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Secret Cinema presents Back To The Future review: Great Scott, I’ve gone back to 1955!

© Al Overdrive for Secret Cinema

Audience members dressed in 1950s costume gather in Courthouse Square in Secret Hill Valley for the screening of Back To The Future
© Al Overdrive for Secret Cinema

Secret Cinema events usually stays off-radar, fulfilling the ‘secret’ element to the title. Since it was first started 10 years ago by founder Fabien Riggall, it has hosted immersive experiences and screenings of classic films such as Shawshank Redemption, Grease and Casablanca. However, with the announcement two months ago that Secret Cinema were going to host the biggest live cinema event in the UK, it brought the company to a whole new level of publicity. I have long wanted to go to SC event, but have been waiting for the right film. When I found out they were presenting my favourite film Back To The Future, I knew I had to go. Admittedly, SC did experience some negative press in the run-up, with ticket problems and having cancelled the initial week of screenings, Thursday’s launch in East London easily proved the doubters wrong.

© Laura Little for Secret Cinema

The event was open to all members of the family
© Laura Little for Secret Cinema

In the run up to Secret Cinema’s launch of ‘Secret Hill Valley’, my friends and I were each assigned our own characters. I was a student at Hill Valley High School, where the movie’s characters of Marty, Lorraine, George and Biff all went to school in the either ’50s or ’80s. We were given a list of props to bring to round out our character, such as sunglasses, a family photo and homework. Although SC’s BTTF screenings had been in the national press, the premise is to keep as many details secret as possible so not to ruin the experience for subsequent visitors. In my review, I’ll only give away what has been covered in the national press and the photos included so I don’t ruin the many surprises of the evening.

The dress code is 1955, so my friends and I all gathered at an East London train station dressed in petticoats, crisp white shirts with high ponytails and gelled back hairstyles armed with cushions (to sit on during the screening) and our various props. At the entrance, we handed in our cameras and phones to try to preserve the secrecy of Hill Valley. Although my friends and I kept reaching for our phones when spotting great photo opportunities, we soon got used to not having them, which gave us the freedom to truly immerse ourselves in the experience. Anyway, no one had mobile phones in 1955, so that would have spoiled the look.

© Al Overdrive for Secret Cinema

Some audience members got to cruise around town with some of the cast in vintage cars
© Al Overdrive for Secret Cinema

Just like our hero Marty McFly (Michael J Fox) did in the movie, we walked through the country lanes approaching the town of Hill Valley, past the houses of some of the famous residents, such as the Baines, McFly and Tannen families. SC has recreated Courthouse Square with great detail, full of the familiar shops and businesses from the movie, such as Lou’s Café, Roy’s Records and the Hill Valley Telegraph. The town was also full of residents (played by actors), many familiar from the film, such as bully Biff Tannen cruising the square looking for trouble with his gang of cronies. Admittedly there were a lot of queues for the eating establishments, but with a couple of thousand people in attendance, this was inevitable. Visitors had 3 hours to enjoy the sights and sounds of Secret Hill Valley before the main event – the film’s screening – took place. This is where is helps to bring a cushion or blanket so you can park yourself on the grassy square of Hill Valley and watch the action on the big screen of the Courthouse – complete with its clock frozen in time at 10.04pm when it was struck by lightning. Following the screening, there is a chance to rock your socks off at the Enchantment Under The Sea dance in the High School, where George and Lorraine finally kissed for the first time in the movie, ensuring Marty’s existence ahead in 1985.

Tickets for the event are £53 which does sound steep – but this is more than a film screening. When you enter the life-sized town that SC have created and the large cast helping to transport you back to 1955, you soon realise why the pricing is such. However, all five people in my group of friends who attended and myself all agreed we would happily pay to return – it was such a brilliant experience.

  • Secret Cinema Presents Back to the Future runs until 31 August 2014 and tickets are available for dates from 14-31 August via Secret Cinema’s official site.
© Laura Little for Secret Cinema

Hill Valley was hosting its town’s fair, giving guests the opportunity to enjoy the funfair
© Laura Little for Secret Cinema


For a review of Secret Cinema’s screening of The Great Dictator, click here.

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Can lampposts be fashionable? The myth of the Coco Chanel street lights

Have you ever spotted the CC logo on Westminster’s street lighting?

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

A tribute to a loving merger of aristocracy and high fashion? The ‘Coco Chanel lampposts’ in Westminster

Anyone observant who has walked around the City of Westminster may have noticed the gold CC initials embossed on some of the lampposts. With the two Cs back-to-back, the first association that would spring to mind would be Coco Chanel’s iconic logo. Decades after the French designer was the talk of the town, her brand is still a big name internationally, synonymous with classic style and quality.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Coco Chanel… or just City Council?

For years, there has been a myth that the initials actually are in homage to Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel (1883-1971) as a declaration of affection from her lover, the Duke of Westminster, Hugh Richard Arthur Grosvenor (1879-1953). The pair were said to have met at a party in Monaco sometime between 1923 and 1925 and embarked on a love affair until the early ’30s. Although French and known for her long association with Paris, Gabrielle spent a lot of time in London during the ’20s and opened her Mayfair boutique in 1927. To prove his love for her, the myth claims the Duke had her CC initials embossed in gold on black lampposts alongside his own ornate W crest (for Westminster). Decades after their romance, Coco herself denied reports she had refused the Duke’s proposal with the reply: ‘There have been many Duchesses of Westminster, but only one Coco Chanel.’ She said such a response would have been ‘vulgar’, adding: ‘He would have laughed in my face.’ However, he did buy her some land at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin on the French Riviera, where she built her villa La Pausa.

