The Story So Far
This page includes a complete history of the McGuffin Film Society and the campaign to save Waltham Forest’s EMD Cinema. All images are © The McGuffin Group – except for images depicting film advertising or persons participating in those films, where copyright resides with the current owner. The McGuffin Film Society is a non profit-making fully independent community organisation run by volunteers. The Society is concerned with the promotion of quality film and TV and the preservation of Waltham Forest’s EMD Cinema as an important historical, architectural and cultural landmark.
‘The Lost Empire – Walthamstow’s EMD Cinema’ by Esperanza Jimenez Saez.
The McGuffin Film Society was formed at the beginning of 2001 following Odeon Cinema’s decision to sell their historic Waltham Forest site as part of a country-wide disposal of older style venues. The former Walthamstow Granada was sold to EMD Cinemas with a restrictive clause preventing the new owners from screening English language films, effectively signalling the end of local cinema-going for many of the borough’s residents.
The Society was initially set up to circumvent these decisions and maintain some form of active cinema community in Waltham Forest. The name ‘McGuffin’ was chosen as a sly reference to a plot device commonly used in the films of local born director Alfred Hitchcock (although usually spelt ‘macguffin’ in this context) and to highlight the irony that his birthplace was now the only London borough where his films could not be shown on the big screen!
The founding members of McGuffin quickly reached an agreement with EMD to run an ‘arthouse’ foreign language film club at the venue in order to present the broadest range of movies to the widest audience possible under the restrictive sales clause. Unfortunately, Odeon swiftly thwarted this agreement by insisting the venue should only screen films in “the native languages of the Indian sub-continent”. At this stage, the fledgling McGuffin Film Society abandoned plans for a straightforward foreign language film club and began a campaign to have the EMD Cinema reopened as a community wide resource and fully free of Odeon’s influence.
Within weeks of being established over 100 local people signed up to join the McGuffins and the group’s debut film at the EMD – Satyajit Ray’s ‘The Adversary (Pratidwandi)’ – was shown on Friday 30th March 2001 to a near capacity audience. An inaugural meeting was held the following week at Prospero’s Bookshop in Leytonstone where the founding members and active volunteers of the Society were formally validated by the membership and an Executive Committee was formed. A rigorous Constitution was then drawn up, specifically aimed at protecting the Society from interference or infiltration from external commercial or non-cultural interests. It was also agreed that McGuffin would not seek any form of arts funding or public subsidy and all activities should be financially self-sustaining.
With the help of the local press, the borough’s MPs and various film industry professionals, a campaign was launched to persuade Odeon to drop their claims on the Waltham Forest cinema. Walthamstow MP Neil Gerrard agreed to table an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons in support of the campaign and former National Film Theatre supremo Leslie Hardcastle offered to petition Odeon on the Society’s behalf. The McGuffin campaign immediately generated a great deal of local and national media coverage which helped ignite a nationwide debate on the appropriate use and preservation of historic cinema buildings.
After several months of campaigning, Odeon finally relented and agreed to revise its original sales clause to enable the EMD to operate as a fully independent cinema. The McGuffins immediately booked Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘The Man Who Knew Too Much’ for a symbolic victory screening at the EMD on 11th May 2001.
The McGuffin Film Society then began to schedule its own eclectic programme of “classic, cult and curious” films at the venue. McGuffin screenings attracted large and diverse audiences throughout 2001 for films including the Coen Brothers’ ‘Blood Simple’, Jean Luc Godard’s ‘Bande a Part’, ‘Carry On Up The Jungle’, ‘Theatre Of Blood’, ‘Delicatessen’, ‘Story Of Qui Ju’, ‘Roma’, ‘Raise The Red Lantern’, ‘Bus Stop’ and the Russian science fiction classic ‘Solaris’.
In November 2001 the Society held a very successful 1960s TV Night with vintage episodes of ‘Secret Service’, ‘Doctor Who’, ‘Danger Man’, ‘Captain Scarlet’ etc. on the big screen alongside original trailers and adverts from the period. The Society was also delighted to be joined by former ‘Doctor Who’ star Katy Manning for a live onstage interview.
By the end of 2001 membership of McGuffin reached almost 1000 people and would soon achieve the highest numbers for any film society in Britain. Meanwhile, work began on a longer term ambition to restore many of the EMD’s original features including the 1930s projection box along with the neglected stage and lighting facilities in Cinema 1. Earlier in the year the Society had launched the McGuffins Film and TV Quiz Night as a regular fundraising event and this would provide valuable resources for this project and other initiatives.
