Cinefile: Electric Cinema’s Centenary

By Londonist Last edited 92 months ago
Cinefile: Electric Cinema’s Centenary


On Sunday 27 February, the Electric Cinema on Portobello Road will celebrate its centenary.

It will mark the occasion with an ‘Eclectic Electric All-Nighter’ featuring 1960s classics like ‘Peeping Tom’ and ‘Scorpio Rising’ interspersed with episodes of Batman & Robin through Saturday night. The Sunday itself will showcase a Rebel Dread Double Bill hosted by, local hero Don Letts. Possibly an odd choice for a swanky West London cinema’s 100th birthday, but this is no ordinary cinema.

The Electric is a grade II* listed building and is regarded as one of the oldest surviving purpose-built cinemas in the country. Though equipped with leather seats and neighbouring brassiere today, in the 1960s and 70s the Electric was an epicentre of bohemian Notting Hill culture.

Interior of the Electric from 1983, after the Electric Cinema Club had a refurb in 1972, but before the more recent £6 million refurb at the end of the 1990s. Image from Kensington & Chelsea Libraries.
Interior of the Electric from 1983, after the Electric Cinema Club had a refurb in 1972, but before the more recent £6 million refurb at the end of the 1990s. Image from Kensington & Chelsea Libraries.
The Electric Cinema signage from the 1970s. Image from Soho House photo gallery.
The Electric Cinema signage from the 1970s. Image from Soho House photo gallery.
Portobello market, early 1900s. Image from Soho House photo gallery.
Portobello market, early 1900s. Image from Soho House photo gallery.
Inside the Electric today. The Electric reopened in its current form in 2001.
Inside the Electric today. The Electric reopened in its current form in 2001.
Invitation to reopening of the newly named 'Electric Screen' in 1984. After her successful venture in the Screen on the Green in Islington, Romaine Hart hoped to save the Electric. Image Kensington & Chelsea Libraries.
Invitation to reopening of the newly named 'Electric Screen' in 1984. After her successful venture in the Screen on the Green in Islington, Romaine Hart hoped to save the Electric. Image Kensington & Chelsea Libraries.
Cover of programme for Electric Cinema club, a group of cinema enthusiast led by Peter Howden in the 1970s. Image from The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea Libraries.
Cover of programme for Electric Cinema club, a group of cinema enthusiast led by Peter Howden in the 1970s. Image from The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea Libraries.

In 1968 a group of enthusiasts started the Electric Cinema Club, providing a programme of  unheard-of films, ranging from underground curiosities to revivals of lost Hollywood classics. At the time the cinema was in such disrepair it was regarded as something of a fleapit, but through community effort it became a rival to the National Film Theatre. Unfortunately this wasn’t a sustainable existence, and the subsequent years saw periods of closure and campaigns to save the cinema.

After 100 years, the Electric is an important part of London’s history and is symbolic of the evolution of Portobello Road. Originally a product of the golden age of silent cinema, it became part of urban myth (apparently the notorious murderer, John Christie, worked there as a projectionist during the 1940s), and is heralded as one of the first repertory cinemas, eventually resurrected as a luxury cinema.

Having survived world wars and numerous closures it’s almost a miracle that the Electric is still a working cinema and sustains original features, an achievement definitely worth celebrating.

By Kathleen Mcllvenna

Last Updated 23 February 2011