After Philip French’s funeral in November 2015, the mourners came back for drinks at his house. A couple of younger film critics asked, a little nervously, if they might visit his ‘cinema’ which they’d heard talk about. It was worth seeing. There’s a large screen, which descends with a buzz at the touch of a button in front of the windows, cutting out the daylight. The walls and the ceiling are painted a matt dark blue, the ceiling lights create a starlight effect, and there are old-fashioned lamps on either side of the screen. The walls are lined with shelves of videos, DVDs and Blurays. The videos are relics of a near-defunct technology, but Philip was reluctant to dispose of them. Many were otherwise unobtainable rarities taped at strange times of the night from obscure broadcasts.
Of course, most of Philip’s movie-watching took place in Soho viewing theatres. He tended to use his home cinema for checking details or to revisit old movies he had first seen as a child at matinees in Liverpool, as a schoolboy in Bristol, in troop screenings in the Canal Zone, at Oxford, or in long-closed or long-demolished cinemas like the Academy on Oxford Street, the Tolmer in Camden, or the Astoria in Finsbury Park.
He wrote his reviews in a back room of his house crammed with movie reference books and also, oddly enough, a large collection of poetry. In the 1960s his working desk accommodated a portable Olivetti typewriter, an ashtray, a packet of cigarettes, and, as often as not, a gin and tonic. For the French family the early articles in this book will always be seen through a blue haze of smoke accompanied by the clacking of two-finger typing. By the early seventies, the gin and tonic had gone. By the mid-seventies the cigarettes had gone as well. And by the late-ish 1980s the Olivetti had, finally, joined them. But Philip was never entirely comfortable in the world of the Amstrad 8256, the MacBook and the Internet Movie Database. For him, journalism should be something in i n t r o d u c t i o n xiii