The McGuffin Film Society began 2002 with a series of events to commemorate the life and work of Alfred Hitchcock including screenings of ‘Strangers on a Train’ and ‘Sabotage’. 2002 saw a further upsurge in membership and consistently high attendances for EMD shows including ‘Malcolm X’, ‘The Flower Of My Secret’, ‘Exterminating Angel’, ‘Yojimbo’, ‘Night On Earth’ and the French spinechiller ‘Les Diaboliques’. In May 2002 the Society staged a 35th anniversary celebration of Patrick McGoohan’s cult TV series ‘The Prisoner’ which attracted a capacity audience to the venue and featured guest appearances by leading British character actor Kenneth Griffith, stuntman Frank Maher, director Tony Sloman and writer Robert Fairclough.
In September 2002 the McGuffins staged ‘London On Film’, an exhaustive three day festival showcasing the most original and unusual films shot in the capital. The festival was held at the EMD Cinema and various other venues around the borough including the Ross Wyld Hall, the Sir Alfred Hitchcock Hotel, the Epicentre and the Grove Tavern. The festival featured a wide range of films by new directors screened alongside established titles including ‘Wonderland’ and ‘Passport to Pimlico’. The McGuffins also secured the UK premiere of Patrick Keillor’s ‘Dilapidated Dwelling’ as the finale to the weekend. In October 2002 the Society teamed up with MTV Europe to film ‘It’s Only A Movie’ at the EMD, a tongue-in-cheek documentary tracing the history of horror films which was broadcast on Halloween night. The year ended with a visit by respected film historian Michael Burrows who delivered his acclaimed John Ford Lecture in Cinema 3 of the EMD.
Sadly, towards the close of 2002 it was announced the EMD Cinema was again to be sold. The prospective buyer this time was the Universal Church of The Kingdom of God (UCKG), a wealthy international religious organisation with plans to convert the venue into a place of worship. UCKG had offered more than double the venue’s market value to persuade the owners to sell the cinema.
With the help of various sympathetic local councillors, a significant challenge was mounted to prevent UCKG obtaining planning permission to pursue their scheme. McGuffin members staged a public demonstration at Waltham Forest Town Hall which received a great deal of newspaper coverage and featured prominently on the national BBC News. On Tuesday 12 November 2002 Waltham Forest Council’s planning committee voted unanimously to reject the Church plan.
The church organisation then lodged an appeal with central government aimed at overturning the planning committee decision. It was announced the government would hold a Public Inquiry to determine the fate of the cinema at some point in the months ahead. The McGuffins pledged to contest UCKG’s appeal and began preparing detailed evidence to be presented at the forthcoming Public Inquiry while mobilising further support for the campaign to save the troubled cinema.
To mark the closing night of the EMD, the McGuffins organised an enormous charity gala performance at the cinema on Friday 3 January 2003. The main film of the evening was the 1957 comedy ‘The Smallest Show On Earth’ and this was accompanied by a series of shorter films reflecting the venue’s long and illustrious history.
The event also featured a performance by internationally acclaimed musician Simon Gledhill who gave a memorable recital on the EMD’s historic Christie organ. Additional live entertainment was provided by stuntman Terry Cole, a very popular George Formby impersonator and various guest speakers. Cinema 1 was completely restyled and rejuvenated to give the evening an authentic 1930s flavour. The event was attended by over 500 people with several hundred more turned away due to lack of space. The gala was an immense success and sufficiently profitable to enable the McGuffins to make a £2000 donation to Haven House, a local children’s hospice.
The McGuffin Film Society then organised a further campaign of letter writing and petitioning aimed at central government to demonstrate the strength of local feeling in support of the cinema. More than 2500 objections were collected from supporters.
Over the weekend of 26-27 January 2003, an illegal rave party was held at the cinema and sound equipment, original furniture and fittings were looted from the building. Many areas of the cinema were covered in graffiti and the unique Christie organ was also damaged. UCKG claimed to have no prior knowledge of this event – although the McGuffins immediately received eyewitness accounts of alleged church members visiting the premises shortly beforehand.
