Nights in London

Source: Thomas Burke, Nights in London (New York: H. Holt & Company, 1918 – orig. pub. 1915), pp. 78-79

Text: Then baby goes in care of the maid to bed, and Mother and Father and Helen, who is twelve years old, go to the pictures at the Palladium near Balham Station. There, for sixpence, they have an entertainment which is quite satisfying to their modest temperaments and one, withal, which is quite suitable to Miss Twelve Years Old; for Father and Mother are Proper People, and would not like to take their treasure to the sullying atmosphere of even a suburban music-hall.

So they spend a couple of hours with the pictures, listening to an orchestra of a piano, a violin, and a ‘cello, which plays even indifferent music really well. And they roar over the facial extravagances of Ford Sterling and his friends Fatty and Mabel; they applaud, and Miss Twelve Years Old secretly admires the airy adventures of the debonair Max Linder – she thinks he is a dear, only she daren’t tell Mother and Father so, or they would be startled. And then there is Mr. C. Chaplin – always there is Mr. C. Chaplin. Personally, I loathe the cinematograph. It is, I think, the most tedious, the most banal form of entertainment that was ever flung at a foolish public. The Punch and Judy show is sweetness and light by comparison. It is the mechanical nature of the affair that so depresses me. It may be clever; I have no doubt it is. But I would rather see the worst music-hall show that was ever put up than the best picture-play that was ever filmed. The darkness, the silence, the buzz of the machine, and the insignificant processions of shadows on a sheet are about the last thing I should ever describe by the word Entertainment. I would as soon sit for two hours in a Baptist Chapel. Still, Mr. C. Chaplin has made it endurable.

Comment: Thomas Burke (1886-1945) was a British writer of stories and essays about London life, whose worked was twice adapted by D.W. Griffith for the films Broken Blossoms (1919) and Dream Street (1921). Nights in London is a series of essays on the night-life in different parts of London. The section above comes from the chapter ‘A Domestic Night (Clapham Common)’. Ford Sterling was the lead comedian at the Keystone Studios before Charlie Chaplin. In the original version of the essay, published in 1915, the example given of an exceptional performer was the American film comedian John Bunny (see separate Picturegoing entry). The 1918 edition simply substitutes Chaplin’s name for Bunny’s.

Links: Copy on the Internet Archive

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