Forest Gate - the new Hollywood?

Tuesday 18 February 2014

 ... or so went the question in a recent Guardian feature on E7 - see last week's blog for details. And perhaps it had a point. The district can "claim" a clutch of current ground breaking film headline grabbers, who follow in a fine local tradition, as we show, below.

Chiwetel Ejiofor

Well, as if to live up to the "New Hollywood" billing, the Bafta award for Leading Actor last night went to .... Chiwetel Ejiofor for his role in the "Best film" Twelve Years a Slave.

Chiwetel was born on 10 July 1977 in Forest Gate.

His parents left Nigeria after the civil war, in the early 1970's, and moved to England. His father Arinze was a doctor, his mother worked in a chemist's shop, locally. During the 1980's the family moved to Brixton.

A smiling, Bafta-winning, Forest Gate-born,
Crystal Palace-supporting, Chiwetel Ejiofor
In 1988, when Ejiofor was 11, tragedy struck the family during a trip to Nigeria for a wedding,. After the celebrations, Arinze and Chiwe, as he is familiarly known, were driving to Lagos when their car was involved in a head-on crash with a lorry. Arinze was killed, but Chiwe, badly injured and unconscious, survived.

He was educated at the prestigious fee-paying Dulwich College, in South London, where some of the local good taste affected him and he became a life-long Crystal Palace FC supporter.

After leaving school, he went to the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, and within three months he was offered the lead in Steven Spielberg's Amistad - and hasn't looked back since. Last night is surely just one more step in an illustrious career.  With good fortune in place of birth and good taste in football team, could it be anything else?

Idris Elba

Mandela - Long Walk to Freedom was shortlisted in the Best British Movie category of the Baftas last night and leading actor Idris Elba can claim a Forest Gate connection too. Idris was born in Hackney in 1972 to mixed Sierra Leone and Ghanaian parents, but spent most of his childhood and school days in Canning Town.

Idris Elba - local boy plays Nelson Mandela
He began to make his mark, seriously, in film when he got a leading role in the major US drama, The Wire, in 2002. He has moved on through significant roles until he was cast to play Mandela in the recent biopic.

The movie was premiered in London in November on the day Mandela died.  Idris was in town for the premier and stopped off at his uncle's garage in Dames Road, E7 before heading to the West End for the premier.

Idris visits family business
in Dames Road, last November.
Photo courtesy Newham Recorder
We are deeply indebted to the Newham Recorder for having had the presence of mind to record the visit and fully acknowledge their ownership of the photograph, above, that celebrated the occasion of yet another local boy making good.

Ben Drew - Ill Manors

We have featured Forest Gate boy, Ben Drew - more widely known as Plan B, before on this site (see here). He is perhaps most recognised as a hip-hop/rapper/song writer with a string of hits, prominent among them the exceptional album The Defamation of Strickland Banks and its smash single Stay Too Long.

Ben has, additionally, carved out a career in film; having appeared in Harry Brown in 2010 and as DC Carter in The Sweeney in 2012.

Ben Drew, on location, shooting Ill Manors
More recently he made his film directing debut, also in 2012, in Ill Manors, a grimy, violent film of sub plots. The themes are based around drugs and marginalised youth, all set - in, yes ... Forest Gate - that fast emerging local Hollywood.  Much of the action of the movie took place in the now closed Earl of Essex pub, on Romford Road.

Now closed Earl of Essex on Romford
Road, scene of much of the action
in Ill Manors
Bryan Forbes (1926 - 2013)

One of Forest Gate's most famous sons, Bryan Forbes, the dynamic actor, novelist screen-writer, producer and director of films such as Whistle Down The Wind, The L-Shaped Room and The Stepford Wives died last year, aged 86 (obituary here).

From his birth (as John Theobald Clarke) in 1926, to his evacuation as a 13-year-old in 1939, he was brought up in a terraced house in Cranmer Road - one of several obliterated in the early days of the Blitz.

Cranmer Road's very own Bryan Forbes
His grandparents lived in Odessa Road, and he was a pupil at Godwin Road Junior School where he won a scholarship to the former West Ham Secondary School - now Stratford School in Upton Lane.

Writing for the now defunct Forest Gate Times in 2001 he recalled a happy and carefree childhood in E7 ("to me they will always be halcyon days"): playing on Wanstead Flats, being captivated by the local movie theatre - the Splendide Cinema in Forest Lane - on a site now occupied by the Community School (see here for details of the cinema) and spending his pocket money on bits of Meccano at Pattison's Toy Bazaar and Doll's Hospital opposite the station.

