Sunday, March 06, 2011

A Conversation with Shirley Anne Field at the Cinema Museum

Ever since the National Film Theatre went all shiny and commercial,there's been nowhere for real cinema fans (as distinct from the blockbuster-and-pop-corn throng) to feel at home in London. All that changed for me on Saturday when I stepped into the shabby splendour of the Cinema Museum in Kennington. Housed in the old Lambeth Workhouse, unfunded by public money but stuffed with souvenirs of cinema's heyday, its second season of cinema events has just got started.

The walls of the cavernous upstairs interior were lined with decorative bricks and tiles but you can only see the tops. The rest are filled with shelves full of cinema memorabilia, with more spilling onto the the floor space. Usherettes in uniforms from the 1940s hover, and old movie cameras lean against one long wall. Along the opposite wall stands a refreshment trestle, loaded with home-made cakes and sandwiches; behind it, tea and coffee urns manned by volunteers. Rows of chairs face a low dais at one end of the hall with a screen on the wall behind.

Most of the audience for Saturday's event were in same age-bracket as the guest speaker, Shirley Anne Field. They were the children of the same pre-TV generation as myself.It emerged during the Q&A session afterwards that some had even worked with the star.

Shirley was a charmingly indiscreet raconteuse, sharing anecdotes from her long career, starting when she was one of the 'special' girls, or starlets of British cinema. As we were to learn, they were treated as anything but special, often badly-paid and overworked. Clips from her scenes in films such as Alfie(1966), My Beautiful Launderette(1985) and Hear My Song(1991) were interspersed with reminiscence. Stories about a quarrel in a caravan with Lawrence Olivier during the making of The Entertainer(1960), or being upstaged by Steve McQueen, carried a flavour of sharing backstage gossip with a friend.

I was thankful that my friend, Joanna Moncrieff, who organises some excellent London walks, introduced me - it made for a perfect venue to celebrate Roy's birthday. I'm looking forward to the rest of the events advertised in the Spring Season programme. In between times, I'll just have to make do with visits to Cineworld.

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