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architecture Art and Culture Comedy Community History Music Palmers Green Planning and open spaces Southgate

‘Intimate’ destruction?

There may soon be one fewer historic building in Palmers Green following news this week of plans to demolish the Intimate Theatre and replace it with a new parish centre and flats.

There have long been rumours that the Intimate’s days were numbered. St Monica’s, who own the site, first made a successful planning application to replace the theatre (also known as the Large Hall) with a single story parish centre in 1992.

This week’s parish newsletter announces plans to demolish it and to also sell the current Parish Centre on Cannon Hill – which is a Grade 2 listed regency villa.

As you may be aware, the Large Hall and Parish Centre at Cannon House require major investment. Even after such investment they remain, in design, a theatre and private residence. Existing expenditure on maintaining these building is costly and will continue to be in the future. The buildings are not energy-efficient and some areas cannot be accessed by those with impaired mobility. To meet the present and envisaged future needs of the parish, it is proposed to build a new Parish Centre, one that will be a legacy for future generations.

Of course, the Intimate already has a legacy, and was successfully nominated for Enfield Council’s Local Heritage List two years ago. The site of Sir John Clements’ famous theatre company, the first play ever to have been broadcast live on television was beamed from the Intimate and it is one of the last surviving local theatres in London. Those who have trodden the boards include Richard Attenborough (making his stage debut), Irene Handl, Anna Wing, Nicholas Parsons, Roger Moore, Arthur Lowe, Bill Owen, John Inman, Dad’s Army writer Jimmy Perry and his wife Gilda, Tony Blackburn, Stephen Berkoff, Davy Graham, David Bowie, The Wurzels, Joe

bowie
David Bowie appeared in Poirrot in Turquoise for four nights in the late 1960s

Brown, George Melly, Tommy Trinder, Hinge and Bracket, and, in panto, Bill Pertwee, Ruth Madoc, and John Noakes.  Many of those have of course passed now. And it seems that so too will our old Intimate.

St Monica’s are holding a parish meeting about the plans on 18 September at 7.30. At the Intimate Theatre.

 

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architecture Art and Culture Comedy Community History Music Palmers Green

Every street in Palmers Green #5: Ladies and Gentlemen, live from Palmers Green…

The Intimate Theatre image (c) St Monica's church
The Intimate Theatre image (c) St Monica’s church

A giant mast towered above the Intimate Theatre, dwarfing neighbouring St Monica’s Church. Below, the car park buzzed with BBC crew, clutching clipboards and hurrying about with technical equipment. Inside the theatre, dressed up to the nines, the audience hummed with excitement, chirruping to neighbours while they waited for the performance to start and the cameras to roll. It was 2 December 1946 and the Intimate Theatre Palmers Green was about to play host to a first – the broadcast of a play live on television – George and Margaret, a comedy by Gerald Savory.

It had always been the intention that the Intimate would accommodate some theatrical productions, but national fame certainly hadn’t been part of the original plan. The theatre had begun its life as St Monica’s Church Hall in 1931. Opened by Cardinal Bourne, it had been built by the church as a place for good clean fun – church groups and meetings, dancing – there was a sprung floor – and yes, a little amateur dramatics – there was modern equipment and a balcony. In the 1930s, people made their own fun.

It all changed when in 1935 25-year-old John Clements approached the church with plans to run his own theatre. Clements was already beginning to make a name for himself on stage and screen but the circumstances under which he came to be able to put in a bid for the Intimate and the exact financial arrangements with St Monica’s don’t seem entirely clear – or indeed why he chose Palmers Green, though the hall appears to have been just the right size for his plans. Perhaps it was PG’s reputation for manicured respectability and keeping-up-with-the-neighbours, including in matters of culture. Most nearby theatres focused on variety performances – there was nothing in the area catering to a higher brow.

