Diaries 1969-1979: The Python Years

Source: Michael Palin, Diaries 1969-1979: The Python Years (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2006), p. 71

Text: Thursday, February 10th, 1972
Assembled for an all-Python writing meeting at Terry’s at 10.00. John sends word that he is ill. Extraordinarily sceptical response. However we work on, and for a laugh decided to write a truly communal sketch. Accordingly all for of us are given a blank sheet of paper and we start to write about two exchanges each before passing on the paper. After an hour and a half we have four sketches – with some very funny characters and ideas in them. They may all work if interlocked into a four-sketch mixture. Eric suggested that we all be very naughty and go to see Diamonds are Forever, the latest of the James Bond films at the Kensington Odeon. After brief and unconvincing heart-searching we drive over to Kensington – but, alas, have not been in the cinema for more than 20 minutes when the film runs down. After a few minutes there is much clearing of throat, a small light appears in front of the stage and a manager appears to tell us that we are the victims of a power cut (this being the first day of cuts following four weeks of government intractability in the face of the miners’ claim). For half an hour there is a brief, British moment of solidarity amongst the beleaguered cinemagoers, but, as we were shirking work anyway, it looked like a shaft of reprobation from the Great Writer in the sky.

Comment: Michael Palin (born 1942) is a writer, television presenter and member of the Monty Python’s Flying Circus television comedy team. The other members of the team referred to here are John Cleese, Terry Jones and Eric Idle. The coal miners’ national strike ran from 9 January to 25 February 1972. Power cuts were introduced to conserve electricity.

My Life and My Films

Source: Jean Renoir, My Life and My Films (London: Collins, 1974) [translated by Norman Denny], pp. 16-18

Text: My first experience of the cinema was in 1897. I was a little over two. My mother had decided to buy a whitewood wardrobe for Gabrielle’s bedroom. Gabrielle, who was to become Renoir’s model, was born at Essoyes, a village in Burgundy. She was my mother’s cousin, and when I was born she came to live with us as a ‘help’. The help consisted chiefly of looking after me and taking me for walks. She was then sixteen. I could not get on without ‘Bibon’, the nickname I bestowed on Gabrielle, which emerged from my vain efforts to pronounce her name …

… Our destination on this outing was the Dufayel department store. I can only repeat was Gabrielle told me when, at the end of her life, she came to join us in Hollywood. But my memory goes far enough back for me to be able to recall that the world in those days was divided for me into two parts. My mother was the tiresome part, the person who ordered me to eat up my dinner, to go to the lavatory, to have a bath in the sort of zinc tub which served for our morning ablutions. And Bibon was for fun, walks in the park, games in the sand-heap, above all piggy-back rides, something my mother absolutely refused to do, whereas Gabrielle was never happier than when bowed down under the weight of my small body. I was a spoilt child. Our family life enclosed me in a protective wall softly padded on the inside. Beyond this wall impressive persons came and went. I would have liked to join them and be impressive myself, but unfortunately nature had made me a coward. Whenever I discerned a breach in the wall I uttered crises of alarm.

All went well at the beginning of our visit to Dufayel. The streets had a peaceful look – no sign anywhere of the villains who steal children who wander away from their mothers. At the entrance to the store a man wearing a braided cap asked us if we wanted to see the ‘cinema’. His cap was rather like the uniform cap of the Collège de Saint-Croix, where my brother Pierre, the future actor, had been sent as a boarder to make room in the home for my cumbersome self. A man wearing such a cap could only be on the side of the ‘good’, that is to say, those dedicated to safeguarding the small fragment of the world which was the only one I knew. It was therefore in a spirit of comparative confidence that I allowed Bibon to take me into the projection room.

The Grands Magasins Dufayel were in the forefront of progress. They had been the first to sell on credit. The building, with its walls of real stone and large glass windows shedding their light on imitation Henri II sideboards, gave to those privileged to enter that temple of mass-produced goods an impression of solidity capable of withstanding anything. The free cinema was another of their daring innovations. Gabrielle’s account of the incident was terse and lacking in detail. Scarcely had we taken our seats than the room was plunged in darkness. A terrifying machine shot out a fearsome beam of light piercing the obscurity, and a series of incomprehensible pictures appeared on the screen, accompanied by the sound of a piano at one end and at the other end a sort of hammering that came from the machine. I yelled in my usual fashion and had to be taken out. I never thought that the staccato rhythm of the Maltese cross was later to become for me the sweetest of music. At the time I did not grasp the importance of that basic part of both camera and projector without which the cinema would not exist.