Throughout the spring and summer of 2003 the McGuffin campaign to save the cinema continued to receive widespread national press, TV and radio coverage while attracting many high profile supporters. London Mayor Ken Livingstone declared his support for the campaign in a letter to the Society and travelled to Walthamstow for a personal meeting. A message of support was also received from Alfred Hitchcock’s daughter Patricia Hitchcock O’Connell, writing from her home in California. The national office of the Musicians Union contacted the Society to pledge their backing for the campaign.
On Monday 9th June, the McGuffin Film Society organised a large demonstration and vigil in support of the cinema at Waltham Forest Town Hall and this received further newspaper and television coverage for the campaign.
On 10th June 2003, government inspectors arrived in Waltham Forest to begin the much anticipated Public Inquiry.
UCKG made their case for converting the building into a church while arguments to preserve the venue as a cinema were voiced by the local authority and the McGuffin Film Society with further representations made by individual residents and a range of organisations including the Cinema Theatre Association. It was originally anticipated that the Public Inquiry would be concluded within several days but proceedings eventually ran to almost three weeks as detailed arguments were articulated by all sides. At the end of the Public Inquiry, the planning inspectors began preparing a report for the Office of The Deputy Prime Minister based on the evidence they had heard.
McGuffin film screenings continued intermittently throughout this period of the campaign. Various films including ‘Hue and Cry’ and ‘Bend It Like Beckham’ were screened at the Epicentre in Leytonstone and the Society also became involved in organising the first ever Walthamstow Festival which was created in direct response to the EMD’s loss. The Festival took place over the weekend of 6-7 September and launched with the debut McGuffins Open Air Cinema in Walthamstow Town Square, the first major big screen film show in the borough since the closure of the EMD. The evening was formally opened by the local Mayor and several hundred people crowded into the Square to watch ‘Monsoon Wedding’ and a short film about the EMD which was produced especially for the event. The first Open Air Cinema was a great success, attracting a good deal of positive publicity for Walthamstow and helping to kick-start a wider interest in outdoor film screenings which would become much more prevalent across London in the years ahead.
On 21st October, the concluding report by the Planning Inspectorate was published. It recommended that the UCKG proposals be dismissed and the EMD retained as a cinema. This view was endorsed by the government and UCKG were informed they had lost their appeal. A tense few weeks followed as campaigners waited to hear if UCKG would contest the decision in the High Court. However, by the close of 2003 it became apparent UCKG had declined to do so as all deadlines for further appeals had then been reached. Waltham Forest Council announced that a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) would be served on UCKG if they refused to voluntarily sell the cinema.
Early in 2004 the McGuffin Film Society was honoured at a prestigious awards ceremony held at London’s National Film Theatre (BFI Southbank). The Society received the award for ‘Community Contribution’ in recognition of both the campaign to save the EMD and maintaining local film screenings during its closure. The award was presented by Danish film director Henrik Ruben Genz.
A short-term cinema venue was then opened at Walthamstow’s Plough Inn to continue local film shows while the EMD remained idle. Various films including ‘Dirty Pretty Things’, ‘Run Lola Run’ and the British horror classic ‘The Haunting’ were screened and the McGuffins were delighted to welcome actor David Benson for 16 sell-out performances of his award-winning West End hit ‘Think No Evil Of Us – My Life with Kenneth Williams’. In the summer of 2004 the Society organised a sell-out screening of the German comedy ‘Goodbye Lenin!’ for the closing night of the Leytonstone Festival which was again held at the Epicentre. Another successful Open Air Cinema event was staged as part of the second Walthamstow Festival on Saturday 4 September 2004. The main film of the evening was the comedy fantasy ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou?’, accompanied by live music from urban bluegrass band Hillbilly Express. The event was attended by around 500 people.
Throughout 2004 the Society continued to receive expressions of interest from potential buyers of the EMD Cinema and towards the close of the year a petition was delivered to UCKG containing more than 1000 signatures urging the organisation to sell the building.