Whatever went on behind the scenes in securing a lease from St Monica’s only four years after they had built the hall for themselves, Clements got his wish. Among the plans were new seating, but, says Geoff Bowden in his fascinating book about the Intimate, all did not go quite to plan. The first play to run at the Intimate was to be Dover Road by AA Milne on Boxing Day 1935. The delivery of the new seats on Christmas Eve was delayed and workmen downed tools. Undaunted the actors rolled up their sleeves and did it themselves, and then did the show!

After a short interlude the theatre opened proper and from January 1936 began the reperatory theatre traditional routine of a play a week which was to continue for many years.

The process of a play a week at the Intimate was certainly more arduous than glamorous. At any one time the company would be performing one play, rehearsing another, and learning lines for a third. The conditions were not luxurious. The stage at the Intimate was small and going from one side to the other out of sight of the audience required actors to leave the building through one door, walk around the back, and enter through another (eventually a covered walkway was installed to protect the actors from the elements.)

Early days were precarious, and though productions often got rousing responses, the quality could, apparently be quite variable. Stevie Smith was a regular among the audience and wrote to friends in 1937 that she was glad she hadn’t waited for a production of a new play to arrive on her home turf at the Intimate ‘and almost certainly risk its mangling by an indifferent cast’.

Inside the intimate. Image (c) St Monica's Church
Inside the intimate. Image (c) St Monica’s Church

The Intimate Theatre was also ‘intimate’ in all senses. Though its reputation meant that it attracted audiences from far and wide, the core audience was drawn from Palmers Green and its close environs – a trip to the Intimate meant a chance to catch up with your neighbours over a cup of coffee served to you at your seat. The resident company also meant the cast was tight-knit and the audience developed particular favourites. Some among the regular cast, like Sheila Raynor and husband Keith Pyott, lived locally – in their case just a stumble away in Stonard Road. Another Intimate regular who lived locally was Brian Hayes, Patricia Hayes’ brother.

From the 1930s onwards, the Intimate attracted a host of famous and soon to be famous actors. June Whitfield appeared at the Intimate in 1946 and 1947, and was mortified to be out for a coffee with a friend when she realised that she should be in the afternoon matinée, the timing of which had recently changed. She arrived for the second act, which must have been somewhat confusing for the audience. Richard Attenborough made his debut performance in Eugene O’Neill’s Ah Wilderness. Irene Handl appeared in the forties and then again in 1965, and EastEnders’ Anna Wing in several plays in the 1940s. Nicholas Parsons was also a regular for a while. Later, there were performances by a freshly demobbed Roger Moore, Arthur Lowe, Bill Owen, John Inman, Dad’s Army writer Jimmy Perry and his wife Gilda, Tony Blackburn and, strangely, Stephen Berkoff.

Unfortunately television, the medium which had helped put the Intimate on the map, eventually became its biggest challenge – people were choosing to stay indoors and be entertained in the comfort of their own homes. By the 1960s the Intimate was the only reperatory theatre left in London and a bingo and social club was created to try to boost income, amidst protests from the regulars. By 1967 the theatre was receiving support from Enfield council and Director Earnest Dudley was trying to boost audiences by introducing new casts for each production. Unfortunately this had the effect of alienating some of the local audience and an attempt to backtrack and go back to a company didn’t seem to help

It was around this time that the Intimate hosted perhaps the most unusual performance in its eventful history. In November 1968, a 21-year-old David Bowie appeared in a mime improv production called Pierrot in Turquoise. Bowie was far from famous at the time. He had only released one album as a solo artist and was still 8 months away from the breakthrough single Space Oddity. Devised by dancer and choreographer Lindsay Kemp, who was to radically influence Bowie’s approach to performance, the five songs featured in the production were all written by Bowie. The four nights at Palmers Green appear to have been the last time the production was performed live. The website IMDb.com gives the plot synopsis of the TV version thus:

“Pierrot is a freaky mime who ventures into a mirror where he falls in love and rolls around with the equally grotesque Columbine. But when Columbine beds black stallion (in half-assless spandex) Harlequin, Pierrot’s jealousy takes over and drives him to murder. Cloud (Bowie) watches over the proceedings from his perch (on a ladder!) and narrates in song.”