So my first encounter with the idol was a complete failure. Gabrielle was sorry we had not stayed. The film was about a big river and she thought that in a corner of the screen she had glimpsed a crocodile.

Comments: Jean Renoir (1894-1979) was a French film director, whose films include La Règle du jeu, La Grande illusion and Une partie de campagne. His father was the artist Auguste Renoir. Les Grands Magasins Dufayel was in Paris.

Babylon at Brixton

Source: James Agate, extract from ‘Babylon at Brixton’, in Around Cinemas (London: Home & Van Thal, 1946), pp. 52-53 [originally published in The Tatler, 25 September 1929]

Text: … For the Brixtonian, Brixton is clearly the hub of the universe. There is a large railway bridge which bears to the Brixton landscape the same relationship that St. Paul’s bears to Cheapside. But I am convinced that the Brixtonians regard their railway bridge as a thing in itself and serving no purpose save the ornamental. That train should use that bridge to convey people to other parts of the world seems unthinkable There is no other part of the world that matters.

These things being so, it was obvious that Brixton must be provided with a cinema equal to any of those which, if the worlds of travellers might be believed, had been erected on the other side of the big river. But what Brixton wants, Brixton has, and that was why we alighted at a building which was certainly much less of an eyesore than, for example, the Regal Picture Palace, the exterior of which I take to be the biggest blot on the new London landscape. At the same time the architect had made a great mistake in despising the side street down which half his building runs. For this side street, which has no façade, is just as visible as the main Stockwell Road which is plentifully bedizened, with the result that the visitor receives the impression of a building only two-thirds completed. Inside, of course, completion has done her utmost. In the entrance-hall there is a running fountain in whose basin may be seen, disporting themselves, gold-fish, numbering, as Mr Belloc used to say in the old war days, more than fifteen and less than thirty. Marble stairs, lusciously carpeted, lead the giddy visitor into an auditorium alleged to resemble an Italian garden. Stars twinkle; fronds fan the fevered forehead, and, what is more important, the seats are admirably cushioned. The place is one of extraordinary, almost Babylonish magnificence. Tea-lounges abound. There are cubicles where the jaded shopper may repose; and wherever marble has a right to be, there marble is. The Directors, whose mobile, eager, and pleasantly acquiline features decorate the handsome souvenir with which the management presents you, have obviously not demanded any change out of their capital expenditure of £250,000 and will be satisfied, I imagine, with a return of something like 1000 percent on their money. I am not very good at figures, but the house holds over four thousand people at prices from sixpence to three shillings and sixpence, and there are three performances a day, at all of which up to now the house has been crowded out. Well, that is good business, but not better than such enterprise deserves. I guessed correctly the number of charwomen employed, to which must be added twenty-four brass cleaners. I was, however, £8000 out in my estimate of the organ. The instrument would appear even to the unskilled as a noble one, and fit for the performance in the best cinema manner of pieces written for the piccolo, pianoforte, and every instrument except the organ. On the afternoon that I attended, Mr Pattman played a selection from “Peer Gynt,” which I shall say, with bated breath, needs that drama to jog it along. But the reasons why I intend to be outrageously and unfairly favourable to his picture palace are, first, that it has not wholly gone over to the talkies; and second, that it has retained a first-class orchestra, the excellence of which has been made possible by the poltroonery and short-sightedness of those West End houses which have dismissed their orchestras. It is true that there was a talkie on that afternoon, but I took advantage of this to inspect the lighting plant, the drains, and the strictly business side of the venture. The talkie being over, I saw an admirable silent film about a New York journalist. “Get your street scenery on,” said that journalist to a chorus girl. “You’re going up town with God’s gift to literature!” But he had the sense to say it in a sub-title. While Mr Haines was delivering himself of this amiable nonsense, the first-class orchestra played Offenbach’s “Orpheus in the Underworld” Overture, Dowling’s “Sleepy Valley,” Montague Phillips’ “Arabesque (a piece I didn’t know), “Oh, Maggie, What Have You Been Up To?”, and if I mistake not, “The Lost Chord.” And I hereby announce that in the bosom of one cinema fan there is more joy over chords that are lost than over tongues that are found.