With intermittent discussions between the local authority and UCKG failing to make progress, 2005 saw the continuation of McGuffin film shows at the temporary Plough Inn venue. Screenings included the acclaimed Iraqi drama ‘Turtles Can Fly’, the classic musical ‘All That Jazz’ and the satirical horror ‘Shadow of the Vampire’ as well the UK premiere of the Estonian travelogue ‘Adventure High’, a guest appearance by ‘Doctor Who’ script editor Andrew Cartmel and the return of actor David Benson who presented his evening of ‘Kenneth Williams TV Gems and Rarities’ direct from a sell-out performance at the National Film Theatre. The McGuffins were also closely involved with the organisation and promotion of the third Walthamstow Festival which saw a range of cultural events taking place around the area including live music and theatre performances as well as the first E17 Art Trail. A third Open Air Cinema was held to launch the Festival, attracting a record audience for a screening of the recently released sci-fi comedy ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy’ which was accompanied by a new short film about the EMD Cinema.
In the summer of 2005 the McGuffin Film Society assisted the local council with a public consultation in order to obtain a clear picture of the demands of cinemagoers in Waltham Forest and examine the options for cinema provision in the borough. The McGuffins organised a large public meeting as the centrepiece of the consultation process which was held at Waltham Forest Theatre on July 10 and attended by more than 400 people, amply demonstrating the continuing strong support for reopening the EMD. Representatives from UCKG also attended the meeting although they did not participate in the debate.
In September 2005 it was announced UCKG intended to sell the cinema.
A frenzy of speculation then ensued with the cinema sale again pushing the EMD to the forefront of local news and UCKG soon admitting there had been a “high level of interest” from potential buyers. Several bidders held discussions with the McGuffin Film Society and confirmed that site visits to the cinema had revealed the interior remained in good condition and suitable for imminent revival.
By early 2006 UCKG announced a “preferred bidder” had been identified and estate agents Humberts Leisure confirmed a deal was close to agreement. It was also revealed UCKG would no longer seek to acquire cinema buildings for their activities.
The Society’s events at the temporary Plough Inn venue concluded in April with a memorable sell-out performance by Neil Innes, star of the classic comedy ‘The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash’ and famous for his work with Monty Python and the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band. A fourth Open Air Cinema event was staged in August with the 1966 film ‘Daleks: Invasion Earth 2150 A.D.’ shown on the big screen and live music provided by 10-piece soul band Motherfunk – with a gold Dalek on patrol throughout the proceedings!
The summer months also saw the completion of work on the McGuffin documentary film ‘The Last Days of the EMD Cinema’ which examined both the history of the venue and the campaign to save it from closure. The documentary can be viewed here.
As 2006 came to a close, serious disquiet was voiced by some cinema bidders and complaints about the painfully slow pace of sale negotiations were made public. UCKG issued a statement claiming the continued uncertainty over the council’s redevelopment of the adjacent Arcade site had proven to be an “obstacle” in their negotiations with some bidders. The neighbouring land had originally been earmarked for a new public library but this scheme had collapsed and the future of the development was now the subject of some speculation. As rumours began to emerge of a plan to build a rival multiplex cinema on the site, UCKG issued a further statement claiming “something better is now on the table” then suspended negotiations with their bidders and withdrew the EMD from sale.
Following some key political and personnel changes at the council, early 2007 brought confirmation that the local authority was now examining options for a new commercially-financed multiplex on the former Arcade site rather than pursuing a Compulsory Purchase of the EMD Cinema.
Amidst a growing public pessimism about the cinema’s fate, McGuffin members were invited to private meetings with council representatives in an attempt to secure the Society’s support for the multiplex project. However, the group insisted it would not endorse any alternative cinema scheme while the EMD remained viable. The McGuffin Film Society continued to argue vociferously for the venue’s revival in the local press and wider London media while a dedicated webpage was also set up to encourage residents to lobby their councillors directly on the issue.
During the spring, the local authority engaged the Prince’s Trust for the Built Environment to create a regeneration masterplan for Walthamstow town centre. The Prince’s Trust invited the McGuffins to present a written submission about the EMD and a detailed report was duly prepared. McGuffin organisers and supporters also attended a range of meetings to make the case for placing the venue’s revival at the heart of regeneration initiatives.
The Society meanwhile opened another temporary cinema venue at Walthamstow’s Forest Recycling Building to cater for local filmgoers while the EMD remained in limbo.
A sell-out season of films under the banner ‘Radical Screen’ was presented at the venue which included ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’, ‘Oi For England’ and ‘How Arnold Won The West’ along with a special screening of ‘McLibel’ attended by its stars Helen Steel and Dave Morris.
