CELEBRITIES have lent their support to the campaign to reopen the former EMD building as a cinema.

Comedian and presenter Griff Rhys Jones, actor Paul McGann and writer Alain de Botton are the latest famous names to back the campaign by the McGuffin Film Society to stop plans to convert the building into a church.

Welsh-born Jones, who is currently appearing as Fagin in the musical Oliver at Drury Lane, grew up in Epping and was a regular visitor to the cinema.

He said: "We will realise that we have lost something wonderful and magical if this cinema goes and it will only slip away if we don't raise our voices to stop that happening.

"I am an Epping boy and Walthamstow was my stomping ground.

"This is a great place and a great place to watch films.

"These grand cinemas are becoming rarer. They were the cathedrals of their age and still have a role to play."

Actor Paul McGann, whose screen credits include Doctor Who and Withnail and I, has relatives in Walthamstow and is a regular visitor to the area.

"The planning officers should do the right thing and ensure the borough does not lose its last working cinema," he said.

"It would be nothing short of a cultural disgrace if this was allowed to happen and would underline why our nearest European neighbours regard us as Philistines."

Writer and philosopher Alain de Botton said: "The EMD Cinema was built to promote happiness, culture and entertainment for the benefit of the whole community."

"I fully support the McGuffin campaign to save the cinema and share their wish to see it reopened as a flagship arts venue for east London."

They join a growing band of high profile supporters backing the campaign including Sir Mick Jagger, Stephen Fry, Meera Syal, Alan Davies, Tony Robinson and Alfred Hitchcock's daughter Patricia.

The campaign has also received the backing of David Parfitt, the chairman of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (Bafta).

He has issued a statement on behalf of the British film and television industries calling on the council to place the cinema at the centre of its cultural priorities.

The cinema closed in 2003 and its current owner, Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG), has submitted an application to convert the building into a church and community centre.

However, no decision will be made on the proposals until after the General Election.

The council has commissioned an independent report into the viability of the buliding as a cinema.

The McGuffin Film Society is hosting an election debate about the cinema's future with Walthamstow's parliamentary and council candidates at 5pm on Sunday at Walthamstow School for Girls, Church Hill.

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