Comments: James Agate (1877-1947) was a British theatre and film critic. His film reviews, mostly written for The Tatler, often mention the cinema in which he saw the film. The cinema described here is the Brixton Astoria, London, built in 1929 and now the Brixton Academy. The architect was Edward A. Stone. The film about a New York journalist was Telling the World (USA 1928 d. Sam Wood), starring William Haines.

The Movies Take to the Pastures

Source: John Durrant, extract from ‘The Movies Take to the Pastures’, Saturday Evening Post, 14 October 1950. pp. 25, 85, 89

Text: For the fifth year in a row now movie attendance has been going down, down, down like Alice’s plunge to the bottom of the rabbit hole in her Wonderland adventure. The cinema dive, though, is no dream. It is real, and the industry is chewing its nails, wondering whether to blame its favorite whipping boy, television; the 20 per cent Federal tax on tickets; strikes and war fears; Hollywood’s pinkish tint, or too-good weather, which is supposed to keep the customers away from the movies. Whatever the causes, attendance has been slipping away steadily, although recent figures indicate that the decline may now be slowing up. Tbere is, however, one phase of the industry which has been running contrary to the general trend and bringing smiles to an increasing number of exhibitors.

It is the drive-in business, which has expanded phenomenally since the end of World War I. At the time of Pearl Harbor, for instance, there were less than 100 “ozoners” in the country. None was built during the war, but by 1947 there were 400, double that number the following year and now there are a probable 2200 in the United States and forty in Canada.

As one movie mogul famous for his malapropisms said, “They are sweeping the country like wildflowers.” And Bob Hope recently commented, “There will soon be so many drive-ins in California that you’ll be able to get married, have a honeymoon and get a divorce without ever getting out of your car.”

Hope is not exaggerating too wildly. Here, for instance, are some of the things you can do at various ozoners without taking your eyes off the screen or missing a word of dialogue: You can eat a complete meal, get your car washed and serviced, including a change of tires, have the week’s laundry done, your shopping list filled and the baby’s bottle warmed. All this while the show is on.

It’s a cinch to attend a drive-in. You buy a ticket without getting out of your car, drive to one of the rows and take a position on a ramp which causes the car to tilt slightly upward at the front end. Alongside there’s a speaker, attached to a post, which you unhook and fasten to the inside of your car window. Volume can be controlled by turning a switch, and although at first it may seem odd to be hearing sounds from a speaker next to your ear, with the action on the screen a couple of hundred yards away, the illusion is acceptable. If you want to leave in the middle of the show you replace the speaker in the post and drive forward over the ramp and make for the exit. Thus, there is no climbing over the laps of annoyed spectators as there is in the conventional theaters.

If Hope thinks that California is becoming overcrowded with drive-ins, be should visit Ohio and North Carolina, where every cow pasture is crowned by a screen. North Carolina, about one third the size of California in both population and area, boasts 125 ozoners to California’s ninety-five. Ohio has 135. While Califomia’s theaters are larger and hold more cars, the concentration of so many ozoners in the two other states is way out of proportion to their size. Why, no one knows. But the business is full of oddities. Texas, as you might expect, leads the country with some 200 theaters. Then come Ohio, North Carolina and Pennsylvania in that order, followed by California, where the drive-ins operate the year round and everybody owns a car.

Due to the rapidity of construction – and closings, in some regions – the business is in a constant state of flux, and figures are changing daily. One thing is apparent, however, and that is that the trend is up and the saturation point has not yet been reached. When it comes – movie people put it at 3500 drive-ins – it is anybody’s guess whether there will be like the miniature-golf-course fiasco in the 30s, or a gradual leveling off, with the best-run theaters surviving.

Most conventional theater owners, who despise the ozoners and battle them at every turn, say the thing is a fad, that it’s going too fast and, anyway, the places are no more than parking lots for petters. Variety, the bible of show business calls them “passion pits with pix.” Needless to there are no figures on petting frequency in drive-ins, but I can offer the result of a one-man nonsnooping survey made by myself. I talked with dozens of exhibitors, and all firmly stated that no more went on in the cars than in the rear seats of the conventional theaters. All were quite touchy on the subject, by the way. Only one said he had ever had a complaint in that direction from a patron.