Unmissable. Though most of us did.

The Intimate closed as a rep theatre in 1969 and reverted to a parish hall. All was not lost however and the theatre continued as a venue for local amateur groups, as it does to this day.

One off events also continued. The 60s and 70s saw performances from The Wurzels, Joe Brown, George Melly, Tommy Trinder, and Hinge and Bracket. There was also a tradition of panto, attracting stars such as Bill Pertwee, Ruth Madoc, and Tony Blackburn. Bill Owen wrote and performed in Mother Goose, and John Noakes starred in Cinderella in 1986.

Though performances are now by local societies, the Intimate remains at the heart of PG’s history and community. If you would like to find out more about the story of the Intimate Theatre, please do seek out Geoff Bowden’s fascinating book, The Intimate Theatre.

Nomination for the local list of heritage assets: The Intimate Theatre, Green Lanes

  • This article has been prepared as part of the process to nominate buildings and landmarks to Enfield’s updated local list. For more information see http://www.palmersgreenn13.com/2015/09/11/every-street-in-palmers-green/. And if you have any suggestions for buildings which aren’t listed but should be included in the local list, please get in touch. But do get in touch soon, as submissions need to be in by the second weeks in November.
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Art and Culture Comedy Community Enfield Film History Music Southgate

Farewell, Ron Moody

Ron Moody Opening the Southgate May Day Fayre in 2014, photo by kind permission of Christine Matthews ( Creative Commons LIcense)
Ron Moody Opening the Southgate May Day Fayre in 2014, photo by kind permission of Christine Matthews ( Creative Commons License)

Our thoughts this week are firmly with the family and friends of Ron Moody who sadly passed away on 11 June aged 91. Living for many years near the Cherry Tree, he was often seen around Palmers Green.

Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist was already loved by many, but it was Lionel Bart’s film production of ‘Oliver!’ that made it forever part of so many people’s lives – not for Mark Lester’s saccharine Oliver but for Moody’s amazing Fagin.
Moody had been horrified by the anti Semitism in Alec Guinness’ 1948 film and he and Lionel Bart set out to “get Fagin away from a viciously racial stereotype, and instead make him what he really is – a crazy old Father Christmas gone wrong.”

Though Moody, to his frustration, became primarily associated with that role and complained at times of typecasting, he was multi-talented, with a degree in sociology, philosophy and psychology. He was a writer as well as a performer, producing the words and music for a play about Joseph Grimaldi in the 1960s. And he came close to becoming the third Dr Who instead of John Pertwee.

His last reprise of the voice of Fagin was three years ago, in this wonderful short film Fits and Starts of Restlessness: a night walk tracing the path of the lost Fleet River, through the shadowy streets of Saffron Hill where Dickens located Fagin’s den in Oliver Twist. The film includes extracts from  interviews with juvenile offenders undertaken on board the Euryalus prison hulk, Chatham, and from the passages in Oliver Twist in which Oliver enters  London. It’s just over 5 minutes and well worth your time. (Go straight to https://vimeo.com/36635949 if you are  unable to view)

 

Categories
Art and Culture Comedy Community Enfield Film Green Palmers Green History Palmers Green

The Fox becomes Enfield’s first ‘Asset of Community Value’

The Fox - at the heart of PG
The Fox – at the heart of PG

Palmers Green’s The Fox has become the first Asset of Community Value to be created in Enfield following a decision of Enfield Council’s Evaluations Committee last week.

Under the Localism Act, Councils must maintain a list of ‘community assets’, nominated by community groups. The successful nomination, made by Southgate Civic District Trust, does not give total protection to The Fox, but it does mean if the owners want to sell the pub or change its use, SCDT must be informed. The status means that the community can also then potentially make a bid for ownership.

Becoming pub owners may not be on the cards, but the application places a marker on the importance of the pub for Palmers Green. As the application said, ‘If Palmers Green were ever to lose its landmark pub, and this landmark building, it would lose part of itself’.

