sail-header-edge

Literary Locations #73: Broadway Cinema.

John Baird
Sat 5 Sep, 2020

What links The Salvation Army, Quentin Tarantino and the world’s largest crime writing festival? It’s Nottingham’s Broadway Cinema and it’s this week’s literary location.

Where Broadway Cinema now stands was the Broad Street Wesleyan Chapel. Erected in 1837 with its impressive Corinthian columns, the venue witnessed the conversion of a fifteen-year-old pawnbroker’s apprentice called William Booth. He later wrote ‘Darkest England and the Way Out’ which highlighted the desperate straits in which many ordinary people found themselves. Profits from the book helped fund projects for the homeless. Booth then founded The Salvation Army and was their first General. In 1905 he became a Freeman of Nottingham, travelling to his ceremony in an open-carriage, past the well-wishers in Slab Square and the ‘orator’s corner’ where as a boy he’d stood on a box and preached the word.

Unable to afford the costly roof repairs, the Wesleyan Chapel closed in 1954 and was sold to the Nottingham Cooperative Society for use as the country’s first Co-operative Educational Centre, complete with a 500-seat theatre. By the end of the decade it had become an arts theatre and began screening films. It was adopted by the British Film Institute as one of their regional film theatres and in 1966 the Nottingham Film Theatre opened, later to be known as City Lights Cinema.

Broadway Cinema arrived in 1990 as a charity born out of a consortium of four local media organisations: Nottingham Film Theatre, New Cinema Workshop, Midland Group, and Nottingham Video Project, with support from the BFI, East Midlands Arts, and the local City and County Councils. The cinema had re-opened before it had even been re-branded as Broadway. The first public event was a showing of ‘Fellow Traveller’, starring Ron Silver as a blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter. The film was written by Nottingham's Michael Eaton who was there to discuss it. According to cinematreasures.org, the first official screening at 'Broadway' was another film in which Ron Silver plays a writer, ‘Enemies, A love Story’, shown on August 31st.

Back then Broadway had a large sprung dancefloor and the Rainbow Rooms, replaced by Screen 2 and a café bar in 1992. Screens 3 and 4 were added in 2006, Paul Smith assisting with the design. ‘Total Film’ rated Broadway as one of the 10 best cinemas in the world. Broadway remains committed to providing access to film for all and the development of new filmmaking talent. It was at Intermedia, previously housed in Broadway’s basements, that Shane Meadows first established himself.

The current CEO of Film London, Adrian Wootton OBE, was the founding Director of Broadway Media Centre and he “wanted to put Nottingham onto the new media map.” That year, 1990, Wootton travelled with his close friend Michael Eaton to the ‘Noir in Cinema’ festival in Cattolica, Italy. They both realised, “We could do this in Nottingham.” Their aspiration was always to hold a literary event as well as a film festival and that Italian celebration of film and literature provided the template to launch Nottingham’s own International Crime & Mystery Festival, ‘Shots in the Dark’.

Broadway’s small team put together a 10-day event launched on May 31st 1991. The programme included film previews, retrospectives and writers’ events, and included the British Premiere of ‘Silence of the Lambs’.

By the June festival of 1992, ‘Shots’ included a new three-day crime writing convention, ‘Shots on the Page’. This ran alongside the main festival and featured visiting novelists Colin Dexter, Julian Symonds and Donald E Westlake, author of the hard-boiled Parker books (as Richard Stark) and the wonderful Dortmunder series of capers.

Adrian Wootton: “From this point onwards, ‘Shots in the Dark’ started confidently preparing for a bigger third year, helped in no small way by the establishment of Broadway as a major cultural and social centre.”

1993’s ‘Shots on the Page’ brought more authors to the city, including Val McDermid, Peter Lovesey, Mike Phillips, Mike Ripley, and Sara Paretsky, creator of the tough female private eye V I Warshawski; and there was a late-night session from Liza Cody, Maxim Jakubowski and John Harvey, all reading to the live accompaniment of the local jazz group ‘Second Nature’.

It was during ‘Shots on the Page’ that David Belbin met one of his heroes, Evan Hunter (better known as Ed McBain). Michael Eaton, who was interviewing Hunter for ‘Shots…’, invited Belbin to dinner with the American author.

Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct novels always open with “The city in these pages is imaginary.” In a nice twist and nod to McBain, Belbin begins his Nottingham-based Beat series with the line “The city in these pages is real.”

The 11-day extravaganza of ‘Shots '93’ had its usual mix of film previews, panel discussions and education events, as well as a photography exhibition and a theatrical show devised by Michael Eaton entitled ‘Chorus from the Gallows’. But the festival will be best remembered for a visit by the world’s hottest young director, one that resulted in “a large amount of press attention and terrific public support which established our event as a truly popular festival,” said Wootton.

David Belbin remembers the occasion: “'Shots' was a cornucopia of delights from the start but really took off in 1993, with the arrival of guest, Quentin Tarantino, hot from ‘Reservoir Dogs’. That and the following year, Quentin was everywhere.”

Adrian Wootton had met Tarantino that spring and persuaded him to come to Nottingham for the British premiere screening of ‘Reservoir Dogs’. When Tarantino returned in ’94 it was as an honorary patron and he spent several days in and around the festival. Speaking to the ‘Nottingham Evening Post’ Tarantino said, “People ask me ‘Why are you coming here?’. I come here because I really like the festival. I like the city. I think that Nottingham is a really cool city. Coming here and seeing the different movies and hanging out with all the people here who I have got to know a little bit, it's fun and I get a big kick out of it.”

On the festival’s last Saturday, Broadway had its biggest coup, as Tarantino presented a secret ‘mystery film’, playing a reel he’d brought over with him from France, complete with French subtitles. David Belbin was there: “I’d had the nod and knew what was coming: the second ever showing of Tarantino’s second movie, ‘Pulp Fiction’. We had family staying but I snook off into town. The previous showing had been at Cannes, where it won the Palme D’Or. Quentin gave a brief introduction to the packed cinema. Afterwards, following tumultuous applause, he answered questions until we ran out of them, gone three in the morning. This remains my most memorable night in a cinema.”

Tarantino was heavily involved in the festival, programming a Blacksploitation season and speaking before each movie. He also found time to take in the local sights. “He gobbled up Nottingham,” recalls Michael Eaton, “we even chauffeured him to see the Major Oak.”

In 1994, the scale of ‘Shots on the Page’ was expanded, and plans were well underway to enter the international spotlight. Wootton was eager to crack the big one, Bouchercon, the world’s largest and most prestigious annual Crime Mystery convention. Named after the American critic and editor Anthony Boucher, Bouchercon sees hundreds of writers, publishers, reviewers, booksellers and readers convene on a city; but in its 50-year history the ‘World’ Mystery Convention has only been held outside of North America twice. The first time was in London (1990). John Harvey tell us, “It was the first Bouchercon I attended and I can testify to the sad fact that it was, in organisational terms, less than successful. Which may have been one of the driving forces behind the ambitious bid to bring Bouchercon to Nottingham. ‘Anything London can do, we can do better’.”

Wootton’s five-year plan to bring Bouchercon here had been launched in 1990, inspired by that trip to Italy with Michael Eaton. In 1991 the two men visited Pasadena for the year’s Bouchercon. Their campaign was afoot.

“Having experienced the excesses of the crime writers at play, we once again had the vain-glorious reckoning: ‘We could do this’,” recalls Eaton. Joining Wootton and Eaton on the Nottingham Bouchercon Programming Committee was the crime fiction writer, editor, publisher and critic Maxim Jakubowski, the British Film Institute’s Paul Taylor and key figures from the city. John Harvey chaired the Committee. “I didn’t want it to be London again,” he says, “nor did I want us simply to reproduce what had gone before.”

Michael Eaton: “Thus it was that the following year a merry band came riding through the glen to Toronto to mount an Olympian bid to host Bouchercon in Nottingham.” Key members of the committee kept up the lobbying at the next festivals too, in Omaha ’93 and Seattle ’94, where the Nottingham bid to host Bouchercon ’95 was subject to a vote.

“It was all rather tense,” recalls Eaton. “Nottingham was definitely the rank outsider. Our city did not have the hotels, did not have the economic support (tell me about it), did not have the background or experience to mount such a significant international jubilee. But somehow we must have hit the spot. We had the enthusiasm. We had the desire. And we pulled it off. We won the vote.”