Leon Rosen, who has managed both types of theaters for the Fabian Theaters, a chain of eighty conventionals and seven drive-ins in the Middle Atlantic states, told me that more than 3,000,000 people have attended the ozoners he’s managed and he has never received a single complaint. He could not say the same for his indoor theaters. “Sure, a fellow slips his arm around his girl in the drive-ins,” he said. “The same as in the regular theaters or on a park bench. No more than that. And there’s one thing you don’t get in the drive-ins that you get inside. That’s the guy on the prowl, the seat changer who molests lone women. There’s none of that in the drive-ins.”

Still, the bad name persists and is kept alive by gents’-room gags which probably stem from the prewar days, when drive-ins were completely blacked out and circulating food venders and ushers were a rarity. But what disproves the cheap gags more than anything else is the type of audience that fills the drive-ins today. It is by far a family audience, with a probable 75 per cent of the cars containing children who, incidentally, are let in free by most drive-ins if they are under twelve. This is the main reason the ozoners have been so successful – their appeal to the
family group. They are the answer to parents who want to take in the movies, but can’t leave their children alone at home. No baby sitters are needed. And the kids are no bother to anyone in the audience. There’s no vaulting of theater seats, running up and down the aisles or drowning out the dialogue by yapping.

A workingman told me that the drive-ins had saved his family from a near split-up. He didn’t like the movies, he said, and his wife did. The result was a battle every Saturday night, when she wanted to see a movie and he refused to go. Saturday night was his beer night, and no movies were going to interfere with it. His wife went anyway, and he stayed home sipping beer and keeping an eye on Junior. But this didn’t work out. The weekly argument went on, and the breach between them got wider. Then, one Saturday night, he agreed to take in a drive-in with her, provided he could take a long a couple of bottles of beer. After that everything was solved. They now go every Saturday night. She sits in the front seat with Junior and watches the flickers. He sits in back alone, with his beer in a bucket of ice, and pays little attention to the movie as he sips the brew and smokes cigars with his legs crossed. Now everybody is happy and there’s no more talk of a split-up.

After the war, the drive-ins began to go all out for the family trade. The so-called “moonlight” flooding of the parking area and aisle lighting came in, and exhibitors built children’s play areas, with swings, slides, merry-go-rounds and pony rides. Some installed miniature railroads which hauled kids over several hundred yards of track. Picnic grounds, swimming pools and monkey villages appeared in the larger theaters. While the youngsters disport themselves at these elaborate plants, their parents can have a go at miniature golf courses and driving ranges or they can play shuffleboard, pitch horse-shoes and dance before live bands.

That is the trend now in the de luxe drive-ins, ones with a capacity of, say, 800 cars or more. They are becoming community recreation centers, and the idea is to attract people two or three hours before show time. It gives the receipts a boost and the family a whole evening’s outing, not just three hour sat the movies, according to the new school of exhibitors. Many old-time managers disagree.

“This carnival stuff cheapens the business,” one told me. “And the biggest mistake the drive-ins made was to let kids in free. They can’t go to the indoor houses for nothing, so a lot of people think we show only rotten pictures and they stay away.”

The manager touched a sore point here. The films shown in the ozoners are in the main pretty frightful. Most are third-run pictures, rusty with age. Drive-in exhibitors are not entirely to blame for this. Film distributors point out that their first loyalty is to their regular customers, the all-year conventional houses, and the ozoners must wait in line or pay through the nose.

It doesn’t seem to make much difference what kind of pictures are shown, because drive-in fans are far less choosy than the indoor variety. A large part of them never have been regular indoor movie-goers, and almost any picture is new to them. The ozoners have struck a rich vein of new fans. Leading the list are the moderate-income families who bring the kids to save money on baby-sitters. Furthermore, they don’t have to dress up, find a parking place, walk a few blocks to a ticket booth and then stand in line. The drive-ins make it easy for them and for workers and farmers, who can come in their working clothes straight from the evening’s chores, and for the aged and physically handicapped. They are a boon to the hard of hearing and to invalids, many of whom never saw a movie before the drive-ins. They draw fat men who have trouble wedging themselves between the arms of theater seats, and tall men sensitive about blocking off the screen from those behind. Add the teen-agers to these people, and you have a weekly attendance of about 7,000,000, an impressive share of the country’s 60,000,000 weekly ticket buyers …

Comments: Drive-ins were introduced in the United States in 1933.

