Montagu Pyke
Montagu Pyke

Montagu Pyke was one of Britain's earliest cinema entrepreneurs. A flamboyant, larger-than-life figure, who has also been described as a crook and a charlatan, he started his career in 1892 by seeking his fortune in the goldfields of South Africa. He was a failure at this and returned to England with his tail between his legs.

Next, Pyke persuaded his father to finance his emigration to San Francisco. Trying his hand as a shop assistant and as a gold miner, he failed at both but made a success of soliciting advertisements to be painted on theatre safety curtains.

Returning to London, he became a hair-restorer salesman and then went into the patent pill business, where he lost everything.

Walking one day down Oxford Street, London, Pyke noticed a shopfront called "Hales Tour". He went in to find a mock-up of a Pullman railway car with a screen at one end showing a primitive ten-minute movie depicting foreign countries. Impressed by the crowds of people going in, he reasoned that a two-hour continuous performance might do even better business. Pyke managed to raise sufficient capital to open in 1909 one of London's first cinemas in shop premises in the Edgware Road. It was a roaring success and soon a whole chain of cinemas followed, in Finsbury Park, Walham Green, Ealing, Oxford Street, Shepherds Bush, Piccadilly Circus, Hammersmith, Clapham Junction, Elephant and Castle, Croydon, Peckham, Brixton Hill, Holloway, Balham and Charing Cross Road.

Pyke's empire collapsed in 1915, due to the war and increased competition, and he was made bankrupt. He continued to wheel and deal in various ventures, finally dying in 1935.