Oscar Deutsch had been in hospital several times and recovered, but in 1941 his illness recurred and he died of cancer at the early age of forty-eight. This came as a great shock to all his associates who had no inkling that he was so ill. Even if he had survived, it is most unlikely that the cinema building boom would have been resumed. Quite apart from the War, that particular building boom was gone,

In the nineteen forties and fifties the cinema flourished, with huge audiences and films appealing to all ages. By 1960 other forms of entertainment, including television, drew people away from the cinema so that profits fell and by the seventies some were trading at a loss. As audiences continued to fall, land values and property prices began to soar as the property boom began. Land became more valuable than cinema seats.

The Summerland was demolished and then the Athenaeum was rebuilt as a Sainsbury store. The Ritz ABC cinema at the top of Muswell Hill was demolished and rebuilt to provide 25.000 sq. feet. of office space on the ground, first and second floors, with the basement and sub-basement providing car space and, on the third floor, flats with extensive views over London. The original design was a stark brutalist block of the worst sort, but protests and some professional advice led the Council to insist on the present Mansard roof, which is a considerable improvement.

This left the Muswell Hill Odeon as the sole cinema. In 1974 it was converted to three screens and in 1976 the Council took over the car park for public use. However, it was not until 1981 that Muswell Hill became fully aware of the threat to its last remaining cinema when Rank Entertainment Ltd attempted to demolish the Odeon and redevelop, perhaps as another and larger Sainsbury store.

The Muswell Hill Odeon appeared to be reasonably successful and had just fitted a bar in the cinema, but The Hornsey Journal reported that of the three local Odeons, both Wood Green and Holloway were trading at a loss while Muswell Hill was 'in the black' and Bar sales had also improved profitability. However, both Sainsbury's and Tesco were interested in the site which was large, central and with an integral car park. Rank's saw the opportunity to make an immediate cash profit - to asset-strip the site - and to this end they claimed that the cinema as an entertainment form was dying. Rank's were being forced by the public to move out of cinemas.

Shortly before this Muswell Hill and Fortis Green Association had joined in a bid to have the 1930s art deco Odeon building listed and the decision was pending. Nearly 4000 signatures were collected protesting at the closure. Mr Rossi, then MP for Hornsey, wrote to the Rank Organization but met with a blank refusal to reconsider.

David Atwell, who was the Information Officer for the GLC's Architects' Department and one of the most influential experts on 1930s architecture, had written a book on art deco cinemas which featured the Muswell Hill Odeon. He was "appalled at the idea of demolition" especially as he had only just before recommended the Muswell Hill Odeon for listing, together with three other cinemas. All were approved except the Odeon which then became the only 1930s cinema in London not listed. He said,

"Without doubt Muswell Hill Odeon is the best surviving interior in the country." ---"I can't understand why they did not agree".

Finally the mass protest by the public had its effect. In September 1981 the Rank Organization announced a reprieve for the Muswell Hill Odeon, one of thirteen London cinemas which had been destined to close, because its profits had apparently improved. In 1984 the Cinema was listed Grade II* and is now far safer than it was. Long may it last.

 

207

Ham& High, 27.7.1981

Ibid 27.11,1981

Mrs S. Heathcote. Thesis on the Odeon Cinema, Muswell Hill, deposited at RIBA

Page 206
Page 208