Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo take over the Phoenix Cinema in East Finchley

PUBLISHED: 13:05 08 October 2010

THE cult ‘wittertaining’ musings of Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo are to be played out in the area’s most historic cinema today.

Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review show, aired on BBC Radio 5 Live and religiously downloaded by their army of fans, is set to broadcast from the Phoenix Cinema, just weeks after the much-loved building celebrated its 100th birthday and a £1.1million refurbishment.

Kermode has long been a fan of the East Finchley cinema where he spent many of his childhood weekends and is one of many celebrity patrons on its charitable trust – others include Maureen Lipman, Mike Leigh and Judi Dench – and says he is delighted to be bringing the show, complete with studio audience, to the site.

“I grew up near the Phoenix, so it was my local cinema when I was a kid and I saw all the important movies of my life there,” says Kermode, who now lives in Southampton.

“We’ve done outside broadcasts before and they seem to be popular. We were looking for a venue and it happened that the Phoenix had reopened.

“It’s historic, it’s a lovely cinema and it’s about what our show is interested in, which is the diversity of movies and meeting people who go to see them. Around half our show is about audience participation.

“So for me it’s a coming home type thing and for the show it’s about meeting the listeners.”

Around 250 film show fans will fill the 1910 auditorium today for the usual mix of film review and interviews, with creator of the West Wing, Aaron Sorkin, and acclaimed director Guillermo del Toro being put on the spot by Dr K, Dr M and the live audience.

Fans of Kermode will probably already be aware of his love of the Phoenix – the oldest purpose-built cinema in the UK – he has even called it his “church”.

“It’s a spectacular area with beautiful murals, it’s a proper cinema,” he adds. “It’s really special and if you really love cinema, that means loving the place you see it in.”

And the latest refurbishment has just helped to retain that special nature for modern-day audiences, he says.

“The auditorium has been cleaned up and the bar area is great because you need somewhere people can come after the film and talk about it. And the balcony allowing you to look over East Finchley is terrifically comic and also terrific.”

Kermode is so much a fan of the place where he first laid eyes on films such as The Exorcist (his favourite film, as he never tires of telling his radio listeners) that his handprints adorn the outside of the site, Hollywood Boulevard-style, though it was more of a mistake than an official event, he says.

“I did a book talk and they were building the steps and someone said I should do a handprint. I said, ‘Don’t be silly,’ but they said they would be building the steps over the spot anyway – then they didn’t build the steps.”

As the pair banter away just as they do on their weekly radio show, Mayo claims he has never been to the Phoenix. Au contraire, says Kermode: “But you have been there – it’s been used for lots of movie locations when they want a cinema, because it’s a cinema that still looks like a cinema.”

Some of the famous films which made use of the antique theatre are Interview with a Vampire and The End of the Affair, he notes.

So, maybe through the magic of cinema there have been “visits” but Mayo says he is looking forward to the Phoenix experience in reality.

“Mark tells me what a fabulous cinema it is so I’m really looking forward to it and trust it’s better than Holloway Odeon, which is where I see most of my films,” he says. “When I went there to see Outbreak there were drug deals being done in the front row and a mobile phone went off about 25 times.

“In the end the man behind him asked him to turn the phone off, a fight broke out and he was chased out of the cinema. So, I’m trusting that doesn’t happen at the Phoenix and that there is no drug deal and a no- phones policy.”

o The show will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 5 Live between 2 and 4pm or can be downloaded as a podcast from iTunes or the Radio 5 website soon afterwards.

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