In accordance with the criteria, the application placed a particular emphasis on the community use of the building and its importance to the area. You can read an extract below.

If you have ideas for other potential Assets of Community Value and would like to get involved in putting together an application, please contact SCDT.  For more about Assets of Community Value and the criteria for making an application, visit http://www.enfield.gov.uk/info/1000000236/property/2756/assets_of_community_value

The Fox stands in a prominent position on the corner of Green Lanes and its namesake, Fox Lane. Tall and imposing, for those coming to Palmers Green from the north, it acts as a gateway into Palmers Green’s main shopping area.

The Fox has a number of accolades. It is the oldest remaining pub in Palmers Green to have continuously stood on the same site – there has been a Fox on the site for over 300 years. It is also the only purpose built public house still remaining open on the main route between Wood Green and some way north of Winchmore Hill, the others being shop conversions with little architectural or historical merit.

The current building, of 1904, was built as part and parcel of the Edwardian development of Palmers Green. The size and grandeur of the building is a reminder that Palmers Green was once a place of enough significance to require a hotel and associated dining for travellers. Before the coming of the car, the Fox was the terminus of the horse drawn bus service into London, run by the Davey family of publicans who had stables at the back. Once the trams came, it was a major landmark on the journey from London. All taxi drivers still know the Fox.

The Fox, then, holds a position of huge cultural significance in an area, which tends to think of itself as having a short past. It is a well loved landmark and social hub. If Palmers Green were ever to lose its landmark pub, and this landmark building, it would lose part of itself.

As a former bus and train terminus, and a hotel, the Fox has always been at the centre of Palmers Green’s social and community life. June Brown, Dot Cotton from Eastenders, ran her theatre company from it, bands, including big names like Geno Washington and the Ram Jam Band, have played in it, famous comedians perform in it to this day, and the famous have drunk in it – locals like Rod Stewart and Ted Ray and visitors including the famous names who trod the boards at the Intimate Theatre.

Today, as the only remaining live performance venue in central Palmers Green, the Fox host a monthly comedy night attracting top Perrier nominated comedians. It hosts a community cinema, Talkies, desperately needed now that there are no cinemas for several miles. It hosts exercise and dance classes, and until recently bands and Irish music. As the only town centre room-for-hire, it has hosted wedding receptions, christenings, parties and bar mitzvahs, giving it a special place in many local people’s personal histories.

The loss of the Fox, in its current form as a public house, would leave the community impoverished; the loss of the building itself would take something beloved and iconic for local people.

For this reason, we wish to make an application for the Fox to be recognised as an Asset of Community Value, so that, should it ever be threatened, it will be clear that this is a both building and social hub valued in the local area, and that local people might have some kind of option to intervene.

 

Categories
Art and Culture Comedy Community Enfield Film History Music Palmers Green Spooky stories

New asset application highlights what The Fox means to Palmers Green

The Fox - at the heart of PG
The Fox – at the heart of PG

These are tough times for pubs. This week we learned that the Carlton Tavern in Kilburn was knocked down without warning and without planning permission – and apparently also without warning the incumbent landlady, who was told that it would be closed that day for an ‘inventory’.

Meanwhile, up in Winchmore Hill, the Green Dragon was boarded up early this year, only to be reopened in March as a ‘bargain shop’. Its long-term future as a pub, and as a landmark building, seems uncertain.

Not everyone is a pub goer, so why do we care so much? Perhaps it’s because whatever our personal habits, pubs are an important part of our streetscape, an old friend, something intrinsic to area’s bone structure and community. They are often the oldest buildings for miles, the ones with deep, tangible history. We’d like to be able to go in them even if we don’t (which of course is part of the problem).

Here in Palmers Green there were rumours last year that The Fox was about to close, thankfully firmly quashed by landlord Joe Murray. But what if the Fox were to be threatened in the future?

