Silver screen defeats supermodels

Cultural heritage: Sir David Puttnam at the forefront of successful campaign to protect old cinema from 'tacky' development

VICKY WARD

The film producer Sir David Puttnam rejoiced yesterday that the Rialto cinema, a Grade II listed cinema, built in 1913 in Piccadilly, central London, had been spared the "tacky" interior design planned by the supermodels Naomi Campbell, Claudia Schiffer, Elle Macpherson and Christy Turlington.

"I am just delighted that there is a chance that it can still be used as a cinema," he said. "I am very attached to it because my very first film, Melody, was premiered there in 1970. I hope that somebody like Channel 4, which is now a distributor, can come in and use it."

Sir David had first lent his support to the campaign to preserve the Rialto as a cinema during the summer, when the supermodels who founded New York's Fashion Cafe decided it would be the perfect spot for a glitzy London version.

They made a pounds 15m bid to buy the premises, owned by the soft porn-to-property tycoonPaul Raymond, and applied to Westminster City Council for planning permission. They were to get a decision in October. However, the opposition of Sir David, Lord Attenborough and the Rialto Trust persuaded the council to postpone its verdict.

Initially the council was sceptical about the Rialto Trust's assertions that the cinema - which has one screen and a few hundred seats - could be financially viable as a cinema again. However, the supermodels' renovation plans had to be amended to comply with English Heritage rules for listed buildings.

The installation of a huge camera lens in the foyer for people to walk through, was deemed completely unsuitable in terms of structure. "The debatable tackiness of the idea was never an issue." a spokesman said firmly.

But by this week the planning committee's attitude had swung behind the objectors. "We felt that the use of the building . . . must remain for entertainment." the spokesman added.

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