Tag Archives: Shaftesbury Avenue



Words Gordon Ritchie

Photography Etienne Gilfillan


“Moving to a Central London location is something we’ve been wanting to do for a long time. All that we’ve been doing so far has been leading to this.”

The Opening Scene. A black screen. A voiceover; “Something incredible happens when the lights go out and the film starts.” The Picture House. The name stirs up a vague recollection. I can picture the logo. Not trendy, not fashionable, a touch quirky, slightly retro. Harking back to the peak celluloid era, the seventies. That decade’s version of Jay Gatsby’s jazz age. Discreet. The Picture House. It used to be a common phrase “I wonder what’s on at The Picture House?”

The screen opens to a montage; “The idea has always been to create an alternative to the multiplex experience. Each Picturehouse cinema is unique in it’s own way.”I’d been to the Gate in Notting Hill and I’d seen signs out in Qxford and darkest Dalston. Survivors, independent, keeping the Hammer Horror werewolves from the door. This was the impression I got. Cinemas run for fans by fans, staffed by students, motivated by pleasure not profit. Marketing Manager, Toby King explains “Picturehouse is 25 years old, co-founded by Lyn Golby who remains Managing Director. The first cinema acquired was the Phoenix in Oxford. Since, Picturehouse have been acquiring and building cinemas, and now have over 20 sites across the country and more on the way.”

So this was the same people, now opening in a prime London property – one block from Piccadilly, in the old Trocadero – with seven screens to provide screams, laughter and tears. An amusement park full of emotional rollercoaster rides, using what someone once called, and a million have repeated ‘the greatest art form of all’. “Soho is an essential part of the UK’s film and creative industries and we’re proud to be rubbing shoulders here. Moving to a Central London location is something we’ve been wanting to do for a long time. All that we’ve been doing so far has been leading to this. It might be a bold statement but it’s one we’re ready for and we’re thrilled to be here. We know we have something to offer the cinema scene in the West-End. We’ve hit the ground running.”

A white tile exterior at ground level shows how this corner has changed. Under the pillars that support the white tiled ceiling hang large lampshades that on a foggy London night could make quite a noir-ish rendezvous for men in trench coats and fedoras to meet femme fatales in hats, coats and heels. Kiss them curtly, capture their hearts and hurry them inside to watch Humphrey and Greta in black and white. A boulevard of hopes and dreams. And Toby King hopes the cinema’s selections reflect its aspirations. “What’s important for us is playing the best films. At Central on any given day we could be playing the latest blockbuster as well as a surprisingly fantastic documentary about sheep breeders in Yorkshire or a strand of LGBT films or the latest quirky US comedy or a new release of a classic.”

A quick look to see what’s on reveals a real variety show. From music documentaries to blockbusters and classics for the kids to smaller quirky indie films, the signs are looking good. Glancing into the lobby,  I see a majestic staircase, adorned with amazing illustrations and lit by a meteoric shower of glowing. The ground floor cafe looks impressive with its wooden floorboards, 50s style furniture in pastel hues, young smartly clad staff and the white and silver all important retro coffee machine. ”We want people to relax and enjoy the space in cinemas.”

In the cafe there is a little buzz, but not overly busy, easy to find a seat. I sit back and try to decipher the story of what the illustrations on the walls are trying to say. Modern and edgy interpretations of cinema’s colourful history. I’m drawn to see a film. Up the stairs, a spacious colourful bar on the left, on the right the donuts look delicious but we settle for popcorn, always a winner. Up to Screen 7, up multiple escalators and floors adorned with original frescoes and a soon to be opened members bar promising what should be incredible roof terraces. “The Members Bar should be opening in October. It’s a stunning space. Located over 2 floors with a roof terrace offering wonderful views over Piccadilly and Haymarket. It’s going to be a beautiful cocktail bar.”   This Picture House is a work in progress, but the final result should be a real hot ticket.

Arriving at our cinema, we settle into the comfy sofa style seat for two in the back row. Finally we made it to our destination! After the film, it’s back to the First floor bar. This is a cool space. Yellow leather low lying sofas and green upholstered chairs are spread out across the room. It’s open, relaxing and not too loud. The food tested and tasted is good and it’s a great place to talk, with great views on the street life below. As Soho fights to retain it’s sense of uniqueness, this cinema has taken one of the biggest and boldest moves yet. In every sense it’s Rocky taking on Apollo Creed, it’s Mission Impossible is to survive in the centre of the West-End with an independent style swagger. Support your local cinema, and they’ll give it back to you in left field selections, special events, and tasty popcorn and donuts, and so much more. “We are holding special events, premieres, various film festivals, Q&As, party’s almost daily as well as our regular programming. We are also a main venue for this years London Film Festival and we’ll be hosting Sundance Film Festival London in June 2016.”There is a whole crew working behind the scenes to make Picturehouse Central a success and they deserve credit. Soho wills and needs them to succeed. As the credits roll on the wall with the names of early supporters of this immense effort, remember this was really only the beginning. The screen fades to black. The End.



