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Flickering, lost, forgotten: London’s silent picture palaces

Sophie EPleterski10 June 2014

Hale's_Tours_of_the_WorldWill you come with me to a talkie to-day?

During my second film event of the UCL Festival of the Arts in two days, I was transported back to the origins of cinema in London’s ‘filmland’.  From the bright lights of Leicester Square to the back alleys of Soho, our group of fifteen retraced the steps of early twentieth-century film-goers through Bloomsbury and the West End.

There were a few familiar faces from the previous night’s event Memories of 60s Cinema-Going, all equally curious to discover the hidden stories behind these hitherto innocuous buildings dotted around London.

Led by Dr Chris O’Rourke (UCL Centre for Humanities Interdisciplinary Research Projects) who is researching the social experience of cinema-going in the period of silent film, we began in front of the brutish façade of the Odeon on Tottenham Court Road.

The birth of cinema in London, we were told, was Newman Street, 1894, where private demonstrations of peepshow kinetoscope machines showing a mixture of everyday and spectacular theatrical subjects were captivating 19th century audiences.

From these flickering beginnings, 500 cinemas opened in the London area. Tottenham Court Road alone was home to six including The Majestic Picturedrome, Carlton Cinema and The Court (not the pub) where  The Dominion now stands. Somehow they were all commercially successful, just as today’s Starbucks and Costa manage inexplicably to sell enough Americanos to reside next to each other.

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John Bull vs. Stinkomalee: the early days of UCL

RuthHowells20 February 2012

In 1825, a group of men that included Whigs, reformers and lawyers came together to found a university in London aimed at those excluded from the two established English universities Oxford and Cambridge – where teachers and students were required to be subscribing Anglicans.

To mark the anniversary of UCL’s foundation on 11 Feb 1826 – when it went by its original name the University of London – this lunch hour lecture by Professor Rosemary Ashton (UCL English Language & Literature) looked at the opposition to the new university among Tory politicians and journalists, especially in the ultra-Tory newspaper John Bull.

The new university was designed to have “all the leading advantages of the two great universities” and “no barrier to the education of any sect”. The intention was to exclude theological teaching from the curriculum and have no form of religious test for entrance.

The media ‘against’

John Bull took against the idea with vitriol and had a longstanding campaign to ridicule those behind it. Sweeping, exaggerated warnings of threat to church and state were driven by a fear of working-class revolution in the vein of the French model.

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Chemist goes to the Theatre

Claire V JSkipper18 November 2011

Dear All,

Last night, I went to the Bloomsbury Theatre to see the UCLU Drama Society’s production of Much Ado About Nothing.

It was with much trepidation that I settled down to watch with my friend in the modern theatre (with ample leg room), as earlier this year I had seen the West End version and assumed that the amateur production would not compare. I am pleased to report, however, that although the special effects could not compete (the one literally shaky moment being when an arch fell over) the acting would certainly not have been out of place in the West End.

At times, it exceeded expectations and of especial note was the Prince’s Guard who had either taken it upon themselves or been directed to act camp, which added a further dimension of hilarity to this side plot.

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