At the Works

Source: Lady [Florence] Bell, At the Works: A Study of a Manufacturing Town (London: Nelson, 1911 [originally London: Edward Arnold, 1907]), pp. 185-186

Text: At the moment of writing there are ten music-halls in full swing, at all of which Moving Pictures are shown on the Cinematograph, and at seven of which a variety entertainment is given as well. These pictures have made an extraordinary difference to the leisure hours of the working class, adults as well as children, to whom they seem to give untiring delight. The price in most of the halls ranges from 6d. to 2d., children being half price: in two of them the best places are 2s. and 1s. respectively. The seating capacity of the biggest of these halls is about 2,000; of the smallest, 350. It may appear to many of us that if a wisely tolerant supervision could be exercised over the selection of the pictures, excluding the actually harmful, but not always insisting on the improving, it would be an innocuous and not undesirable form of amusement. The front row of the gallery generally consists of children, mostly little boys between seven and ten, eagerly following every detail of the entertainment. Each of them these must have paid for his place – how he did it who can tell? perhaps either by begging or by playing pitch and toss in the street. One may sometimes see a queue of women waiting to go to the cheap seats, often with their husbands accompanying them. These women, many of whom have their babies in their arms, come out of the place looking pleased and brightened up. The kind of variety entertainment usually offered does not to the critical onlooker seem either particularly harmful or especially ennobling. The curious fact that, in almost any social circle, it makes people laugh convulsively to see any one tumble down, is kept well in view, and utilized to frequent effect. Six of these halls show their moving pictures on a Sunday, an incalculable boon.

Comment: Lady Bell (Dame Florence Eveleen Eleanore Bell) (1851-1930) was a British aristocrat, playwright and author of At the Works, a study of working lives in Middlesborough in the 1900s.

The Edwardians

Source: J.B. Priestley, The Edwardians (London: William Heinemann, 1970), pp. 175-176.

Text: The final act in most of these variety shows when all the glory of the programme had vanished, was a few minutes of jerky film, generally called ‘Bioscope’. But we rarely stayed to discover what the Bioscope was offering us. Now that we have so many accounts of the early history of films, we know that men in various places were taking them very seriously indeed. But that was true of very few people. My friends and I waved them away. Apart from halls where films were occasionally shown, I seem to remember – as my first genuine cinema – a certain Theatre-de-Luxe, where for sixpence you were given an hour or so of short films, a cup of tea and a biscuit. I tried once, and once was enough. Not until the First War, when I was in the army, did I begin to look for films, not simply to take girls into the back rows for canoodling, but in search of the early Chaplin shorts that were arriving then. Before that, in the Edwardian years, like most other people I spent very little time looking at films, which were just so much prolonged ‘Bioscope’. And for that reason I shall spend no more time with them here, leaving them to flicker away, a final disregarded item in the great gaudy programmes of the music hall.

Comment: John Boynton Priestley (1894-1984) was a British novelist and playwright, known for Time and the Conways, An Inspector Calls and The Good Companions. His history The Edwardians is a classic account of the social, political and cultural aspects of the era. His dismissal of cinema is typical of many nostalgic accounts of the era which favour theatre and music hall over the upstart new medium. Theatre de Luxe cinemas were part of Electric Theatres (1908), the first cinema chain in London.