Waltham Forest has spawned many famous sons – William Morris, Brian Harvey and, yes, Alfred Hitchcock.
The master of suspense was born in Leytonstone and was the son of an East End greengrocer.
It is thought he got his first taste of the magic of the silver screen at the now derelict EMD Cinema in Walthamstow’s Hoe Street.
There is a plaque commemorating Hitchcock’s birthplace (now a petrol station) on Leytonstone High Road, and there’s a hotel near Epping Forest that is named after the great man.
It is also true that several glorious mosaics depicting scenes from Hitchcock’s most famous films adorn the inside of Leytonstone Tube Station.
But apart from these somewhat modest focal points, reminders of the director’s links with the East End are strangely absent. Until now.
Early this month the Vestry House Museum in Walthamstow Village played host to two screenings of one of Hitchcock’s most famous films, The Birds, starring Tippi Hedren, as part of The Barbican’s ‘Hitchcock’s East End’ season.
This atmospheric small museum was decorated with origami birds, and ornithological tea towels featuring ‘the birds of Waltham Forest’ (kingfishers, kestrels, coots, etc) were among the themed objects available to buy. To judge from the demand there is no shortage of interest in Hitchcock’s local connections, and the ‘rediscovery’ of this Hollywood legend’s Waltham Forest origins has conveniently coincided with the growing cultural renaissance in this area, whose residents exult in its newfound reputation as ‘Awesomestow’.
The Barbican has produced mini walking guides which can be downloaded from its website and which let locals lead themselves on a tour of the streets the young Hitchcock would have walked down to see if they can spot features that might have influenced his films.
A big outdoor screening is, it is rumoured, being planned for this summer as the finale to this series of events. For the latest information on this keep checking The Barbican’s website.
Create London, an arts organisation that is also working on the project, says on its website that the Hitchcock programme leads towards “the opening of the new Empire Cinema in late 2014…which will form part of a major regeneration project, The Scene at Cleveland Place, a new leisure destination for Waltham Forest.”
As one of the artform’s most influential figures, Hitchcock would surely have approved of a new picture palace opening on his boyhood turf.
What a shame, however, that the Hoe Street picturehouse – a beautiful venue whose future has been the subject of a long and continuing saga – still languishes amid the ranks of London’s boarded-up ghost cinema.