Cambridge & Bethnal Green Boys Club Films
When I interviewed football referee Maxie Lea last year, he produced a box of dusty old reels of celluloid that comprised the film archive of the Cambridge & Bethnal Green Boys Club and asked me if I knew where he could find a home for them. In due course, the collection was passed over to the Bishopsgate Institute who have transferred the eleven hours of film onto disc and next Thursday January 12th at midday they are holding a public screening. It promises to be an exciting – even emotional – occasion since many of those featured in these films will be present to offer live commentary as they see their former selves on film for the first time in over forty years.
Spanning the period from 1960 to 1972, these magical films offer a fascinating glimpse into the lost world of East End Boys Clubs. Beginning in 1924 as the Jewish Boys Club, the Cambridge & Bethnal Green Boys Club operated from premises in Chance St and had an idealistic intent at its core, adopting the motto, “serva corpus, cole mentem, animam cura,” - keep fit, cultivate your mind, think of your soul. In 1936, the Jewish prerequisite for membership of the Club was dropped, opening it to everyone, as an egalitarian response to the rise of antisemitism in the East End.
Club member Ron Goldstein, who joined in 1933, fondly appreciates the raising of expectations that was encouraged. As he admitted to me, “Half of the boys would have ended up as the next generation of gangsters and criminals if it had not been for the Club. It was our first time to mix with people who never had to work from an early age and our first chance to consider the ethical side of life. We were a bunch of young tearaways. The Club managers from Cambridge had a very upper class way of talking and we used to take the mickey, but it was different at the weekend camps, everyone dressed the same and we all mucked in together.”
Although the Club closed in 1990, there are still enough members of the Cambridge & Bethnal Green Boys Club around to remind us of its honourable endeavour – and the beauty of these playful films is that they celebrate the vibrant human quality of this project dedicated to nurturing sympathy and encouraging the best in people, despite the tyranny of circumstance.
The Cambridge & Bethnal Green Boys Club Film Screening at the Bishopsgate Institute is at midday Thursday 12th January. Admission is free.
Read my other Cambridge & Bethnal Green Boys Club Stories