The McGuffins Open Air Cinema 2007 saw 800 people flocking into Walthamstow for a screening of the Hollywood blockbuster ‘The Illusionist’, a further timely reminder of the significant enthusiasm for film events amongst local people. The event also featured London’s first ever large scale outdoor quiz night when the McGuffins Quiz was presented live across the town square and gardens to several hundred participants. This was followed by an energetic performance from the London Philharmonic Skiffle Orchestra who entertained the crowds prior to the main film.
Disappointingly, 2007 came to a close with news that the EMD Cinema had been excluded from the Prince’s Trust regeneration remit and would not feature in the proposed town centre masterplan. This unwelcome development was closely followed by the shock revelation of a proposed £884,000 council subsidy to help a private developer build a new cinema on the EMD’s doorstep.
The news of the £884,000 multiplex subsidy led to more than 400 protestors demonstrating against the scheme outside the EMD in January 2008 on the fifth anniversary of the venue’s closure. The council’s U-turn over its commitment to the EMD Cinema was widely condemned and a rush of support for the McGuffin campaign pushed membership numbers above 2000 for the first time and generated a further flurry of press coverage.
It was revealed the proposed multiplex would be part of an 18-20 storey tower block which would include 200 flats and various retail units. Hoardings appeared in central Walthamstow proclaiming the new development to be underway, with a planning application due in the autumn and building set to commence at the beginning of 2009.
The McGuffins organised a one day film festival in January to highlight the EMD’s plight and place it within the wider context of Waltham Forest’s neglected cinematic heritage. ‘Waltham Forest on Film’ was held at the Victoria bar, part of the original EMD complex. A packed programme of screenings included the Alfred Hitchcock rarity ‘Number 17’, the documentary ‘Hollywood E17’, various works by local filmmakers and the William Morris biopic ‘News from Nowhere’. Around 200 people attended the busy event but at least as many were turned away due to lack of space.
A more relaxed second event was staged at the Victoria bar when the McGuffins Silent Film Night took place on Saturday 24 May. The evening featured a selection of beautifully restored silent film classics including Buster Keaton’s ‘Cops’ and the Lon Chaney spinechiller ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ with specially composed live musical accompaniment performed by E17 Jazz.
The sixth McGuffins Open Air Cinema took place in Walthamstow town centre on Saturday 12 July and featured the colourful Hollywood musical ‘On The Town’, starring Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly. The event also boasted a live appearance by the celebrated John Garfield Swing Band who performed a selection of classic songs from the 1940s and 1950s. Waltham Forest Council offered to underwrite the cost of this year’s event but the McGuffin Film Society opted to finance it from existing funds.
A Halloween Film Night was held at Walthamstow’s Castle pub on 31 October with a selection of horror films shown on a specially installed screen. Highlights included Christopher Lee’s ‘Scars of Dracula’, the TV suspense drama ‘The Thai Bride’ and a selection of horror shorts and vintage film trailers. October 2008 also saw the debut of a new McGuffin short film about the EMD Cinema which was subsequently shown throughout the day on the BBC Big Screen in Walthamstow Town Square for the remainder of the year.
Eventually Waltham Forest Council admitted their town centre scheme had proven to be “an illusion” and the entire project was back on the drawing board. Within days, the McGuffin Film Society was alerted to secret talks taking place between council officials and representatives of UCKG…
The new proposals would see the vast majority of the site used exclusively as a church with some space in the former Upstairs Circle area of Cinema 1 adapted to create a small venue which UCKG claimed would eventually be available for “community hire at commercial rates”. The adjoining carpet shop and Victoria pub would also be closed and converted into UCKG ‘training rooms’ and ‘youth centre’. It was announced that PR company the Remarkable Group had been enlisted to help deliver the plan and the new planning application would be published “within six weeks” with UCKG expecting to begin work at the site in August.
The McGuffin Film Society immediately printed more than 20,000 leaflets highlighting this latest threat to the EMD which were quickly distributed to households and businesses in the area by members and supporters. In March 2009 more than 400 people gathered to discuss the new proposals at a public meeting organised by the McGuffin Film Society. 100% of those in attendance voted in favour of reviving the EMD as a cinema in preference to the council’s ‘aspiration’ to build a multiplex in the area. 100% also voted in favour of the council pursuing a Compulsory Purchase Order to take control of the site.