Links: Complete article on Saturday Evening Post site

Marie Lloyd

Source: T.S. Eliot, extract from ‘Marie Lloyd’, in Selected Prose of T.S. Eliot (London: Faber & Faber, 1975), pp. 173-174 [originally published as ‘London Letter’ in The Dial, December 1922, pp. 659-663]

Text: The lower classes still exist; but perhaps they will not exist for long. In the music-hall comedians they find the artistic expression and dignity of their own lives; and this is not found for any life in the most elaborate and expensive revue. In England, at any rate, the revue expresses almost nothing. With the dwindling of the music-hall, by the encouragement of the cheap and rapid-breeding cinema, the lower classes will tend to drop into the same state of amorphous protoplasm as the bourgeoisie. The working-man who went to the music-hall and saw Marie Lloyd and joined in the chorus was himself performing part of the work of acting; he was engaged in that collaboration of the audience with the artist which is necessary in all art and most obviously in dramatic art. He will now go to the cinema, where his mind is lulled by continuous senseless music and continuous action too rapid for the brain to act upon, and he will receive, without giving, in that same listless apathy with which the middle and upper classes regard any entertainment of the nature of art. He will also have lost some of his interest in life.

Comment: Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888-1965) was an American poet, critic and dramatist chiefly based in Britain. Marie Lloyd (1870-1922) was one of the most celebrated of British music hall stars.

Marie Lloyd

Source: T.S. Eliot, extract from ‘Marie Lloyd’, in Selected Prose of T.S. Eliot (London: Faber & Faber, 1975), pp. 173-174 [originally published as ‘London Letter’ in The Dial, December 1922, pp. 659-663]

Text: The lower classes still exist; but perhaps they will not exist for long. In the music-hall comedians they find the artistic expression and dignity of their own lives; and this is not found for any life in the most elaborate and expensive revue. In England, at any rate, the revue expresses almost nothing. With the dwindling of the music-hall, by the encouragement of the cheap and rapid-breeding cinema, the lower classes will tend to drop into the same state of amorphous protoplasm as the bourgeoisie. The working-man who went to the music-hall and saw Marie Lloyd and joined in the chorus was himself performing part of the work of acting; he was engaged in that collaboration of the audience with the artist which is necessary in all art and most obviously in dramatic art. He will now go to the cinema, where his mind is lulled by continuous senseless music and continuous action too rapid for the brain to act upon, and he will receive, without giving, in that same listless apathy with which the middle and upper classes regard any entertainment of the nature of art. He will also have lost some of his interest in life.

Comment: Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888-1965) was an American poet, critic and dramatist chiefly based in Britain. Marie Lloyd (1870-1922) was one of the most celebrated of British music hall stars.

’Twixt Aldgate Pump and Poplar

Source: H.M. [Harold Murray], ’Twixt Aldgate Pump and Poplar: The Story of Fifty Years’ Adventure in East London (London: The Epworth Press, 1935), pp. 102-110

Text: It is an unforgettable experience to enter the Stepney Hall when in the semi-darkness you hear those astonishing children shrieking with laughter at some comic antics on the screen or, as a contrast, find them holding their breath as some hero or heroine is seen in a perilous position. When there is a chase after the villain – what a chorus goes up! Time after time, with indescribable feelings, I have sat among those children and marvelled at their discipline, their good behaviour; most of all at their high spirits, their capacity for seeing the funny side of everything. Only one or two workers are there, quietly walking to and fro in the dark, occasionally asking for a little less noise, never having any trouble. For a short space the little ones are lifted out of the drab life of the mean streets into all sorts of romantic exciting worlds. Then when the satisfying show is over, out they troop, in good order, to the unromantic, everyday life of the slum.

Comments: Harold Murray was a clergyman. His book is a history of the East End Mission, a mission run by the Methodist Church located in Commercial Road, Whitechapel, London. This passage describes the films shows put on for children by the Reverend F.W. Chudleigh at Stepney Hall in the 1920s/early 30s. Chudleigh had been organising film shows for children since 1909.

