This blog isn’t just an exploration of Centre Point the building, but also the time in which it was created. The films of the era are one of the best barometers of the social change taking place. Go back to the 1950s and it was all stiff-upper-lip war films, Hammer Horror titles and old-fashioned Ealing comedies. But by the time Centre Point was completed in 1966, the British New Wave was reaching its peak – with the release of two contrasting but complementary films.
Alfie presented London through the eyes of a cocksure Cockney womaniser, played by Michael Caine. The title character in Georgy Girl was the polar opposite – a homely young woman, played by Lynn Redgrave, who longs for a taste of the Swinging London lifestyle that her friend Meredith enjoys. Both films became big youth hits, but their messages were ultimately conservative. Alfie is forced to come to terms with his freewheeling lifestyle and resolves to change his ways and settle down. Meanwhile, virtuous Georgy gets the handsome man in the end, while her more promiscuous friend ends up pregnant and repentant.
But it wasn’t ultimately the plot that mattered in either film – it was the place. Whether it was Lynn Redgrave gazing into glamorous shop windows in Kensington, or Michael Caine photographing Shelley Winters on the banks of the Thames, London was the real star of every scene.
International directors naturally wanted to tap into that energy. Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni came to London to make Blowup, following the fortunes of a successful young fashion photographer, loosely based on David Bailey. It was certainly more highbrow than the Carry On films that were also gaining popularity at the time, along with the budding James Bond series, which took off when Sean Connery starred in Dr No in 1962.
But possibly the greatest Swinging London film of all involved four Liverpudlians. A Hard Day’s Night was a surreal retelling of a day in the life of the Beatles – a forerunner of the ‘mockumentary’ style that would become popular decades later. The film culminates in a live performance at the Scala Theatre, once located down the road from Centre Point at 21 Tottenham Street. It has now been converted into apartments, but you can still see Charlotte Mews, directly opposite, from which the four heroes emerge, chased by police, just in time for their big performance.