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The Hanway Street office has served as the HQ for RPC and HanWay for more than 25 years, during which time Thomas has produced movies including Crash, Sexy Beast, The Dreamers and Dogman and HanWay has sold films such as Match Point, Shame, Brooklyn, Carol and Colette.
Staff will relocate next week from the iconic building to a new home in Basing Street, Notting Hill (pictured above), right next to the former Island Records recording studios which played host to a who’s who of music industry greats from Bob Marley to Queen, The Rolling Stones to The Eagles and Paul McCartney to Madonna. Queen recorded songs there including We Are The Champions and part of Bohemian Rhapsody. The studios were built in a former church, visible above, whose organ was used by George Michael on his album Faith.
It’s fitting for veteran auteur Thomas that his companies’ new home will be one steeped in London’s cultural lore. However, the purpose-built, modern venue will also come with significant upgrades such as a state of the art screening cinema.
The move marks the end of an era for Thomas who has worked in Soho since the late 1960s, starting out in film as an editor on movies by Ken Loach (Family Life), Perry Henzell (The Harder They Come) and his father Ralph Thomas (Anyone For Sex?). As a producer based in Soho he made movies such as Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, The Last Emperor, The Sheltering Sky, Sexy Beast, Blade Of The Immortal and recent Cannes hit Dogman.
“We’ve had some great times here”, Thomas tells me. “Bertolucci had an office here for many years, as did Hercules Bellville. Nic Roeg, David Cronenberg, Peter Weir, the Coen Brothers, there was a constant stream of film people coming through the door. There isn’t another film building in London quite like it. From Jack Nicholson to Christian Bale to rock and rollers, Japanese masters and aspiring filmmakers, they have all come through the door at some point. It was a work place but also a social space. And it has been my home. I’m emotional to leave.”
The Hanway Street building is a treasure trove of cinema history, adorned with film posters, photography and film memorabilia.
“I’ve kept everything,” the producer says. “Some will be going to storage. Most of it will come with us to the new building. It’s a very light, new home in a purpose built building with a state of the art cinema in the basement. It’s right next to Chris Blackwell’s former Island Records studio. I’m very happy with it.”
The move has been prompted by changes in the area and to his own personal circumstances, he explains.
“I loved Soho but it has changed so much since I first came here in the 1960s. My first offices as a producer were in Greek Street and Broadwick Street. In 1993 I bought the Hanway street building. It became a film hub. The basement was always full of kids and filmmakers. But Soho has changed a lot in that time. Hanway street was a small backwater back then but it has become a thoroughfare next to one of the busiest stations in Europe with Crossrail on its way. I recently got ill and got better, so I thought I’d like to move to a new place. I’m happy to move west to more trees and greenery.”
“Soho today is choking with traffic,” he continues. “It was once the beating heart of London but the character has gone. The area’s personality has changed. It isn’t above the law any more. It’s a meeting place but the pubs and bars have changed. Everything has moved on. Soho was boho in the 1970s but you didn’t feel threatened. There were small shops owned by individuals. Only chains can afford to pay the rents today. And of course the film business was centralized in Soho. Email and the internet mean you can be anywhere at any time to do business nowadays.”
The west London move changes nothing in terms of RPC and HanWay’s prolific output or head count. If anything ranks could soon be growing.
Thomas is currently in production on Matteo Garrone’s Pinocchio starring Roberto Benigni and he will head to Japan soon for the edit of the latest Takashi Miike film. His development slate remains as lively as ever and he intends to take up his usual Carlton suite in Cannes.
HanWay recently had the opening film at the Berlin Film Festival, The Kindness Of Strangers, and is currently in production on movies including Minamata with Johnny Depp and Viggo Mortensen’s directorial debut Falling.