’Twixt Aldgate Pump and Poplar

Source: H.M. [Harold Murray], ’Twixt Aldgate Pump and Poplar: The Story of Fifty Years’ Adventure in East London (London: The Epworth Press, 1935), pp. 102-110

Text: It is an unforgettable experience to enter the Stepney Hall when in the semi-darkness you hear those astonishing children shrieking with laughter at some comic antics on the screen or, as a contrast, find them holding their breath as some hero or heroine is seen in a perilous position. When there is a chase after the villain – what a chorus goes up! Time after time, with indescribable feelings, I have sat among those children and marvelled at their discipline, their good behaviour; most of all at their high spirits, their capacity for seeing the funny side of everything. Only one or two workers are there, quietly walking to and fro in the dark, occasionally asking for a little less noise, never having any trouble. For a short space the little ones are lifted out of the drab life of the mean streets into all sorts of romantic exciting worlds. Then when the satisfying show is over, out they troop, in good order, to the unromantic, everyday life of the slum.

Comments: Harold Murray was a clergyman. His book is a history of the East End Mission, a mission run by the Methodist Church located in Commercial Road, Whitechapel, London. This passage describes the films shows put on for children by the Reverend F.W. Chudleigh at Stepney Hall in the 1920s/early 30s. Chudleigh had been organising film shows for children since 1909.

Bioscope & Cinematograph Shows

Source: Report from Police Sergeant George Jordan, Arbour Square station, H Division, The National Archives, MEPO 2/9172 file 590446/5, ‘Bioscope & Cinematograph Shows’, March 11th, 1909

Text: No 12 High Street, Whitechapel has been recently erected. The front has been constructed with a pay box in the centre and a pair of doors each side.

The price of admission is: – Adults 2, Children 1 penny.

The room is about 45 ft deep and 20 ft wide. The machine and films are placed in a fireproof box just inside the entrance and immediately behind the paybox. The sheet on which the pictures are shown being at the far end. The machine is worked by one of the three adult attendants who relieve each other.

There are several rows of “tip-up” seats near the curtain, with ordinary chairs behind occupying two-thirds of the floor space; the remaining portion being for standing room only.

A five foot gangway is arranged at one side of the seats, with an exit door opening outwards half-way down. An electric piano placed near the screen plays continuously. About 250 English and Jewish people were present, including about 100 children.

No 63 Whitechapel Road was formerly a small shop; it has only one ordinary door opening into a room 30 feet deep by 15 feet wide.

Adults are charged one penny and children one halfpenny for admission.

The machine and films are placed in an asbestos box at the far end of the room and worked by an adult operator employed for that purpose. The pictures are shown on a screen attached to the window.

Chairs are provided in rows with a four foot passage way at the side. There was a mixed audience of about 100 persons present, half of whom were children.

An ordinary piano was placed near the window with a notice displayed inviting members of the audience to play; a young girl was playing when I entered. The proprietor’s wife, son age about 20, and a boy were acting as attendants.

No 97 Commercial Road was formerly a small shop with window and side door leading to a passage and to the room in question, which is about 30 feet deep and 15 feet wide.

Adults pay one penny; children one halfpenny for admission.

Forms are placed across the room rising in height at the back to about four feet. There is one central passage between the forms not more than three feet wide.

The audience numbered about 150; about 100 being children from four years upwards; the remainder were young Jews – male and female.

The machine and films are placed in a separate room at the rear. This room is about six feet above the shop level, with a rough “Jacobs” ladder leading to it from the side passage. The machine stands on an iron base about 12 inches above the wooden floor. It has no protecting box and there is a bedstead and table near.

An adult operator is employed at 30/- per week.

A hole has been made in the parting wall and the pictures are exhibited on a screen attached to the shop window …

In all these places of entertainment the audience is mixed together irrespective of age or sex. A series of five or six sets of pictures are shown in quick succession lasting from 30 to 45 minutes. During that time the room is in darkness. The rays from the lantern slightly illuminate the benches near the curtain, but at the opposite end where some of the spectators stand up in order to get a better view, it would be quite easy for acts of misconduct or indecency to take place without fear of detection.