The following month UCKG held an exhibition of their new plans and the McGuffin Film Society responded by organising a huge public protest outside the EMD Cinema which was attended by over 600 supporters, attracting coverage from television, radio and the international press.
Messages of support were received from a number of celebrities including rock legend Sir Mick Jagger, writer Alain de Botton, veteran politician Tony Benn and actors Meera Syal, Tony Robinson, Alan Davies and David Warner. The family of Sidney and Cecil Bernstein – the showbiz moguls who created the cinema in 1930 – also contacted the McGuffin Film Society to declare their support for the campaign. In the months ahead further statements were received from a range of high profile supporters including actors Anna Massey, Paul McGann and Griff Rhys Jones along with BAFTA chairman David Parfitt, writer and film historian Kim Newman, film director Nigel Cole and musician Professor Green. Their statements can be read in full here.
Shortly afterwards, several professional cinema operators went on the record to confirm their ongoing interest in reviving the EMD including James Hannaway of Berkhamsted’s Rex Cinema and Genesis Cinema creator Tyrone Walker-Hebborn. Lyn Goleby – the managing director of independent cinema chain Picturehouse – held meetings with senior council representatives and outlined proposals for the EMD’s revival.
McGuffin film shows continued throughout the year commencing with ‘The Secret Policeman Revisited’ at the Victoria bar on 28 February, an event celebrating the various ‘Secret Policeman’s Ball’ comedy movies produced by Amnesty International. The Victoria bar was also the venue for an evening of films reflecting the EMD’s history on 18 April which was held as an urgent fundraiser for the cinema campaign.
The McGuffin Film Society represented Waltham Forest in London Mayor Boris Johnson’s Story of London Festival in June 2009 with a special event held at Leytonstone’s Heathcote Music Venue celebrating the life and career of Alfred Hitchcock. The sell-out evening featured an 80th anniversary screening of Britain’s first talking picture ‘Blackmail’ and the premiere of the McGuffins 65-minute documentary ‘Alfred Hitchcock in East London’ which had recently been completed. ‘Alfred Hitchcock in East London’ was also shown as part of the Leytonstone Festival and then at the Canadian Vintage Film Festival in Toronto and subsequently released on DVD. In addition, the seventh and final regular McGuffins Open Air Cinema was held in Walthamstow town centre on Saturday 11 July with the classic 1956 rock and roll comedy ‘The Girl Can’t Help It’ shown on a giant outdoor screen although attendance suffered due to challenging weather conditions.
With the McGuffin campaign to save the EMD Cinema again in full swing, UCKG’s new planning application was eventually published in August. A Day of Action was organised by the McGuffin Film Society on Sunday 13 September to enable residents to register their objections to the church proposals. The Day of Action was held across both floors of Walthamstow’s Rose and Crown pub and featured a live performance by actor and 1980s pop star Ed Tudor-Pole, a children’s film screening of ‘A Bug’s Life’ and the premiere of ‘Save Our Screen’, an independent documentary about the campaign to save the EMD. The event was attended by over 600 people.
By the end of the year more than 1000 individual written objections had been sent to the council and a detailed planning submission was presented by the McGuffin Film Society. UCKG was forced to undertake urgent repair work at the cinema following the partial collapse of the neglected building’s canopy and the discovery of asbestos on the site. UCKG’s planning application was placed on hold until the repairs were completed and council officers could access the building to assess their proposals. With a decision on the EMD’s fate again delayed, a Christmas demonstration was held on Saturday 13 December to underline the continued support for the cinema’s revival.
With the EMD issue and UCKG’s plans mired in huge controversy, Waltham Forest Council began 2010 by commissioning a fully independent review to finally provide a balanced overview of the situation and identify viable solutions for the cinema.
Regeneration specialists Locum Consultants were appointed to undertake a thorough investigation of the case and assess all options for the venue’s future. With the review process expected to last several months, it became clear that no decision on the EMD would be reached before the 2010 parliamentary and council elections.
The McGuffin Film Society therefore organised a huge election hustings meeting, inviting all the area’s parliamentary and council candidates to debate the future of the EMD Cinema in public. Under the banner ‘Vote Cinema’, the lively meeting was held in the main hall of Walthamstow School for Girls and attended by more than 500 local residents – a turnout far exceeding any other election event in the borough.
