My father’s contribution to the war effort was to operate radar stations, monitoring incoming enemy aircraft, others found themselves slowly fighting their way across Europe.
For some, with a seemingly safer war, were hugely valuable in raising the morale of Londoners. Maurice Cheepen, a Jewish immigrant from Nazi Germany ‘did his bit’ in an extraordinary fashion.
BUILT ON THE SITE of an old brewery, at a cost of £250,000 (£17 million in today’s money), the Troxy Cinema on Commercial Road was the largest cinema in England.
The first film to be shown was King Kong, with the first customer entering its lavish foyer in 1933 being rewarded with a gold watch.
But it was Maurice Cheepen who ensured that ‘Stepney’s Luxurious Troxy’ was the most prestigious entertainment venue in East London. Poverty, the 1930s Depression and looming storm clouds, Eastenders needed someone like Maurice to lift them out of the gloom.
A horse-drawn pumpkin coach to advertise Cinderella; Dracula promoted by a vampire handing out leaflets; and ‘red Indians’ telling the local populace about the latest western, that’s how Maurice entertained them.
In the Blitz, with the audience trapped inside the Troxy during a bombing raid, Maurice led a rendition of “There’ll Always Be An England”. Later a wag retorted after a bomb landed nearby “I’m not sure about that!”
Naturalised in 1935 the London Gazette of 5th April 1935 reported:
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. 6th March 1935.
Maurice rewarded his adopted country with a plethora of entertainment goodies. One of his most outlandish stunts was dreamt up in 1952 when the film Where No Vultures Fly was about to be screened. Maurice had live vultures caged in the foyer, one ‘escaped’ and flew around the auditorium. Could Maurice have deliberately released the bird to promote the feature? We will never know.
In 1960 the last film was shown at the Troxy, by which time Maurice Cheepen had retired. The building became a bingo hall and a rehearsal studio, now restored to its former glory it is one of the finest venues in East London.
Featured image: Troxy, Commercial Road by Robin Sones (CC BY-SA 2.0)