While the lampposts appearing to combine French fashion and traditional British design remain on many Westminster streets, it appears the CCs may not have such a romantic origin after all. Westminster Council told the Telegraph two years ago that the CC stands for something far less glamorous. Martin Low, City Commissioner of Transportation for Westminster City Council, told the paper: ‘Periodically, we get calls from the fashion press asking if the double Cs on our lampposts stand for Coco Chanel. It’s a nice idea, but no. The fancy W stands for Westminster and the two Cs stand for City Council. The lampposts didn’t actually get installed until the 1950s.’

N.B. The lampposts in the 1st and 2nd photos is located on Temple Place, WC2R, just behind Temple tube station, while the final lamppost is on Irving Street, just off Charing Cross Road.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Sadly the CC stands for Coco Chanel and the W is for Westminster


For more Metro Girl blog posts on London’s ‘Dolphin’ lamps by the Thames click here or for the last gas sewer lamp in London, click here.

To read about more of London’s street furniture, such as the now-restored Georgian water pump on Cornhill click here or the old police telephone posts click here.

If you’re a fan of the 1920s, check out our guide to prohibition-themed bars and parties here.

Check out more of Metro Girl’s history posts.

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Rock ‘n’ rollin’ at the Rivoli: Jive Party at a 1950s ballroom

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Let’s dance: Jive Party at the Rivoli Ballroom in Brockley, South East London

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

You spin me round like a record: Taking a twirl on the dancefloor

Over the past 10 years, partially thanks to Strictly Come Dancing, there has been a huge rise in partnered dance classes and actual dances as evening events. Salsa and Ceroc appear to be two of the most popular. Personally, I’ve always felt more comfortable dancing solo and freestyle, so haven’t really attempted to learn such dances… until now.

A dear friend who I have known all my life is getting married and decided to have a hen party. However, she was insistent she didn’t want anything tacky or showy, so no penis-themed paraphernalia, L plates and butt-grabbing claws. So for something a bit different, she decided to have a 1940s/1950s-themed vintage hen, which would culminate on a night out at the monthly Jive Party at the Rivoli Ballroom in Brockley, South East London.

Ahead of the actual night, I had to launch a search for my outfit. Although you don’t have to dress in vintage style at the Rivoli, there are plenty who do, and as we were on a hen ‘do it was only right we showed some unity and had some fun by dressing up. I already had a strapless prom dress with a bit of netting underneath, which I bolstered with a second net skirt (a huge selection is available from Amazon). Many in my party had opted for polka-dot and halterneck dresses or twin sets.

On the afternoon before the Jive Party – which started around 8pm – we all gathered at the bride-to-be’s home to transform ourselves into 1940s and 1950s divas, while sipping on bubbly and Mojitos. The bride’s future sister-in-law had organised for a visit from Lipstick & Curls – a vintage hair styling team – who spent several hours styling our hair into braids, victory rolls and beehives and painting our faces with winged eyeliner and red lipstick. I personally only had my hair done, but I can highly recommend the company, who were fast, friendly and left us all happy with our final look.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Let’s rock this joint: Oo-Bop-Sh’Bam! performed RnB, Boogie and Jive

The Rivoli Ballroom is a unique gem in London in that it’s the only intact 1950s ballroom in the capital. Located on Brockley Road opposite Crofton Park train station, the large Grade-II listed ballroom includes a huge dancefloor, lots of plush seating and a separate bar area – but remember ‘no drinks on the dancefloor’! I’m a sucker for restored, period interiors so loved the ballroom immediately upon entering and were early enough to grab a table directly near the bar and the band. The variety of the crowd was surprising too – I have to confess I was expecting a predominantly middle-aged group, but it ranged from people in their 20s to 60s.

We were attending a monthly night organised by Jive Party. The night starts with a dance class for all those (like my hen group) who didn’t know what they were doing, some with a little experience, and experts who were happy to share their knowledge with the likes of us newbies. The jive routine was broken down into short sequences of moves and after learning a few steps, we were told to move along to change partners, so it gave everyone a good opportunity to meet fellow newbies or get some advice from an expert and also established a ‘we’re all in this having fun together’ vibe. I found the class a bit tricky, although got the main gist of the moves, but at this point had had a few flutes of bubbly so perhaps wasn’t in deep concentration!

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Help is at hand: Beginners will find plenty of experienced dancers willing to show them the ropes

Following the lesson, you’re free to hit the dancefloor and show off your moves to the sounds of the Jive Party band Oo-Bop-Sh’Bam, who played a mix of RnB, boogie, Jive and Rock ‘n’ Roll and really got the crowd going. Despite our hen party being (obviously) all women, there were no shortage of partners on offer, although we often danced with each other, which made deciding who was leading very difficult.

All in all, we all had a really fun night, which I highly recommend and suggest anyone making a big event of going to the Rivoli for a hen or landmark birthday should hire the team from Lipstick & Curls to make your retro evening complete. While I’m far from a Jive expert, I had such a laugh I will definitely be heading back.

  • Rivoli Ballroom is located at 350 Brockley Road, Brockley, London SE4 2BY. Nearest train station: Crofton Park (20 minutes from Blackfriars). For details of what’s on visit the Rivoli’s website or to find out when the next Jive Party is, visit Jive Party’s website. Tickets for Jive Party, which included the lesson, were £15.

For more hen ideas in London, read my blog post on two hen ‘dos I organised earlier this year: Cluck cluck: Tale of a London hen weekend

Or if you fancy a 1920-themed hen do, here’s a review of a hen at the Candlelight Club, or a guide to some venues and parties in our Great Gatsby-themed guide.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

The real McCoy: The Rivoli is the only intact 1950s ballroom in London

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