Following concerns, a group of local residents and community groups (including local councillors, this website, Palmers Green Community, Jaywalks, the Southgate District Civic Trust, and the Catanians) has been working on an application for the pub to be recognised as an Asset of Community Value under the Localism Act. The application was formally submitted to Enfield Council by Southgate District Civic Trust this week.

If successful, the application frankly gives scant protection for the Fox, but it does mean that if the building were ever to be sold, SCDT would need to be informed, and the community would be given time to come up with a counter bid for the premises.

Anyone fancy an historic pub with extensive grounds? Perhaps not, but it means that if The Fox were ever threatened, developers should be under no illusion that they would have an easy ride from the community.

The main text of the application is below.

  • If you think there are other important buildings which should be protected as an Asset of Community Value in Palmers Green, please contact Southgate District Civic Trust. For more about Assets in Enfield and the application process visit http://www.enfield.gov.uk/info/1000000236/property/2756/assets_of_community_value

The Fox stands in a prominent position on the corner of Green Lanes and its namesake, Fox Lane. Tall and imposing, for those coming to Palmers Green from the north, it acts as a gateway into Palmers Green’s main shopping area.

The Fox has a number of accolades. It is the oldest remaining pub in Palmers Green to have continuously stood on the same site – there has been a Fox on the site for over 300 years. It is also the only purpose-built public house still remaining open on the main route between Wood Green and some way north of Winchmore Hill, the others being shop conversions with little architectural or historical merit.

The current building, of 1904, was built as part and parcel of the Edwardian development of Palmers Green. The size and grandeur of the building is a reminder that Palmers Green was once a place of enough significance to require a hotel and associated dining for travellers. Before the coming of the car, the Fox was the terminus of the horse-drawn bus service into London, run by the Davey family of publicans who had stables at the back. Once the trams came, it was a major landmark on the journey from London. All taxi drivers still know the Fox.

The Fox, then, holds a position of huge cultural significance in an area which tends to think of itself as having a short past. It is a well-loved landmark and social hub. If Palmers Green were ever to lose its landmark pub, and this landmark building, it would lose part of itself.

As a former bus and train terminus, and a hotel, the Fox has always been at the centre of Palmers Green’s social and community life. June Brown, Dot Cotton from Eastenders, ran her theatre company from it, bands, including big names like Geno Washington and the Ram Jam Band, have played in it, famous comedians perform in it to this day, and the famous have drunk in it – locals like Rob Stewart and Ted Ray and visitors including the famous names who trod the boards at the Intimate Theatre.

Today, as the only remaining live performance venue in Palmers Green, the Fox host a monthly comedy night attracting top Perrier nominated comedians. It hosts a community cinema, Talkies, desperately needed now that there are no cinemas for several miles. It hosts exercise and dance classes, and until recently bands and Irish music. As the only town centre room-for-hire, it has hosted wedding receptions, christenings, parties and bar mitzvahs, giving it a special place in many local people’s personal histories.

The loss of the Fox, in its current form as a public house, would leave the community impoverished; the loss of the building itself would take something beloved and iconic for local people.

For this reason, we wish to make an application for the Fox to be recognised as an Asset of Community Value, so that, should it ever be threatened, it will be clear that this is a both building and social hub valued in the local area, and that local people might have some kind of option to intervene.

Categories
Art and Culture Comedy Community

“Our drab north London suburb”

rp_IMG_2289-225x300.jpgAfter a run in Chichester last year, Hugh Whitemore’s play Stevie transfers to the Hampstead Theatre this month.

The biographical play follows Stevie Smith as she commutes to her secretarial job at a publishers, spending her evenings with her beloved maiden aunt here in Palmers Green, at the house in Avondale Road where she lived almost all her life. It’s a life of suburban routine, which, as in her famous poem Waving not Drowning, conceals something rather darker beneath.

The production, starring Zoe Wannamaker and Lynda Baron, has garnered good reviews from The Times and The Independent, though some others have been less glowing, about the production, and, apparently, about the life affirming possibilities of living in Palmers Green.

Stevie runs from now until 18 April at the Hampstead Theatre. Tickets are £18-£35