In April senior personnel from Locum Consultants inspected the EMD building and held meetings with key council officers. Representatives from UCKG and the McGuffin Film Society were summoned to the Town Hall for lengthy discussions with the consultants while previous EMD bidders Lyn Goleby and Guy Davis were also interviewed. Waltham Forest Council confirmed that no decision on UCKG’s planning application would be made until the outcome of the Locum investigation had been published.
Following the general election, Walthamstow’s newly elected MP Stella Creasy declared her support for the McGuffin campaign during her maiden speech in the House of Commons. The MP also made several attempts to broker meetings with UCKG to discuss the EMD situation.
In August the Locum Consultants report was finally published and would prove to be a pivotal development in the campaign.
The report firmly endorsed many of the arguments articulated in meetings with the McGuffin Film Society and concluded the EMD was “probably the single most valuable asset Walthamstow has” and its revival would be “perhaps the only venture that could seriously put Walthamstow on the map as an evening destination”. The Locum report went on to recommend that the best option for the EMD would be the formation of an independent charitable Trust to secure and administer its long-term future.
With a decision on UCKG’s planning application now approaching and a council-commissioned report signposting a clear strategy for the EMD, discussions immediately began amongst a wide range of contacts in the hope that a new body could be formed to operate a Trust-style organisation as envisaged by the Locum consultants. Stella Creasy MP also held initial discussions with the Heritage Lottery Fund who confirmed they would be sympathetic to any project designed to revive the EMD as a venue for entertainment.
Later in August the McGuffin Film Society was invited to participate in the Victoria and Albert Museum’s ‘Retro Hollywood’ season. The Society curated a short programme of vintage Hollywood film trailers for exhibition at the Museum and presented two sell-out film quiz events in the venue’s historic Gamble Room. These activities generated a significant contribution to campaign funds and would finance a further extensive leafleting exercise to raise awareness about the latest developments in the EMD saga. Campaign supporters also set up Facebook and Twitter groups to help publicise the cause across the social media networks.
On Saturday 18 September the McGuffin Film Society held a one-day community festival to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the EMD’s opening. The festival took place in the immediate area around the cinema with outdoor activities staged in Hatherley Mews and indoor events at the Victoria bar and neighbouring cafes.
The day’s activities included live music and comedy, an exhibition of EMD-inspired art and photography alongside potential designs for the venue’s revival, craft stalls showcasing the work of local designers and a range of specially-produced 80th anniversary merchandise available for one day only. A children’s screening of ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’ was held in the Grove Cafe while films were shown throughout the day in the Victoria bar. The event was attended by around 800 people and concluded with Stella Creasy MP unveiling a new life-size sculpture of Alfred Hitchcock which had been created especially for the occasion.
Hopes for an imminent decision on UCKG’s planning application were then dashed when the council ordered further urgent repairs to the EMD after debris fell from its neglected frontage on to the street below and reports of roof damage were investigated.
The year began with another illegal weekend rave taking place inside the EMD. Although the intruders themselves inflicted little damage to the property, the incident revealed substantial flooding in the main auditorium which UCKG was promptly forced to rectify.
Spring brought the announcement of the formation of Waltham Forest Cinema Trust, a new charitable enterprise created by representatives of the McGuffin Film Society, Soho Theatre and other interested parties in direct response to the recommendations published in the previous year’s Locum Consultants report. The Trust’s mission was to acquire and reopen the EMD as a venue for entertainment and preserve the building ‘in perpetuity’ as a cultural centre for the whole community.
Waltham Forest Council also announced that a date had finally been set for UCKG’s planning application to be decided at a meeting of the borough’s planning committee.
On the evening of 18 May, hundreds of cinema supporters and UCKG followers descended on Walthamstow Assembly Hall to attend the planning committee meeting. At least 200 cinema supporters were unable to gain access to the Hall due to overcrowding and officials confirmed it was the highest turnout for a council meeting in decades.
Representatives from the McGuffin Film Society and Waltham Forest Cinema Trust spoke alongside Stella Creasy MP and individual local councillors and residents in opposition to UCKG’s plans while church leaders delivered an angry defence of their scheme.
At the conclusion of the rowdy and often ill-tempered meeting the planning committee voted unanimously to reject UCKG’s plans, reflecting cross-party support for retaining the EMD as a cinema.
