Terminator of the North Circular gets Finchley all in a flutter

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The Independent Online
In All the unlikely encounters dreamt up by Hollywood, King Kong meeting Godzilla long held pride of place, until giving way to Frankenstein meeting the Werewolf; but in terms of sheer implausibility neither came close to last week's meeting between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Finchley.

In the rush to document the occasion - the UK premiere of Arnie's latest shoot'em up spectacular, Eraser, at the new pounds 7m Warner Brothers state- of-the-art multiplex eight-screen cinema at the Great North Leisure Park, complete with celeb-studded after-show party - the encounter itself has largely passed unremarked.

For the inhabitants of these uneventful streets, peaceful shopping parades and leafy parks near London's North Circular Road, however, the visit of the legendary musclebound cinematic total killing machine will linger in the memory.

Not that Finchley is unused to celebrity. Actor David Jason, of Only Fools and Horses fame, was born and bred in Finchley. DJ Nicky Campbell is a resident, as is daytime chatshow host Vanessa Feltz. Margaret Thatcher was local MP between 1959 and 1992. Finchley Road is famous for its traffic holdups.

But Arnie, sweeping in by helicopter, was something again. For Lizzie Kleinschmidt, a Finchley resident and member of the cinema's management, the preview was definitely, "the most interesting thing to happen in Finchley ever".

She stressed: "This may not sound like a tall order in an area with only a quaint city farm to put it on the map, but in fact in recent years there have been a couple of big terrorist explosions, and, of course, there was Margaret Thatcher."

Unemployed Tony Christo, 25, was one of 3,000 people to stand outside the cinema waiting for a glimpse of his hero. Tony still cannot get over the fact he only had to stroll across the road from his flat to come face-to-face with the man who features so strongly in his home video collection. "I have to admit Arnie isn't a good actor," he said. "He looks like a robot or an android, but I like him because he is tongue-in-cheek.

"After the stars had all gone in to see the film my mate and I saw Arnie again, sneaking out the side door and getting into a flashy car. We ran over but his bodyguards weren't pleased."

The incident seems to have been the only rough edge in an otherwise seamless publicity event. Arnie himself has requested a video of the night and he later joined his producer in pronouncing the premiere the best organised he had ever attended anywhere in the world.

He was a little hazy, later last week, on the details of Finchley qua Finchley. Did he get a chance to explore the area?

"I would say not," he grinned. "I was fortunate to come by helicopter so I could arrive on time without getting stuck in the traffic. The Mayor? [Councillor Mrs Pam Coleman] I'm afraid I wouldn't know him.

"There were so many people coming up to me when I walked into the theatre that I had never met before from local government to actors that I cannot remember. But it is not so odd to be going to a premiere in a place like that because today the world is changing so much.

"You don't just have the big cities where the action is, and nowhere else. The big shopping malls are being developed outside big cities. The big entertainment centres are being developed outside big cities, and all the movie theatres are being developed outside.

"So it is more than normal that those people feel they are part of the world and we are now coming to them. Why not? They have been coming to our movies as well as the people in the cities."

Will Arnold and Finchley meet again? Well, he offered his fans his well- worn catchphrase "I'll be back," but the crowd knew the chances of that were pretty slim.

Things like that don't happen in Finchley twice. In fact most people took convincing that they were going to happen once.