Even in construction, shown here on the 6th May 1932, Troxy was splendid. The 110 foot main girder for the balcony, the largest single structural element in the building, was taken by road with special police escort from Barrow-in-Furness. On the roads of today that would be quite a feat, but in 1932 it was something of a major wonder. The statistics were equally prodigious with 2 ½ million bricks, 10,000 tons of sand and 24,000 tons of ballast, 10,000 electric light bulbs and 90,000 yards of wiring going into the construction.
Excerpt from David Jones 'Troxy, Where East is Best'. Photo copyright Cinema Theatre Association.
Troxy was built on the demolished site of an old brewery - The Commercial Brewery Company Ltd, Stepney. Costing £250,000 (16.5 million quid in today's money!) to build and was designed by George Coles for Hyams & Gale Kinemas, Troxy was lavishly equipped, and had a capacity of 3,520, making us the largest cinema in England.
On 11th September 1933, we showed our first ever film, King Kong. Watching a film here was an incredible experience, as local resident, Ms Danvers, recalls, “It seemed like Hollywood had come to the Commercial Road in all its glory…Outside was a blaze of lights, inside a large foyer with…a large sweeping staircase, chandeliers, ceiling to floor mirrors and thick carpets. In fact, West End luxury at a price we could afford.” (East London Advertiser, 8 August 1980). The first ever customer was presented with a gold watch on Troxy's opening night.
Opening night programme:
Ribbon cut: Stepney schoolkid Bridget Hughes, 14
National Anthem: Band of the Scots Guards
Cartoon: ‘Opening Night’
B Film: ‘The Mind Reader’, Warren Williams and Constance Cummings
Wurlitzer recital: Bobby Pagan
Main Film: ‘King Kong’, Fay Wray.
This year we welcomed comedy double act Flanagan and Allen, as well as films showcasing Bing Crosby, Charles Bickford, Anita Page, Claudette Colbert and Ginger Rogers to name but a few!
Maurice Cheepen was the man who created 'Stepney's Luxurious Troxy', one of the most affectionately remembered cinemas in London. A Jewish immigrant from Nazi Germany, Cheepen made sure to show from the outset that the venue was a cut above the rest. Maurice was a flamboyant manager who staged publicity stunts to promote new films. These included a horse-drawn pumpkin coach to advertise Cinderella, a man dressed as a vampire to walk around the East End handing out leaflets that promoted Dracula. Cheepen was a born showman, and got up to many tricks to publicise his shows - machines issuing fake dollar bills, ‘red indians’ on horseback, and horse drawn pumpkin coaches were all part of his stock-in-trade.
From The London Gazzette, 5 April, 1935:
LIST of ALIENS to whom Certificates of Naturalization have been granted by the Secretary of State, and whose Oaths of Allegiance have been registered in the Home Office during the month of March, 1935. The date shown in each case is the date on which the Oath of Allegiance was taken.
Cheepen, Morris (known as Maurice Cheepen); No Nationality; Cinema Manager;
26, Rowhill Mansions, Clapton, E.5. 6 March, 1935.
Decorated and looking very regal for the King George V Silver Jubilee celebrations.
Just days after Hitler's promise of retaliation for the RAF bombing of Berlin, on the 7th September, London was hit with the first co-ordinated attacks on the city by German bombers. The legendary manager of the Troxy, Maurice Cheepen, led wartime audiences in community singing.
"In the Troxy Cinema, the audience was trapped by the raid. The manager called on them to sing "There'll Always Be An England". As he spoke, a bomb fell nearby. "I'm not so sure of that!" shouted a joker. There was much laughter and the sing-song went on till after midnight." - excerpt from London at War 1939 - 1945 by Philip Ziegler.
Here, ARP (air raid precaution) wardens, use the roof of Troxy to tackle resulting fires in surrounding buildings. Photo copyright Cinema Theatre Association.
In what was known as “The Longest Night” London was subjected to the worst bombing of The Blitz on May 10th-11th 1941 with hundreds of German aircraft peppering the city with incendiary devices and bombs. Nearly 1,500 people died and 11,000 homes were destroyed. The Houses of Parliament, British Museum and many other landmark buildings were hit but although East London suffered badly that night, particularly Stepney, Troxy was not hit.
Denis Norden reveals in his book "Clips from my Life" that he was once acting as relief manager at Troxy, and the organ's lift mechanism failed. The organist had to remain perched up in the air during the film, whilst all available staff searched the cinema for the particular winch handle that would wind down the organ manually.
Norden worked for Gaumont Super Cinemas, and was the Assistant Manager at the Trocardero, Elephant & Castle and then General Manager at the Gaumont, Watford, before he started his TV career.
Performances over the years from people such as Vera Lynn, Earl Cameron, Clarke Gable, Gracie Fields, Cliff Richard, Petula Clarke and the Andrews sisters. We even had the Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, attend a performance of Dick Whittington at the venue on Boxing Day 1947.
Throughout the Fifties, our old neighbour, Robert's Restaurant, advertised our programmes on a pavement hoarding in return for two weekly cinema tickets. This is us in 1950 when we were showing the films D.O.A and Champagne for Caesar, as well as re-runs of the 1948 movie Larceny, and 1939's Too Busy to Work.
In one of Maurice's most extravagant stunts, he arranged for several cages of live vultures in the cinema’s foyer to advertise the film, Where No Vultures Fly. It all went brilliantly, except for when one vulture escaped and flew around the auditorium until someone managed to capture it.
Lita Roza, the first British artist to top the UK solo charts and the woman behind the famous ‘How Much is that Doggie in the Window?” song, played here.
We celebrated our 21st Anniversary with a stellar line up, even back then we stuck to our mantra… “Where east is best”
A regularly changing programme of the biggest movie hits from both Britain and across the pond. Hollywood glamour brought to the East End. 1954 showing The Caine Mutiny starring Humphrey Bogart, and Father Brown starring Alec Guinness.
In November of 1960, we screened our last ever film, “The Siege of Sydney Street”. "I wouldn't be surprised if I have tears in my eyes," confessed our now former manager, Maurice, ahead of the Troxy closing. "After all, the old Troxy has been quite a place in its time..."*
The damage inflicted on the East End of London by the Blitz in World War Two and the clearance of local slums robbed us of much of our original audience and we closed our doors. Our original Wurlitzer organ did not survive intact after we closed as cinema.
*Modernity Britain: A Shake of the Dice, 1959-62, Book 2
Europe’s largest Wurlitzer theatre pipe organ, housed within our sister theatre, the Trocadero cinema in Elephant and Castle, was purchased by The Cinema Organ Society for preservation.
From 1960 to 1963, Troxy remained unused and empty
Surprisingly, in 1963 when the facade was starting to look very unloved, a tenant was found and the London Opera Centre was created in our great hall.
Run by the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Troxy was used for rehearsals on an extended stage which was an exact size of the Royal Opera House stage. Look out for the revolving stage the London Opera Centre used for practice in our basements and the stage rooms they transformed into practice areas.
Georg Solti rehearsing the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House at the London Opera Centre.
When the tenancy came up for renewal in 1977, the decision was taken not to extend the lease. The London Opera Centre closed in 1978. Photo from 1972.
We earned Grade II Listed status with English Heritage.
Shortly after gaining listed status, Top Rank converted the building in to a bingo hall.
The famous booths were installed in our circle.
Photo credit: Martin Tapsell
Top Rank was no more, and the Mecca logo went up on our facia.
Still going strong as a bingo hall, at the grand age of 65 in 1998.
The games came to a close at Troxy, when Mecca ceased operations and the building was put on the market again - only to be snapped up very swiftly by the current owners Ashburn Estates Ltd.
After a short period of refurbishment, we were reborn as a live events space. We have continued to be used for concerts and other events ever since, hosting prestigious awards ceremonies, sporting events, gigs and films.
On the 29th November 2008, we held our first major public gig. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds played to a sold out audience.
It was announced the Trocadero’s magnificent Wurlitzer pipe organ which had been lovingly restored was being moved to Troxy. This year, history came full circle when we screened our first film for more than 50 years, showing Secret Cinema’s Bugsy Malone, complete with live music and custard pie fights.
We hosted the Artist and Manager awards for the first year. We also underwent an 18 month long renovation process to restore the venue as much as possible.
We marked our 80th birthday by showing King Kong. Ticket holders were guided to the screening by huge gorilla feet painted on the pavement. That same year, we hosted the NME Awards for the first time, with the magazine’s editor Mike Williams saying we were one of London’s “oldest, coolest and most iconic venues”. The same year Google chose us as its annual Christmas party venue for 1,500 guests and we also hosted the Kerrang Awards for the first time.
Future Cinema presents Ghostbusters
The same year, we were restored to our former glory as our 18 month long renovation process was completed. The front of house was fitted with a sign meticulously designed to replicate the original facia and the outside was also treated with a substance paint to create the illusion of stone to finish off the vintage look. Internally we fitted a new carpet which was specially designed to complement the internal original grade II listed features.
London Grammar brought their 2014 If You Wait tour to a close at Troxy on the 5th March, one of the biggest concerts on a tour that saw their debut album turn platinum.
In June 2014, six years since its debut in a small bar in Angel, East London's massively popular and most ridiculous gay, drag, queer inclusive FUN party for all, graced Troxy in all in all its colourful glory for a night of pure joy. Since then, with the likes of Little Mix, Roisin Murphy, B*Witched, Will Young, The Vengaboys and Mel C as headliners, the party has found a new home at Troxy, selling out in record times.
After a campaign costing £275,000, a special celebration evening was held to mark the Wurlitzer’s rebirth at Troxy. The same year, The Prince of Wales attended a Business In The Community event here. Our owners Deepak and Mohit Sharma welcomed HRH on his arrival and were commended for their preservation of the building and work done to keep it as a space that can be enjoyed by the public.
Red Bull Studios London brought music duo Disclosure to Troxy to perform their new album Caracal for the first time to a UK audience. We opened our doors to a full capacity crowd of 3,100 Disclosure fans, all of whom won their tickets by Tweeting the hashtag #DisclosureFace to @RedBullUK.
We hosted Robbie William’s BRITs Icon concert, which was one of, if not the biggest production we have ever seen. The same year we also made significant investment into improving the Wi-Fi network in order to keep guests connected. Following a £30k investment, our Wi-Fi network is one of the best complimentary in-house systems available in the UK.
A 'lips sealed' secret six night run of 'The Handmaiden' turned Troxy into 'His Master's House'