Cinefile: The Ritzy Cinema's Centenary

By johnn Last edited 86 months ago
Cinefile: The Ritzy Cinema's Centenary


The much-loved Ritzy Cinema in Brixton marks its 100th birthday this week.

The grand Edwardian theatre is South London's oldest cinema, one of the longest continuously running in the country, and one of the earliest built for the purpose. Over the years it has enjoyed a variety of incarnations and personalities, all the while maintaining a special place in the hearts of Brixtonians.

It opened in March 1911 as the Electric Pavilion (see a then-and-now comparison), commissioned by cinema-chain owner Israel Davis.  Initially seen as a cheap and nasty alternative to more upmarket venues, the Pavilion managed to outlive all but its most resilient contemporaries, as London's numerous cinemas fell victim to wartime bombing or poor business.

The Pullman cinema, as it became known in the 50s, miraculously escaped all of these pitfalls.  Indeed the Blitz bombings proved to be some advantage, as the neighbouring Brixton Theatre was completely destroyed in 1940, allowing space for the cinema to expand with further screens and a cafe/bar.

By the seventies it fell into decline and had a period of closure, subsequently coming under ownership of Lambeth council who threatened with demolition, or - perhaps worse - conversion to a carpet warehouse. Fortunately, the plans were delayed, and the building came under ownership of various community members who transformed it into the 'Little Bit Ritzy', a popular arthouse with a bold variety of film programming.

Since 2003 it has been part of the independent cinema chain Picturehouses, and in its current guise continues to screen a broad array of blockbusters and independent films, as well as regular filmmaker Q&As, live broadcasts from opera houses and theatres, and quirky double-bills.  Tonight the 15th Human Rights Film Festival begins with the UK premiere of Youth Producing Change.  And to celebrate its centenary, the cinema is hosting 'The A-Z of Cinema', a season of letter-based themed triple-bills, beginning appropriately with Androids.  All can be watched on the recently installed 'jumbo-sized' screen.

Will Self once called it a blend of the "cosmopolitan and cosy", which sounds about right.  The Ritzy is an rightly revered institution; here's to the next 100.

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The famous neon sign.  Photo by psyxjaw from the Londonist Flickr pool.
The famous neon sign. Photo by psyxjaw from the Londonist Flickr pool.
The Ritzy as it was in 1984.  Photo © dusashenka (http://www.flickr.com/photos/oldcinemaphotos/)
The Ritzy as it was in 1984. Photo © dusashenka (http://www.flickr.com/photos/oldcinemaphotos/)
At night.  Photo by Joe Dunckley from the Londonist Flickr pool.
At night. Photo by Joe Dunckley from the Londonist Flickr pool.
The Ritzy today. Photo © Michael Wharley
The Ritzy today. Photo © Michael Wharley
© Michael Wharley
© Michael Wharley

Previously: The Phoenix in East Finchley and The Electric in Notting Hill; both recently celebrated their centenaries too.

Last Updated 25 March 2011