Words Jane Singer

Illustrations Natalka Talkowska

Shaftesbury Avenue… This is the seventh heaven street to me” Wild West End, Dire Straits

The birthplace of Cat Stevens and a film location for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1, Shaftesbury Avenue is in the heart of the West-End. Just shy of a mile, this road was once the home of slum dwellings and now boasts world-class theatres showing hit musicals and links several areas of London together.

In the 1860s and 70s, the need for improved communication between Piccadilly Circus and Charing Cross, and between Charing Cross and Tottenham Court Road was frequently discussed, but little more was mentioned of the Piccadilly to Bloomsbury route until 1876. By then, a long line of improved east-west communication from Shoreditch to Bloomsbury was almost complete, and the Metropolitan Board of Works realised that the amount of additional traffic which would be brought into Oxford Street and which would make its way towards Charing Cross would require the formation of a direct link from Oxford Street to Piccadilly and to Charing Cross. The board therefore applied to Parliament for the necessary powers, which were granted by the Metropolitan Street Improvements Act, 1877.

This Act authorised the Board to form the streets now known as Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue. The line of these new streets was drawn up jointly by the Board’s superintending architect, George Vulliamy, and the engineer, Sir Joseph Bazalgette. Unfortunately, nearly 10 years elapsed between the passing of the Act of 1877 and the opening of the two streets. When Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue were finally opened, they marked not only the formation of over a mile of main thoroughfare 60 ft. wide, but also the abolition of some of the worst slums in London and the rehousing of over 3000 of the labouring classes.

Parliament had placed on The Metropolitan Board of Works, the obligation to provide housing for all displaced members of the labouring classes before work could begin. It wasn’t until December 1884 that the Home Secretary certified that the Board had now sufficiently provided artisans’ dwellings for more than 2000 of the labouring classes. Shortly afterwards, demolition work began at the south end of Shaftesbury Avenue. The gross cost was £1,136,456 and after deduction of the value of the land acquired, the net cost was £758,887. Opening in January 1886, the board named the street Shaftesbury Avenue, in memory of the recently deceased 7th Earl of Shaftesbury, Anthony Ashley Cooper, much of whose work for the poor of London had been done in the area traversed by the new street. Charing Cross Road was opened in February 1887.

An abundance of architectural styles form Shaftesbury Avenue. The segmental sweep for the first stage of its progress from Piccadilly Circus to Cambridge Circus, offered the opportunities of another Regent Street Quadrant. The fronts were of red brick, dressed with terra-cotta or red sandstone or Portland stone, the heights varying from three to five storeys with a skyline of gables or turrets of French or Flemish Renaissance derivation.

The south side, at the Piccadilly end, begins with the London Pavilion, its style, though ornate, and its chief material, Bath stone, relating it more closely to Nash’s buildings than to the rest of Shaftesbury Avenue. Nos. 26–32 east of the Trocadero have a front of Portland stone finished with Baroque gables derived from Norman Shaw. On the east corner of Rupert Street is an example of Martin and Purchase’s insipid work. Beyond is an interesting group that has been attributed to Thomas Harris, probably built about the same time, in 1889, and all featuring the motif of elliptical-headed arches; Nos. 58–60 are of brick, now painted, No. 62 is faced with stone, and No. 45 Wardour Street, forming part of the group, is of red brick dressed with stone.

On the north side, between Piccadilly Circus and Denman Street, three buildings were erected during 1888–9. From west to east these were first, Piccadilly Mansions, an elaborate but bland design again by Martin and Purchase, with ‘P.M.’ figuring on the terra-cotta gables; then came the Café Monico extension, by Christopher and White, with more character than its neighbours, and then Piccadilly House, with a fussy elevation, both these last have now been demolished.

Four theatres; the Lyric, Apollo, Globe and Queen’s—occupy almost all of the north side of Shaftesbury Avenue between Denman and Wardour Streets. No longer in existence, is the Saville Theatre which became a cinema in 1970, first known as ABC1 and ABC2, and since 2001 as Odeon Covent Garden. Another, the Curzon cinema, is located in the middle of the Avenue. Shaftesbury Avenue is also the beginning of London Chinatown. The number of Chinese businesses on the avenue has been on the increase with the present Chinatown not emerging until the 1970s. Up until then, it was a regular run-down Soho area. The area boasts over 80 restaurants showcasing some of London’s finest and most authentic Asian cuisine.

Shaftsbury Avenue, like much of the surrounding areas, is imbued with history and despite its traffic, noise and dirt, it still remains a focal point of the capital, drawing in tourists and locals. Whilst musicals and plays enjoy a healthy turnaround on Shaftsbury Avenue, they are minor in comparison against the façade of history and sublime architecture of this wonderful street.