The Montagu Pyke, Charing Cross Road

NB: the Wetherspoon’s pub sign is adapted from the 1911 Vanity Fair portrait of Pyke.

For a full account, see https://thebioscope.net/2008/11/19/the-cinema-king/

From Terence Nunn’s Attic:

“…Montagu Pyke was one of Britain’s earliest cinema entrepreneurs. A flamboyant, larger-than-life figure, who has also been described as a crook and a charlatan, he started his career in 1892 by seeking his fortune in the goldfields of South Africa. He was a failure at this and returned to England with his tail between his legs.

Next, Pyke persuaded his father to finance his emigration to San Francisco. Trying his hand as a shop assistant and as a gold miner, he failed at both but made a success of soliciting advertisements to be painted on theatre safety curtains.

Returning to London, he became a hair-restorer salesman and then went into the patent pill business, where he lost everything.

Walking one day down Oxford Street, London, Pyke noticed a shopfront called “Hales Tour”. He went in to find a mock-up of a Pullman railway car with a screen at one end showing a primitive ten-minute movie depicting foreign countries. Impressed by the crowds of people going in, he reasoned that a two-hour continuous performance might do even better business. Pyke managed to raise sufficient capital to open in 1909 one of London’s first cinemas in shop premises in the Edgware Road. It was a roaring success and soon a whole chain of cinemas followed, in Finsbury Park, Walham Green, Ealing, Oxford Street, Shepherds Bush, Piccadilly Circus, Hammersmith, Clapham Junction, Elephant and Castle, Croydon, Peckham, Brixton Hill, Holloway, Balham and Charing Cross Road.

Pyke’s empire collapsed in 1915, due to the war and increased competition, and he was made bankrupt. He continued to wheel and deal in various ventures, finally dying in 1935.

TATLER CINEMA (aka Cambridge Circus Cinematograph Theatre) 1911-1987.

105/7 Charing Cross Road, London WC2

Perhaps the “poshest” and most successful cinema of the Pyke Circuit was the Tatler in Charing Cross Road, which was even patronised by Queen Alexandra, albeit at a private showing, when a row of seats was removed for her convenience. But in 1915 tragedy struck when some waste film being packed in the basement for recycling caught fire, causing a large conflagration so fierce that it burned through the pavement outside.

The man packing the film died in the fire and the owner Montagu Pyke and his engineer were charged with manslaughter, of which they were subsequently acquitted. It was the beginning of the end of Pyke’s Circuit; increased competition and the Great War affected the business and Pyke was driven into bankruptcy.

In the Fifties and Sixties I occasionally visited the cinema, which by then had become the Tatler News Theatre. In an hour or so’s performance the programme, as in the half-a-dozen or so other “news theatres” then dotted around London’s West End, consisted typically of a newsreel, a selection of comedy and documentary shorts, the odd cartoon and an episode of a Republic serial.”

From whatpub.com:

“This building was opened in 1911 by the pioneer cinema entrepreneur Montagu Pyke as his 16th and last cinema, the Cambridge Circus Cinematograph Theatre. It was known as the Tatler for many years, and the Jacey Cinema, before becoming the home of the Marquee Club from 1986 to 1996. It was opened by JD Wetherspoon’s as a Moon Under Water and is now part of their Lloyds No 1 chain, with piped music, plasma screen TVs and a smaller beer range. There are two bars, on different levels, and an acclaimed biggest big screen in the West End…The interior has the appearance of a rather clinical cafe bar, clutter free, pastel coloured seating, light pine parquet flooring and bare painted walls. A foyer area with a scattering of chairs leads down from the Charing Cross Road entrance to the spacious main bar area with a high ceiling and roof lights. Keen eyes will notice the adjacent building bears the name Tam o’Shanter, a pub* until 1960. A staircase leads to a balcony and steps to the rear lead to a second bar in a corridor with a rear entrance from Soho in Greek Street.”

From pubwiki.co.uk:

*”This pub was established as the Bull’s Head by 1759, at 8 Crown Street, which is later renumbered as 64 & 66 Crown Street. The pub was enlarged in 1894 when 64 Crown Street was realigned to became 103 Charing Cross Road. The pub was then renamed the Tam O’Shanter and took the address 103 Charing Cross Road. The frontage, at least, was substantially rebuilt in 1896. In 1900 the pub was renamed the Palace Tavern. The pub closed in 1960…

There had previously been a Tam O’Shanter at 14 Grafton street, Soho in 1841 and 1843, for example.”

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