50 before 50: #6 (London)
Sometimes you come across a blue plaque that makes you want to learn more about the person or building to which it refers. For me this is one of them. I was intrigued. Who the devil was Montague Pyke? It turns out he was for the time the cinema king. The most important man in British Cinematography for a while. I suppose you could call him the Lew Grade of his day.
And his day was the first two decades of the 1900s. Pyke came to the fore following the passing of the Cinematograph Act which led to a mad and speculative rush of cinema building. He built 16 in total. This was the site of the last.
Pyke was the original shady businessman whose dodgy practices were exposed in 1912, when it emerged he’d increased his salary (from £25 a week to £10,000 a year) and “forgotten” to pay dividends. By 1913 his empire had collapsed and in 1915 he was declared bankrupt and accused – and acquitted – of manslaughter for the death of an employee in a nitrate film fire. His company was reconstituted in 1916, but his dreams of expanding into the provinces was never realised. He fell into obscurity, dying in 1935 at the age of 61.
His vanity fair 1911 portrait hangs outside the pub that bears his name has given me an idea, which I really must tout to my publisher at some point.
And knowing my love of weaving the historical into my work, I have a feeling that Montague Pyke may very well appear within the pages of a book at some point…