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Notes by Jim Nelson on his History of the Electric, to accompany an exhibition which he held in Kensington Library in October 1984 after the cinema club had closed....

The Electric Cinema — A Social & Visual History 1911 - 1983


February 27th 1981 marked the 70th  birthday of the Electric Cinema, the oldest custom built cinema in Great Britain.

This exhibition is a celebration of that occasion and will trace the evolution of this splendid building from it’s construction in 1911, up to it’s change of name to the Imperial Playhouse in 1915, and record the cinema’s history from there as far as 1969 when it became the “Electric Cinema Club” and remained so until 1983.


As a building it embodies the characteristics of Edwardian baroque architecture and as such, inspired one critic to remark that it’s ‘as rare as finding a Roman villa in England’. The Electric is a large chunk of cinema history.


The exhibition will be the most extensive visual and textual record ever assembled and will include new information and insights not seen before.


The Electric’s cinema history is colorful and I will attempt to trace incidents and historical facts from Edwardian Portobello Road, through to the 1920’s, 30’s and 40’s. Having access to the then manager’s day-books of the 1940’s gives a flavour of the Imperial Playhouse, as it was then known, during the war years.


From that period onward I shall trace, through film records and newly discovered memorabilia and photos, the declining fortunes of the cinema until 1969. This was when a group of film enthusiasts under the leadership of Peter Howden revived the ailing cinema and created the highly successful “Electric Cinema Club” The remarkable individual effort by this group of people was the first to start repertory  cinema programming in this country, inspiring many other cinemas to follow. This exhibition is a tribute to those people.



All photographs: Michael Cameron [Unless origin is unknown]

Text: James Nelson.

Additional exhibition text: Geoff Andrew, Time Out film critic and former Electric manager for 7 years.



The exhibition has been mounted and displayed by Cherry Pickles, who also provided support and suggestions.

The exhibition space has been provided by Kensington Library, to whom I am extremely grateful.

Thanks also to Brian Curle, head of Local Studies, Kensington Library, for his advice and suggestions.


Jim Nelson, Exhibition Organiser. October 1984

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