An Everyday Magic

Source: Excerpts from interview with Denis Houlston, quoted in Annette Kuhn, An Everyday Magic: Cinema and Cultural Memory (London/New York: I.B. Tauris, 2002), pp. 154-155, 164-165

Text: And of course by that time, with becoming more conscious of, eh, of girls being different from boys, so I started getting my favourite female stars, like Madeleine Carroll.

Was the quintessential English star. Blonde naturally! We didn’t have colour so I can’t remember if she was blue-eyed or not but I mean Madeleine Carroll! The first one I ever liked was a silent filmstar, American, Evelyn Brent, whi was a brunette and I can’t even remember why I fell for her now. But Evelyn Brent sticks in my mind, and I saw her years later in a film, when she was 70, and I saw the name on the cast list and I thought ‘That was my first film star lady love, from the silent days!’ Then the next one was Thelma Todd who was a blonde, an American blonde, and she was in these B movies and in these short comedies …

… It was, it was more an age of innocence and one that comes to mind is The Love Parade with Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald and, em, you got things, hints about the gentlemen going in the ladies’ bedroom. Well, we never knew what went on there but, em, they’d show you now, you’d have writhing, naked bodies but those days, they’d go through a door and the door would shut and the next thing the door would open and it would be the following morning or something like that. So as curious schoolboys we used to think ‘well, what goes on?’ Well, when it had a song in that film, and I have a record of it, of Jeanette MacDonald singing it, a song called ‘How I would love one hour with you’, we gained this big impression that it took an hour that, that this was the sort of height of bliss: one hour with you! We didn’t know quite why it was the height of bliss…

… But, eh, so we had no money, we’d no car, we’d no groups, we had nothing, eh, so all you could ask from a girl, if you’d taken her to the pictures, taken to the Farnside and taken her to the balcony and that was it, they didn’t even allow for Romeo, the balcony at the Farnside or the Kingsway or the Regal was the, eh, you know, gateway to Paradise as it were, but we’d nothing. So when you were courting, in the summer you’d, you went, we went in the park shelters or something like that, em, you went all over the place but your best place, it’s a cliche this, I know, and everybody’s laughs, but your main courting area was the back row of the cinema. Not for the lewd jokes that you get about it now nor the innuendos but because you went there, you were in the back row if you were lucky if you could beat somebody else to it, it was, it, you were seeing your film favourites, Thelma Todd, the girl at your side was nothing like Thelma Todd but that didn’t worry you, you were in the warmth, it was comfortable, you’d got sweets, they went round with a tray with ice cream and all the rest of it on at the intervals, so it was a cosy atmosphere. So, for two hours you were lost with your girlfriend and you did your courting there. Em, all very innocent of course, well reasonably innocent courting, em, obviously it didn’t give you much scope for the greatest intimacy but there you were. I mean that was it, you accepted that, em, apart from which you couldn’t indulge in the greatest intimacy anyway, even if you were in those rows, for two reasons. There was a sense of community then, which there isn’t now, and if the girl got pregnant that was a disgrace on the community, particularly your street, on her family, on your family so that kept them, kept you both on the straight and narrow. Cause there was shame in those days. Now shame has inverted commas now. But there was shame in those days.

Comment: Denis Houlston was born in 1917 and lived in Manchester. He was interviewed on 26 April 1995 and 25 May 1995. The Love Parade (USA 1929 d. Ernst Lubitsch) was an early sound film; the song ‘One Hour with You’ comes from the 1932 Lubitsch film of the same title. An Everyday Magic is a study of the significance of memories of British cinemagoing in the 1930s, which makes extensive use interview material with picturegoers from the time.

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