Mark Wincott meets with Gary Lewis, member of the Alfred Hitchcock Society of Leytonstone and founder of YouTube Channel Lewis Presents for a chat over a tuna baguette at La Parisian coffee shop.
How did you join the Alfred Hitchcock society of Leytonstone?
In July 2016, I went a Hitchcock event, and the society was there, so I signed up to their mailing list. In September, I attended my first meeting with six people and now we’re up to sixteen members. It’s a self-funding organisation. A year later we put on our first show and we spoke about doing a talk about Hitchcock in Leytonstone. James, Oliver and I put together slides, photos and a film, which got a good reception; since then we’ve done four more, all at The Birds pub in Leytonstone.
What did you find out about Hitchcock?
He was born in Leytonstone in 1899 and lived there until 1907, when his family moved to Limehouse. When his father died in 1914, they moved back to Leytonstone. What interested me is how his early life influenced his movie career. At five years old, his dad sent him to the local police station (Harrow Green) with a note. He gave the note to the desk sergeant, who then put him in a cell for five minutes. The injustice he felt stayed with him as well as a fear of the police, and inspired The 39 Steps, The Wrong Man and North by Northwest.
He could speak French and German fluently and his first movies were made in Germany. He attended Mayville school; his favourite cinema was The Academy (near Harrow Green). The Academy closed, became a Bingo hall and in 1983 was demolished for a block of flats called Paramount House.
When did you start getting into the history of East London?
I went to George Mitchell School; we had two VC winners and no one mentioned it. One was Jack Cornwall who won a VC in 1916 at the battle of Jutland. We knew only that he was from Leyton, so I went on a pilgrimage to find out more. He was born in January 1900, lived in Byron Road off Skeltons Lane Park, and three years ago they renamed it Jack Cornwall Park. He is buried at Manor Park cemetery. There’s a street and a pub named after him too.
Harry Beck modernised the London Underground tube map and lived at 14 Wesley Road. Derek Jacobi lived at 2a Essex Road South and was part of the Leytonstone Play readers until he left for Cambridge. Jacobi attended Leyton County High with Frank Muir, who lived at 28 Church Road.
St Patrick’s cemetery, row 10, grave 10, plot 66 is Mary Kelly’s grave; for a hundred years she’d been resting in a pauper’s grave. Mickey Rourke began paying for the upkeep while in the area making a movie. Hitchcock’s family plot is there, so is Timothy Evans, which you can see on my YouTube channel, and Stephen Lewis (Blakey from On The Buses) is there. He started at Joan Littlewood’s theatre workshop In Stratford (Theatre Royal). Joan Littlewood formed the workshop to bring theatre to the working classes. The likes of Michael Caine, Richard Harris, Harry H. Corbett and Brian Murphy passed through.
Tell us about your YouTube Channel, Lewis Presents.
My mate Neil Harper who now lives in Arkansas asked if Drapers Field is still there. I went and filmed it, posted the video on Facebook and wanted to do more. I called it Lewis Presents, and have posted about David Bailey’s time in Leytonstone, Iron Maiden’s Steve Harris, Laurie Cunningham and Whipps Cross Lido. Also hospitals, like Queen Mary’s in Stratford, where I was born, as was Lennox Lewis. It’s gone now, like many hospitals, police stations and playing fields, all gone under the diggers of the demolition squad.
I have got the YouTube channel, Lewis Presents. In August, we will do something for Hitchcock’s birthday. On 4 September, I’m doing a talk on Hitchcock’s Leytonstone for the local festival at St John’s church, 7:45 pm. And I’m doing my first guided walk on 29 September, called Walking in The Footsteps of Hitchcock, starting outside Leytonstone tube station. Will be interesting.