Mary Dejevsky: New cinema plan is just the ticket


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Right at the end of a particularly distressing residents' circular was a piece of news that almost dispelled the gloom. Over a whole grim typed page were details of the stratospheric, and I mean stratospheric, charges we would have to pay after a small piece of masonry fell off a top floor balcony and a subsequent survey revealed that half of our block's balconies were coming adrift. But – hey, hurray and three cheers – something extraordinary was about to happen to the neighbourhood: a cinema, a brand new cinema, was going to open within five minutes' walk of our front door.

I can still barely believe this, even after checking on the relevant website to make sure that I was not suffering wish-dream delusions. Yes, a cinema is due to open before the end of the month. And not a flea-pit type of cinema either, but one of those rather nice ones with comfortable seats and a restaurant attached.

Now, I know that cinemas have received mixed reviews, to say the least, from writers for this newspaper, but so far as I am concerned, if anyone had sent out a survey listing amenities that might improve the locale, I would have ticked the box labelled cinema without a second thought.

Indeed, as a reasonably committed attender of the council's quarterly residents' forums, I had periodically asked why planning permission seemed to be a formality for any number of dry-cleaners, hairdressers, sandwich bars and betting shops, even, despite the present climate, a couple of banks – but no cinema had ever been included in a slew of redevelopment plans. The answer was always that no one wanted to run one.

Well, suddenly they do, and in what has been until now a nigh-desert for entertainment. I don't know whether the decision reflects a progressive reduction in the proportion of offices to housing around here – and the changes in character that comes with that. Even as I write, I hear the clank of workmen stripping out the former Prisons Department which was recently sold off for flats. Or perhaps it represents a change in the fortunes of cinemas, which remain affordable, even as tickets for the theatre and opera go through the roof.

Ours is not the only new local cinema in London over the past year, and ticket sales across the UK set a new record last year. For me, though, the big draw is not only the variety of films on offer from week to week, but the flexibility. You don't have to book weeks in advance, then find that, after all, you can't make that evening, you can go and buy a ticket. Especially if – what luxury! – the cinema is just down the road.

Arianna makes way for a delicious battle of quills

I'm in two minds about Arianna Huffington's latest move: is the transfer of her Huffington Post to America Online a judicious sale that gives her (even) more money and a global editorial presence, or a sell-out that betrays the anti-establishment joie de vivre of her online publication?

On balance, I'm prepared to give her the benefit of the doubt. This is no repetition of the disastrous Time Warner sale to AOL; commercial infatuation with the internet for its own sake is over. And heaven knows, flabby old AOL could do with some substance.

Mostly, though, it's because, from way back when (Cambridge University and her precocious first book – a riposte to Germaine Greer's The Female Eunuch), she has been hostage to no one and that bit ahead of whatever curve was still invisible behind the next corner.

Even when she switched almost overnight from the right of the US politics to the left (by dint of going around the back), she somehow retained both credibility and consistency – and fetched up in opposition in nice time for George Bush's presidency. Oh yes, and we could now have the delicious spectacle of the West Coast and Cambridge (Arianna) clashing new-media quills with the East Coast and Oxford (Tina Brown). A rather less gentlemanly contest, I trust, than the annual Boat Race from Putney to Mortlake.

How many BBC staff to cover a revolution?

It might seem mean to carp when television coverage of the turmoil in Egypt has been universally riveting and expert reporters have been putting their lives on the line, but quite a few viewers seem to be asking the same question as I am – so many, in fact, that the BBC's own Newswatch programme said it would revisit the subject in coming weeks.

The question is this: how many BBC reporters does it take to cover a revolution? I counted 17 different bylines between radio and television through the first week (and that is without camera crews, the World Service or local stringers). The competition fielded a fraction of this number, yet still managed to produce reporting that, to my mind, was no less impressive, including – thank you Al Jazeera – simultaneous translation of Mubarak's late-night statement that he was not about to give up power.

It wasn't just the cost of flying in and accommodating all these people, or concern that the local correspondent's expertise was being sidelined, it was the obvious duplication of effort that bizarrely combined with a disconcerting lack of continuity.

Given that the BBC had so many people there, it was also disappointing that they limited their out-of-Cairo coverage to Alexandria. What about interviewing a few Brits on Nile cruises, or showing us what was happening in Luxor and points south (where there was sufficient unrest to warrant tour companies bringing people back and some fabulously telegenic backdrops)?

Even with round-the-clock television, there are only so many hours in the day.

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