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Melvyn Reeves At The Troxy

March 13, 2014
by the gentle author

It is a source of great joy to Melvyn Reeves that he has always lived within a few streets of where he was born in Stepney and that, at the centre of his personal universe in the East End, stands a gleaming Art Deco palace known as The Troxy.

In 1953, Melvyn’s mother took him at the tender age of three to see ‘Calamity Jane’ featuring Doris Day and for Melvyn it was love at first sight – encountering both The Troxy itself, with its extravagant modernist architecture, and the glamorous Hollywood stars, whose portraits line its halls today.“We used to come to The Troxy every fortnight,” Melvyn recalled fondly,“But I’ve only been in here three times since 1960 when it closed as a cinema.”

In recent years, the magnificent Troxy has been restored as a flexible events space and its ceramic frontage cleaned, so that once more it presents a shining face to Commercial Rd, creating an unmissable opportunity for Melvyn to risk a return visit to the fabled world of his childhood delight – and he generously took Contributing Photographer Colin O’Brien & me along too.

The Troxy opened in 1933 with a screening of ‘King Kong.’ Built at the cost of £250,000 and seating more than three and a half thousand, it offered a luxurious and sophisticated venue where all the staff wore evening dress and sprayed perfume during screenings.“If you wanted to go somewhere then The Troxy was always the place to go, it was the posh cinema compared to the other East End fleapits,” Melyvn assured me, speaking from experience and brimming with anticipation when I met him in the foyer, “My mother used to talk about how The Andrews Sisters once performed here.”

“I first came to The Troxy sixty years ago, yet I am still gobsmacked by it,” he confessed, as we entered the vast auditorium with its triumphantly-engineered curved circle that spans the width of the building without a single pillar to impede the view, “It was fifteen minutes walk from my home in Jane St, two minutes past Watney Market, and in those days there were toy shops and shops selling sweets in Commercial Rd. At half-term and school holidays, this was where you came.”

Feeling as small as ants, we walked forward beneath the balcony to reach the front of the stalls where the full height of the space became apparent, flanked with elaborate plasterwork motifs of waterfalls soaring on either side and theatrical sweeping staircases leading up towards the circle. “I’ve never been up there,” Melvyn admitted to me in a whisper, peering up into the gloom where rows of seats receded seemingly to infinity, “I’ve always been afraid of heights.” Emboldened to overcome this aversion, Melvyn and I scaled the stairs, ascending carefully like mountaineers to the top, so that Melvyn might survey the totality of his beloved Troxy and appreciate details of the plasterwork close up – such as the dense golden floral border, encrusted with daises and sunflowers, and the lisson figure of Terpsichore frolicking.

Melvyn remembers the years of decline when the Troxy operated as a bingo hall in the eighties. “My mother used to see all her neighbours coming here and say to me, ‘They’ll be short of rent money next week,” he confided to me, rolling his eyes in disapproval. Despite feeling more than a little proprietorial, Melvyn gave his blessing to the restoration including a colour scheme that casts the auditorium in tones of pale blue and lilac, highlighted with gold, conjuring the effect of a tropical undersea world.

“Whenever there is a fight night, I always see the boxers and their entourages come out of Limehouse Station at lunchtime and march down to the Troxy,” Melvyn informed me, ever-observant of all activity in the neighbourhood that he knows better than anyone else. It is not often in life that you can go back to a childhood location and not be disappointed, but Melvyn’s comment was indicative to me that now he has made his personal inspection of The Troxy and found it to his liking, he will return regularly.

Melvyn in the foyer

“it was the posh cinema…”

Golden floral border, encrusted with daises and sunflowers

Melvyn resplendent in the pink haze of the auditorium


Melvyn Reeves and Clark Gable

Melvyn outside the Troxy today

The Troxy when it first opened in 1933

Photographs copyright © Colin O’Brien

You may like to read my original portrait of Melvyn

Melvyn Reeves, Retired Civil Servant

12 Responses leave one →
  1. ROBERT GREEN permalink
    March 13, 2014

    Every time I pass the TROXY it always seem’s to look strangely out of place now and anyone who has no memory from the past of this area could these day’s be forgiven for wondering why anyone would choose to build such a grand auditorium in what is now a slightly “off beat” location, but that said, such is the impressive appearance of this building that one only need’s to stand outside this magnificent monument to the golden age of cinema and it is easy to visualize the glamour and excitement that this building created for the thousands of East End people who went there during it’s hay day, it’s currant use may not be to the liking of people of a certain generation, (like myself) but at least it is still being kept “alive”, and I for one am very pleased to at long last see money being spent on preserving this important East London landmark that even today many people (myself included) still look back on with a great deal of affection and happy memories from the East End of the past.

  2. March 13, 2014

    Good to see the Troxy again, and that it is still alive and shining! It was always a treat to go there to watch a film! Valerie

  3. Greg Tingey permalink
    March 13, 2014

    Would that the same restoration could be applied to Walthamstow’s cinema the “Granada” [ Formal title, now, “EMD”]
    But, thanks to a mixture of gross incompetence & a few brown enevelopes, the council are doing …. nothing.
    Except, of course, allowing their developer friends to build a new cinema, right next door!

  4. March 13, 2014

    A very impressive ART DECO childhood place, which is very rare!

    Love & Peace

  5. Susan Goldman permalink
    March 13, 2014

    It’s so nice to see that the Troxy has been restored to its former glory rather than being demolished, which is so often the case in Tower Hamlets these days. It looks wonderful. Thank you for telling this story Gentle Author.

  6. Sarah Correia permalink
    March 13, 2014

    Wonderful movie palace. The carpet alone has an incredible art deco pattern. Makes me miss the ones that were here that have been torn down. And thank you as always.

  7. March 13, 2014

    This building has had so many different incarnations. It’s marvelous that it has survived in one glorious piece!

  8. March 13, 2014

    Forgot to say, love that photo of Melvyn ‘wearing’ the crown! Valerie

  9. March 13, 2014

    Love what they have done with it and appreciate all the money they have spent on restoration, but I’m afraid all the foyer decor and lamps only dates back to the 1980’s and the Troxy’s life as a bingo hall. George Cole’s original foyer was double height with a balcony and rather classical in style. The owners hope to recreate as much as they can in the near future, but it will be too expensive to rip the false ceiling out. The carpet is new too, but wonderfully thay have styled it on the wall ‘fountain’ designs – which can’t have been cheap.

  10. ian powell permalink
    March 14, 2014

    Denis Nordern, the television presenter and writer used to be the manager of the Troxy as well as a few others in the same chain (all at the same time). I think he was still only a teenager when he ran it.

  11. Vanda Human permalink
    March 14, 2014

    It is oh so beautiful. I love Art Deco, wonderful to see that the Troxy has been restored and not destroyed.

  12. Gerry Wiseman permalink
    March 18, 2014

    I used to love going to the Troxy. The show usually lasted about 3 hours or so.
    Sometimes the mighty organ would arise from the depths and we’d have a sing a long.
    My last visit there was when i was doing my National Service back in 1954.

    Gerry Wiseman
    Westminster, MD USA

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