During the 16th Flatpack Festival (17-22 May 2022) we had the pleasure of staging a conversation between Cecil Morris and Garry Stewart of Recognize Black Heritage & Culture.
Since arriving in Birmingham from Jamaica in the early 60s, Cecil has been a musician, DJ and cultural entrepreneur for over fifty years. During the event he talked about the late-night film screenings he promoted at the Elite on Soho Road during the 1970s, and his role in setting up PCRL. This community pirate radio station was crucial to the city’s Black community from its birth in the early 80s, surviving numerous raids by the DTI until it was finally closed down in 2004.
The conversation formed part of Flatpack’s Wonderland programme, presented by the Birmingham 2022 Festival and supported by Arts Council England and National Lottery Heritage Fund. Cecil is a featured character within the Wonderland exhibition, which was at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery in 2022 and can be explored virtually on our exhibition page.
Scroll down to read an extract from the conversation, or watch the full thing here:
“I started looking around to see what the community required, and one of those things was a cinema. You know, we go to the Odeons, we go to what has been put down for us, but as a people, there are things that we prefer to prepare for ourselves. I wanted to set an example that yes, we can do more than what we’ve been offered. Cinema was one of the things that I thought was important in that area, and eventually I got the Elite as a venue to start promoting.
I approached Warner Brothers, MGM, all the major film companies, and Warner Brothers actually got back in touch and they said, ‘We would like to send one of our representatives to have an interview with you to see what your ideas are.’ I was living in Putney Road in Handsworth and I’ve just left the band, I’m not working and I’ve got nothing doing. I’m just sitting there in my living room and I see this massive Silver Cloud Rolls Royce pull up outside my gate. You don’t see those cars driving in Putney Road. So I went out and I opened the door and said ‘can I help you?’ He said ‘I’m trying to find a Mr Morris.’ He said ‘I’m from Warner Brothers.’ I said, ‘please come in.’ So he came in and we chatted, and eventually he said ‘I will do everything I can to achieve your aim. We’ll be getting in touch with all the distributors, to send you catalogues of films featuring Black stars.’
I couldn’t get enough Black movies, so I decided to start showing one Black movie, one kung fu movie each night. And it kicks off big time. By the time we showed The Harder They Come, we had to have security guards. People are breaking in every door to get into the cinema. The place was absolutely packed. But there was no problem, no violence, there was good vibes. We played music in between the films, and some nights we’d have an all-nighter, showing three or four films until six o’clock in the morning.”
With thanks to the Mockingbird for hosting the event, and to Sima Gonsai for documenting it.