, but I am certain that I never saw them working. They might have there for use as emergency lighting in case there was an electricity supply failure. These were quite frequent during my childhood but never happened when I was at the Everyman.
The cinema is, I have been told, now a very luxurious place. The seats are comfortable and have tables beside them, at which waiting staff serve food and drinks. This is a far cry from what I can remember of the rather basic cinema in the 1960s. Back in those days, the Everyman, like the now long-gone Academy cinemas in Oxford Street, favoured screenings of ‘arty’ films rather than the more popular films that most cinemas showed. Now, the Everyman, formerly an art-house cinema, thrives by screening films that are most likely to attract full houses. That this is the case is yet more evidence to support the idea that Hampstead is not what it was. Many of the sort of people who might enjoy arty films that attract often small niche audiences, who used to live in Hampstead, can no longer afford to reside in the area.”
Today, the 16th of May 2023, my daughter took me to see a film at the Everyman (see picture). As already mentioned, the cinema is now quite ‘swish’. It had been re-designed late last year. Whereas once it had only one screen, now it has two. We saw our film, “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry”, screened in what was the original auditorium – Screen 1. The ceiling supported by tapering metal struts is how I remember it from at least 50 years ago. Otherwise, all has been changed. The smell of gas has gone. The seating is curious to say the least. It consists of well-upholstered armchairs and couches, all well separated from each other. In between them, there are tables, and metal wine cooler buckets are attached beside each of them. The upholstery materials are colourful and differ from seat to seat. For my taste, the aesthetics are not too successful. The screen is placed high enough so that it does not matter how tall a person sits in the seat in front of you. The acoustics were good. All in all, it was a pleasure revisiting the cinema in which I saw my first ‘movie’ sixty-six years ago.
My book about Hampstead is available from Amazon: