Tyrone's cinema, the Genesis
It was only after Tyrone Walker-Hebborn actually bought the Genesis Cinema in the Mile End Rd that he learnt the full story. He took his father on a first tour of the newly-acquired building which had been shut for ten years. Carrying flashlights, father and son negotiated their way past sleeping tramps through into the shabby auditorium where a metre-high pile of guano lay beneath a hole in the ceiling, gaping to the sky. Then, using his torch, Tyrone’s dad pointed out two seats in the cinema. In an intimate moment, standing in the half-light, he explained to his son that this was where he and Tyrone’s mother always sat in the days when they were courting – she used to kick off her shoes during the feature and it was up to him to hunt for them under the seats when the lights came up, he said. This was all news to Tyrone, though now he understands why they named him after Tyrone Power, the swashbuckling movie star of the forties and fifties.
There are not many owner-managers of cinemas and for Tyrone it all came about quite unexpectedly. During the last recession, Tyrone found himself working for his dad’s roofing company and to ensure the survival of the business it seemed prudent to diversify. At first, he considered opening a gym but when he suggested a cinema to his girlfriend, she told him in no uncertain terms that he could never run a cinema. Thus, Tyrone’s fate was sealed and he set out to construct a cinema upon the site of his father’s business, Valentine House in Bow – a tale that both reveals Tyrone’s stubborn determination and confirms his father’s romantic nature in the choice of name for the headquarters of a roofing company. When planning was refused, Tyrone’s attention was drawn to the abandoned fleapit in Whitechapel. At this time when there was no cinema operating in Tower Hamlets, Tyrone saw the potential and he and his father were not intimidated by the holes in the roof either.
The current building was built in 1939 designed by W.R. Glen, opening as the Empire, but although films have been shown at this location for over a century, the first theatre actually opened on this site back in 1848 and legends such as Little Tich and Charlie Chaplin once performed there on stage.
For the first few years, as the building was put to rights, Tyrone ran the roofing business for half the day and then went over to the cinema to work as many hours as he could, even sleeping there on occasion. Tyrone decided to rename it the Genesis Cinema because it was a new beginning and because he is a closet Trekkie. In the nineteenth episode of the seventh season of “Star Trek: The Next Generation”, the Genesis Device was a technological innovation to alleviate sociological problems. But maybe you already knew that?
When it came to the opening of Tyrone’s cinema in 1999, Barbara Windsor (who had once attended the world premiere of Sparrows Can’t Sing there in 1963 with Reggie Kray) came back to cut the ribbon. Nowadays, the roofing business has been reluctantly closed down and, although he learnt on the job, Tyrone has become a well-respected figure in the British film industry, regularly seen at Cannes and other international festivals, scouting out films to show us here in Whitechapel – unlike the chains, he enjoys autonomy to screen what he chooses. Now we are in another recession and Tyrone is diversifying again. With inborn iconoclasm and the encouragement of Danny Boyle, Nick Moran and other industry insiders, he is launching Genesis Entertainment to produce his own films to show at the Genesis Cinema and elsewhere.
I want to salute Tyrone for his guts, in having the courage to take on a wrecked cinema and bring the place back to life. Thanks to his vision, we can enjoy the big commercial movies and small independent films too in our own local cinema at some of the cheapest prices in London and then simply walk home afterwards.