Three days later the McGuffin Film Society staged ‘When The Master Met The Mistress’, a celebratory event exploring the creative relationship between Alfred Hitchcock and Daphne du Maurier. The sell-out evening was held at Leytonstone Lecture Hall as part of a one-off Waltham Forest Festival of Literature and featured a screening of Hitchcock’s classic Hollywood hit ‘The Birds’, a specially-commissioned live theatrical adaptation of du Maurier’s original short story and a selection of documentary films. The event concluded at the Luna Lounge jazz bar with a late night performance by musicians Splatter and ex-Stranglers guitarist John Ellis who presented a semi-improvised set accompanied by an eclectic mix of Hitchcock clips, trailers and rarities.
McGuffin activities continued in June with ‘Picture Show’ a joint event held in partnership with E17 Arthouse featuring an exhibition of cinema-inspired artworks from more than 20 East London artists, designers and photographers. The exhibition was launched on Saturday 25 June with a live event featuring various guest speakers and music from the Jazzaholics.
On 22 July the McGuffin Film Society presented the first major film event at Orford House in Walthamstow Village when a ‘Summer Cinema Soiree’ was held as a thank-you to EMD supporters. Tickets sold out weeks in advance and the busy evening featured live music from ‘art deco’ dance band Champagne Charlie and the Bubbly Boys, a range of guest speakers and the first public screening of ‘Godard and Others’, a new British comedy film starring Paul McGann.
McGuffin events were then brought to a temporary halt as rumours circulated about a possible UCKG legal challenge over the council’s EMD planning decision.
Initial discussions between UCKG’s legal representatives and the council revealed the church group was primarily interested in pursuing a paper-based appeal with all submissions presented in writing for assessment by a government inspector. The council insisted this was unacceptable and any appeal should be heard in the public arena.
As the year closed and the deadline for any government intervention was about to expire, UCKG delivered last-minute documents to the Planning Inspectorate outlining their intention to challenge the council’s EMD verdict at a full Public Inquiry.
The McGuffin Film Society immediately began promoting details of the appeal process, collecting objections and introducing a website facility enabling residents to send comments directly to the government’s Planning Inspectorate. Over 1000 objections were submitted in time for the 24 February deadline.
During preparatory meetings between the church organisation, local authority and government inspectors, UCKG unveiled a hastily revised plan for the EMD which now involved operating the venue as a hybrid church-cinema. The government inspectors judged this as effectively an entirely new proposal and the Inquiry could not be allowed to proceed under these circumstances. UCKG were granted a further period of time to formalise their latest scheme as yet another planning application and this was delivered to Waltham Forest Council in June.
Public anger and frustration at UCKG’s perceived delaying tactics meant that a further 1000 planning objections were quickly amassed before the July 7 deadline. UCKG’s manoeuvring also allowed Waltham Forest Cinema Trust additional time to prepare more detailed and thoroughly costed plans for the cinema’s potential revival.
A second planning committee meeting at Walthamstow Assembly Hall was set for September 4 which again saw hundreds of residents gather in support of the EMD and UCKG’s planning application unanimously rejected once more.
In October the government confirmed a Public Inquiry could now proceed and would consider both versions of UCKG’s recent plans. Thursday 29 November was scheduled for the opening session of the Inquiry, prompting an additional 700 last-minute objections being sent to the Planning Inspectorate.
As the Inquiry began, the Cabinet of Waltham Forest Council met on Tuesday December 4 and voted unanimously to support a Compulsory Purchase Order of the EMD Cinema if UCKG’s plans were rejected by the government. Although a CPO had been debated on many occasions in the past, this was the first time it had been subjected to a vote and formally adopted as council policy.
The Public Inquiry ran for a period of three weeks and evidence was heard from the McGuffin Film Society, Waltham Forest Cinema Trust, Curzon Cinemas, Soho Theatre and a wide range of expert witnesses who all argued in support of the EMD’s revival.
The gruelling Inquiry eventually concluded a few days before Christmas and it was announced that a final decision should be expected in May 2013.
On 23 May 2013 the goverment announced that all UCKG’s plans for the EMD Cinema had been rejected and the venue should be retained for cultural and entertainment use. At the close of 2014 UCKG began negotiations to sell the EMD Cinema to a development consortium. The sale was finalised in May 2015 and a temporary ‘pop up’ pub opened in the cinema foyer at the end of the year. Ambitious long-term plans for a full scale revival of the EMD Cinema would nonetheless continue to be formulated…