In several cases the only means of exit is by one door, and the gangways are so narrow and inadequate that if an alarm of fire was raised it would be impossible for the younger members of the audience to escape in the rush that would ensue, and there might be loss of life.

Comments: This police report is part of a series of reports from the various Metropolitan Police Divisions conducted in March 1909, driven by concerns of crime, indecency and fire hazards in the small shop-conversions cinemas, or bioscopes, that existed in London at this time. The report covers the Whitechapel district of East London. The Whitechapel Picture Theatre was located as 12 Whitechapel Street and was managed by Charles Robinson. The name of the entertainment at 63 Whitechapel Road is not known but the proprietor was Barnard Cohen. Happy Land was located at 97 Commercial Road, run by Lewis Klein.

Links: National Archives file reference

Bioscope & Cinematograph Shows

Source: Report from Police Sergeant George Jordan, Arbour Square station, H Division, The National Archives, MEPO 2/9172 file 590446/5, ‘Bioscope & Cinematograph Shows’, March 11th, 1909

Text: No 12 High Street, Whitechapel has been recently erected. The front has been constructed with a pay box in the centre and a pair of doors each side.

The price of admission is: – Adults 2, Children 1 penny.

The room is about 45 ft deep and 20 ft wide. The machine and films are placed in a fireproof box just inside the entrance and immediately behind the paybox. The sheet on which the pictures are shown being at the far end. The machine is worked by one of the three adult attendants who relieve each other.

There are several rows of “tip-up” seats near the curtain, with ordinary chairs behind occupying two-thirds of the floor space; the remaining portion being for standing room only.

A five foot gangway is arranged at one side of the seats, with an exit door opening outwards half-way down. An electric piano placed near the screen plays continuously. About 250 English and Jewish people were present, including about 100 children.

No 63 Whitechapel Road was formerly a small shop; it has only one ordinary door opening into a room 30 feet deep by 15 feet wide.

Adults are charged one penny and children one halfpenny for admission.

The machine and films are placed in an asbestos box at the far end of the room and worked by an adult operator employed for that purpose. The pictures are shown on a screen attached to the window.

Chairs are provided in rows with a four foot passage way at the side. There was a mixed audience of about 100 persons present, half of whom were children.

An ordinary piano was placed near the window with a notice displayed inviting members of the audience to play; a young girl was playing when I entered. The proprietor’s wife, son age about 20, and a boy were acting as attendants.

No 97 Commercial Road was formerly a small shop with window and side door leading to a passage and to the room in question, which is about 30 feet deep and 15 feet wide.

Adults pay one penny; children one halfpenny for admission.

Forms are placed across the room rising in height at the back to about four feet. There is one central passage between the forms not more than three feet wide.

The audience numbered about 150; about 100 being children from four years upwards; the remainder were young Jews – male and female.

The machine and films are placed in a separate room at the rear. This room is about six feet above the shop level, with a rough “Jacobs” ladder leading to it from the side passage. The machine stands on an iron base about 12 inches above the wooden floor. It has no protecting box and there is a bedstead and table near.

An adult operator is employed at 30/- per week.

A hole has been made in the parting wall and the pictures are exhibited on a screen attached to the shop window …

In all these places of entertainment the audience is mixed together irrespective of age or sex. A series of five or six sets of pictures are shown in quick succession lasting from 30 to 45 minutes. During that time the room is in darkness. The rays from the lantern slightly illuminate the benches near the curtain, but at the opposite end where some of the spectators stand up in order to get a better view, it would be quite easy for acts of misconduct or indecency to take place without fear of detection.

In several cases the only means of exit is by one door, and the gangways are so narrow and inadequate that if an alarm of fire was raised it would be impossible for the younger members of the audience to escape in the rush that would ensue, and there might be loss of life.

Comments: This police report is part of a series of reports from the various Metropolitan Police Divisions conducted in March 1909, driven by concerns of crime, indecency and fire hazards in the small shop-conversions cinemas, or bioscopes, that existed in London at this time. The report covers the Whitechapel district of East London. The Whitechapel Picture Theatre was located as 12 Whitechapel Street and was managed by Charles Robinson. The name of the entertainment at 63 Whitechapel Road is not known but the proprietor was Barnard Cohen. Happy Land was located at 97 Commercial Road, run by Lewis Klein.

Links: National Archives file reference