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BBC News (19/Apr/2009) - Fight to save Hitchcock cinema

(c) BBC News (19/Apr/2009)

Fight to save Hitchcock cinema

Actors Tony Robinson and Meera Syal have joined a campaign to stop plans to turn an old cinema into a church.

Protesters attended a candlelit vigil on Saturday at the EMD Cinema in Walthamstow, where Alfred Hitchcock saw his first films as a local child.

His image was projected onto the cinema and people wore Hitchcock masks.

It opened as a dance hall in 1887 and closed in 2003 when it was bought by Brazil-based religious organisation the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God.

The group's initial plans to turn the Grade II listed building into a church were rejected, but it is expected to submit new proposals to Waltham Forest Council.

Campaigners want the council to offer church leaders ownership of an empty building next to the cinema, allowing the EMD to be sold to operators who would reopen it.

Magnificent venue

Blackadder star Tony Robinson said: "The cinema is an exotic masterpiece. It's where my teenage eyes were opened to the great jazz and rock and roll artists of the 1960s, and where I saw a host of great movies.

"At this exciting time in our history, when east London is about to be revitalised, it would be crazy to turn our backs on such a magnificent venue.

"If not for our sakes, then for the sake of the next generation of film and music lovers, let's ensure it is given the opportunity to reclaim its place as the hub of Walthamstow's high class entertainment."

Meera Syal said she had spent "many happy hours" watching films at the cinema.

"The Walthamstow cinema has a rare touch of glamour and it would be an absolute tragedy if the film-lovers of east London were to be permanently deprived of this beautiful jewel of a cinema," she said.

Bill Hodgson, leader of the campaigning McGuffin Film Society, said: "We have got no faith in the council's planning process.

"The council is desperately trying to rush this through. They are not listening to anyone's opinion."

Terry Wheeler, Waltham Forest cabinet member for enterprise and investment, said: "The council expects a planning application to be submitted in the next few months.

"This will be considered in the normal way and will include a full public consultation."

Sir Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980), was the unchallenged master of suspense films, which he made both in the UK and Hollywood.

Born in Leytonstone, he directed more than 50 films in a career spanning six decades.

The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God is led by tycoon Edir Macedo and has branches around the world, including the United States.

The church authorities could not be contacted for comment.