Anna Neagle (1904 - 1986)

Anna was born Florence Marjorie Robertson on 20 October 1904 in Glenparke Road, Forest Gate. Her family later moved to Upton Lane. She attended Park Primary school and became one of the biggest and brightest film stars of her day.

Neagle proved to be a box-office money spinner in British films for over 25 years. She was noted for providing glamour and sophistication to war-torn London audiences with her lightweight musicals, comedies and historical dramas.

Forest Gate - born, Anna Neagle
She won several awards as Britain's favourite actress and biggest female box-office draw. Almost all of her films were produced and directed by Herbert Wilcox whom she married in 1943.

In her historical dramas, she was renowned for her portrayals of real-life British heroines, including Nell Gwynn (Nell Gwynn, 1934), Queen Victoria (Victoria the Great, 1937, and Sixty Glorious Years, 1938).

Neagle and Wilcox then began an association with Hollywood. Their first American film was Nurse Edith Cavell (1939),another performance of a true-life British heroine, which had a significant impact for audiences on the eve of war.
She followed these with three musical comedies, all based on once-popular stage plays: Irene (1940), followed by No, No, Nanette (1940) in which she sang Tea for Two and finally Sunny (1941). Neagle and Wilcox's last American film was Forever and a Day (1943), a tale of a London family house from 1804 to the 1940 blitz.

Returning to Britain, Anna Neagle added another real-life British heroines to her gallery, as aviator Amy Johnson in They Flew Alone. She starred in a number of further biopics, playing roles of Odette, Florence Nightingale and Queen Victoria and Nell Gwynne (each for a second time). She starred in a number of quintessentially English films, featuring titles such as Mayfair, The Piccadilly Incident (best film of 1947) and Spring in Park Lane (best film 1949).

Neagle spent much of the early 1950s on the stage, but by the time she returned to films in the middle of the decade found that her fame and ability to attract good roles had faded.

She was a distant cousin of the Queen, via her descent from the illegitimate daughter of Queen Victoria's uncle, and lived in Brighton for many years with Herbert Wilcox. She was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1969 and died in Surrey in 1986 after a long illness. She is buried in the same grave as her husband and parents in the City of London cemetery.

Sir Alfred Hitchcock (1899 - 1980)

The unmistakable, Sir Alfred Hitchcock
Poor Sir Alfred - the nearly man! He was born just to the west of Forest Gate, at 517 Leytonstone High Road - on the site of what is now a Jet service station - opposite the Homebase store.  There is a Waltham Forest blue plaque on the wall of the petrol station, commemorating the fact, and of course there is the Sir Alfred Hitchcock pub, about half a mile away on Whipps Cross Road (see photos).

517 High Road, Leytonstone
- site of Alfred Hitchcock's birth

Waltham Forest Blue Plaque, at the service
station, marking site of Alfred Hitchcock's birth
Hitchcock clearly benefited from the Forest Gate air wafting over, as he emerged to be probably Britain's best ever film director, and one of the world's most distinguished cinematic movie makers of all time.

And the Whipps Cross Road pub named after him
E7 movie makers, one and all - we salute you.

Hollywood's Walk of Fame - Woodgrange Road next?

How long before there is a Walk of Fame on Woodgrange Road??


  1. Could mention something about Arnold Schwarzenegger training in Forest Gate when he was training for one of the Mr Olympia titles

    1. Brian Forbes was a very talented actor director and author , he was also
      a lovely man who never forgot where he came from and that should be recognised.

  2. Brian Snowdon (also b. Forest Gate)15 April 2017 at 15:52

    Despite many articles showing Idris (b.Idrissa)Elba being born in Hackney , he was actually born in FOREST GATE . His autobiography and the General Record Office Index reference for his birth confirm this .(He was born in West Ham District which covers Forest Gate and definitely not Hackney.) He did live in Hackney however for a period.

  3. Good spot! In all probability it would have been the old Forest Gate Maternity Hospital on Forest Lane - which is now Gladys Dimson House and was formerly the Industrial School (see this site for several related posts).

    In which case - put up a plaque!

    In all seriousness, Newham Council is pretty dreadful at recognising buildings within the borough with significant historic connections. A brief meander through this site could throw up over a dozen in Forest Gate alone.

    1. Could well have Forest Gate Hospital , where I was also born .My home was also in Canning Town , and Idris Elba also went to my old school - South West Ham Tech., which was renamed Trinity by the time he went.


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