John Harvey tells us, “I was in the room when the result was announced and remember vividly the excitement that followed. Job done. Or, more accurately, job just begun.”

The 26th Bouchercon arrived in Nottingham on Friday September 28th 1995 as part of the year’s ‘Shots in the Dark’ festival. Delegates registered at the Royal Hotel and highlights from the first day included Sue Grafton and Walter Mosley in conversation at the Concert Hall, an illustrated talk by Michael Eaton about Graham Greene in Nottingham, and a Crime Cabaret evening. On the Saturday morning you could catch Minette Walters with Frances Fyfield, and that night, back at Broadway, Linda Barnes, Walter Mosley, John Harvey and ‘Second Nature’ performed in ‘Blues and All That Jazz’, with the novelist and professional drummer Bill Moody sitting in for the second set. The next morning, it was time for Lawrence Block and Donald E Westlake. Breathless stuff.

There were many, many events across several locations with the likes of Sara Paretsky, Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, Tony Hillerman and Jonathan Coe all speaking on panels that addressed a wide variety of subjects. There was also a crime quiz and a tribute to Patricia Highsmith.

Among the local venues employed was the Theatre Royal where local crime writers Frank Palmer, Keith Wright, John Harvey and Raymond Flynn discussed Nottingham in ‘The Most Violent Place in England? How far does Nottingham live up to its reputation, and how close are the fictions set there to the facts?’ Joining them on the panel was Professor Stephen Jones and Harvey’s advisor on the Resnick novels, Detective Superintendent Peter Coles.

Knowing in advance that Nottingham was to host Bouchercon, John Harvey shrewdly set his 7th Resnick novel, ‘Living Proof’, at a crime writing festival in Nottingham. Its publication coincided with Bouchercon’s opening. ‘Living Proof’ features an American novelist and a film director. The festival also held a guided ‘Resnick walk' with its own map, organised by Philip Howell.

The International Guest of Honour was James Ellroy who also compiled a programme of noir films for Broadway. Inspector Morse creator Colin Dexter was the British Guest of Honour, and there was a Lifetime Achievement Award for Ruth Rendell.

“All in all, it was a great four days, during most of which I wandered around on a high,” recalls John Harvey. “Everyone, but everyone - save for James Ellroy - seemed to be having a good time; the majority of people who’d flown across the Atlantic specially for the event deemed it worthwhile. For me, being part of the general atmosphere aside, the most memorable moments came seeing Sue Grafton in conversation with Walter Mosley and, likewise, Lawrence Block talking with Donald E Westlake - and the wonderfully dry wit of Reginald Hill in his role as toastmaster at the Anthony Awards Banquet.”

‘Shots in the Dark’ left Nottingham with the last century but returned in 2018. Revived by Broadway’s Caroline Hennigan and Steve Mapp, and once again under Wootton’s patronage, it welcomed the French director, screenwriter, actor and producer Bertrand Tavernier as Guest of Honour. ‘Shots on the Page’ also returned, giving me the chance to interview C J Tudor.

The film producer Jeremy Thomas was guest of honour in 2019 while this year’s recipient was due to be the director Stephen Frears, a son of West Bridgford.

Over the past few months hundreds of people have renewed or purchased Broadway memberships, bought a voucher or made a donation. The venue is doing everything it can to make the cinema as safe as possible, and it plans to reopen on September 25th. You can read about the precautions they are taking HERE.

David Belbin says, “Broadway has been at the heart of my life since the month I arrived in Nottingham. I’m an avid movie goer, averaging at least once a week. Broadway also plays a big part in my social life, and I miss the place badly.”

Read David Belbin’s full article on Broadway Cinema and ‘Shots in the Dark’.

At the end of this month Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature will mark the 25th anniversary of Nottingham Bouchercon with articles from John Harvey and Michael Eaton. As for ‘Shots in the Dark’, watch this space, and keep up to date via Broadway’s website.

Be in the know. Subscribe to our newsletter

Keep bang up to date with what's new at Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature. Subscribe to our newsletter, and you'll hear all about the latest news, job opportunities and literary events.

subscribe

Search