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Hackney in the 80s: How 12,000 photographs discarded in The Rio’s basement have been brought back to life

PUBLISHED: 09:30 08 March 2020 | UPDATED: 17:27 09 March 2020

The occupation of St Leonard's Hospital in Kingsland Road. Picture: Rio Cinema Archive

The occupation of St Leonard's Hospital in Kingsland Road. Picture: Rio Cinema Archive

Rio Cinema Archive

Photographer Alan Denney came across pictures of his wife when he went through 12,000 slides found in the Rio three years ago. Now he’s restored them, people who lived in Hackney in the 80s are being invited to have a peek, to see what memories they inspire ahead of an exhibition at Hackney Museum in May.

Members of the Tape Slide Newsreel group outside the Rio Cinema . Picture: Rio Cinema ArchiveMembers of the Tape Slide Newsreel group outside the Rio Cinema . Picture: Rio Cinema Archive

The past two years trawling through 12,000 slides found stored in the basement of the Rio Cinema, have 'been like reliving his 30s' for retiree Alan Denney.

A treasure trove of 35mm glass-mounted colour photograph slides in the basement of The Rio cinema were discovered by its marketing manager Andrew Woodyatt when he was having a clear out in 2017, ahead of the second screen being installed.

Andrew linked the collection back to a photography group called The Tape Slide Newsreel Group that grew out of a photography project founded at the former Centerprise bookshop, just opposite in Kingsland High Street.

Young people were given access to professional photography equipment and Hackney Council's adult education services paid for a tutor so they could capture life in Hackney at the time.

Alan Denney.Alan Denney.

The group would use the basement of The Rio to process the images, and held editorial meetings to plan how to best report on topical stories. The best slides were screened with a synchronised audio as a local news item just before the main film came on.

All in all, they made 100 news reels, but the audio tapes have sadly vanished.

Alan, who lived in Hackney at the time, found out about Andrew's discovery and offered his services.

'I'm a pensioner. I've got a lot of time,' Alan, 68, of Dynevor Road, Stoke Newington, told the Gazette.

OAPs' day centre party. Picture: Rio Cinema ArchiveOAPs' day centre party. Picture: Rio Cinema Archive

'The cabinet had been there 30 years, getting dirty and the slides were covered in dust and deteriorating. They were really greasy so I cleaned each one and repaired the glass, and I scanned them with a high res film scanner and retouched them in Photoshop.

'It was like a drug,' he said.

'I kept putting more in to see what was coming up next, off the scanner and onto the screen.

'I came across photos of my wife, friends, neighbours.

Mecca Bingo at the Hackney Empire. Picture: Rio Cinema ArchiveMecca Bingo at the Hackney Empire. Picture: Rio Cinema Archive

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'It was fascinating, just seeing images that hadn't been seen for 30 years.

'It was part of my history too, so I had a pretty good idea of what was going on.'

The pictures were taken between 1983 and 1988. and the activist spirit of the time was captured in photographs of protests in support of the NHS, the Miners' Strikes, Hackney women going to Greenham Common for the anti-nuclear demonstrations and the peaceful rallies after the murder of Colin Roach at Stoke Newington Police station in 1983.

Marxist historian and activist CLR James. Picture: Rio Cinema ArchiveMarxist historian and activist CLR James. Picture: Rio Cinema Archive

They also reveal Hackney as a vibrant, sociable and busy borough from giddy gatherings at the Hackney Show kids' festival, nights at the bingo, days on the housing estates and weekends down a bustling Ridley Road Market.

'It's a really impressive collection of photos,' said Alan.

'It's a graphic illustration of Hackney in the 80s and how Hackney responded to Thatcherism.

'The Tale Slide group reported on local and national events as they played out here in Hackney. 
'There's an awful lot of stuff about the Hackney health emergency campaign. They were closing the Mothers Hospital, the German, St Leonards, Hackney Hospital and the Metropolitan in Kingsland Road, so there were big campaigns and parades up and down the high street with huge effigies of Margaret Thatcher.'

Anti-Traveller racism. Picture: Rio Cinema ArchiveAnti-Traveller racism. Picture: Rio Cinema Archive

The Funk the Wedding Rock Against Racism festival in Clissold Park on the day Charles and Diana got married is also on record, and the rate-capping crisis in 1985, when Labour councils refused to set a rate in defiance of Tory orders.

'Hackney was one of the last boroughs to hold out against it, so there were occupations of the council chambers, and town hall staff locked the councillors out of the chamber to prevent them capitulating to the Tories,' said Alan.

'Eventually after three days they passed a budget and the left Labour leader had to leave, and a period of chaos ensued in the council.'

Alan has now finished digitalising every single one of the 12,000 images.

The first anniversary of Colin Roach's death inside Stoke Newington Police Station. Picture: Rio Cinema ArchiveThe first anniversary of Colin Roach's death inside Stoke Newington Police Station. Picture: Rio Cinema Archive

A selection of the images have already been shared on a dedicated Rio Cinema Instagram account, and they will eventually be catalogued online at the Hackney Archives in the CLR James Library.

In the meantime, there are two 'memory harvesting' events taking place next week, which will see people who lived in Hackney in the 80s viewing some of the photos in the hope they might help contribute to the curation of an extensive photography exhibition at Hackney Museum in May.

The first session takes place on March 13 from 1pm to 3pm at the Hackney Archives, and the next on March 19 from 5pm to 7pm at Hackney Museum.


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