Seats in All Parts

Source: Leslie Halliwell, Seats in All Parts (London: Granada, 1985), pp. 54-56

Text: … the Lido in Bradshawgate, as unprepossessing an unVenetian a building as could be imagined despite its gondola-filled proscenium frieze. Financed by a small Salford-based circuit, it was little more than a cheap shell. The foyer was bare and cramped, and the centre stalls exists were by crash doors which opened from the auditorium straight out into the side alleys, sometimes drenching the adjacent customers in rain or snow.

But we were unaware of such inconveniences on the Saturday in 1937 when we queued for the gala opening. For some reason the attraction chosen for that one night only was a revival of Jessie Matthews in Evergreen, very welcome but quite uneventful, since we had previously seen it at the Hippodrome. The place nevertheless was mobbed, and we found ourselves in a low point of the front stalls from which it was difficult for me to see more than the top half of the screen over the heads of the people in front. I was comforted, however, by a handful of sample packets of a confectionery, then new, called Maltesers: the usherettes were practically throwing them at everyone who came in, and I grabbed as many as I could from the tray on the way to my seat.

We went again on Monday to see the Lido’s first première, which was Song of Freedom, staring Paul Robeson. It was enjoyable enough while the star held sway, and I responded to his voice as to no one else’s since Al Jolson, who seemed unaccountably to have retired from the screen; but by now we had discovered two of the Lido’s failings. The first was its long, long intervals for ice cream sales, drastically curtailing the supporting programme we expected; the second was an even longer non-attraction called Younger’s Shoppers’ Gazette, a compilation of crude advertising filmlets (I once counted twenty-eight on the one reel). This was certainly not value for money, especially since the Lido was also the proud possessor of a Christie organ, and the interlude for this could stretch the gap between solid celluloid items to as much as thirty-five minutes. Though it had the advantage of a phantom piano attachment, the Lido organ did not rise from the orchestra pit as we expected, nor did it change colour as it came. From some of the side seats you could see it waiting in the wings throughout the performance, and since the main curtain hung slightly short, front stalls patrons could count the feet of the men who pushed it on stage at the appropriate moment. This musical marvel was operated by one Reginald Liversidge, an eager-to-please young man with a gleaming smile and a fine head of skin; his natty tailcoat and graceful manners probably endeared him to the matrons, but not to me. So far as I was concerned, his slide-accompanied concerts of ‘Tchaikovskiana’ were just one more nail in the coffin of a disappointing venue in which I had expected to spend many delightful evenings.

And so I was not impelled, in the years before the 1939 war, to visit the Lido very often. Its schedulers did not have the booking power of the established cinemas, and certainly not of the new Odeon which was to menace them all. It was too often to take the cheapest programme available, and I was happiest when it settled for a re-issue. One such attraction was the 1931 Fredric March version of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, which my mother wanted to see again, having been impressed by it when I was still in swaddling clothes. It was my first experience, in our well-behaved town, of an audience cat-calling and rough-housing during a performance. Mum said comfortingly that they only did it to prove they were not scared by Jekyll’s transformations into Hyde; I was, but tried not to show it, my fear being tempered by a burning desire to wear, when I grew up, a dress cape, cane and top hat just like Mr March’s. I realize now that this superbly crafted film, by far the best version of the story, is not only horrifying but surprisingly one-track-minded in the matter of sex, and therefore not at all a suitable entertainment for a boy of tender years; nonetheless what I most remember from that long-ago evening is how lustrous and dramatic it was to look at. Mum anxiously watched my reactions to the shock moments and, since I showed no ill effects, took me along a few weeks later to see the Lido’s ‘double thrill bill’ consisting of re-issues of The Old Dark House and The Invisible Man. This time, to our astonishment, we were forestalled by the burly commissionaire in the second-hand uniform, who informed us between pursed lips that Children were no Admitted. My mother pointed out that both films had ‘A’ certificates, not ‘H’, and that she regularly took me to ‘A’ pictures, but argument proved useless, and we could only conclude that this was an entirely unofficial rule drawn up by the management either for the public good or (more likely) to drum up business during a dull week. Adamant, the commissionaire repeatedly tapped a hanging notice on which the words ADULTS ONLY had been inscribed in shaky green lettering. Although, he assured us confidentially, he had seen both pictures and wouldn’t give you that (he snapped his fingers) for their horror content, he was powerless to help us, and could only suggest that we went round the corner to the Theatre Royal where Old Mother Riley was showing. His sister had described it as a real good laugh. Disconsolately, we took his advice; but I don’t remember laughing much: the rather primitively filmed knockabout failed to capture the instinctive zest of Lucan and MacShane’s crockery-smashing stage act which I had seen at the Grand on one recent Saturday night.

Comments: Leslie Halliwell (1929-1989) was a film historian and programme buyer for ITV and Channel 4. Seats in All Parts is his memoir of cinemagoing, including his Bolton childhood. ‘A’ certificates were introduced in 1912 and stood for ‘Adult’; from 1923 a child attending an ‘A’ film had to be accompanied by an adult. ‘H’ certificates, for Horror, were introduced by the British Board of Film Censors in 1932, to be replaced by the X certificate in 1951. The Lido cinema opened in March 1997 and closed in 1998, by which time it was called the Cannon Cinema. The site is now occupied by a block of flats. The films recalled by Halliwell are Evergreen (UK 1934), Song of Freedom (UK 1936), The Old Dark House (USA 1932), The Invisible Man (USA 1933) and Old Mother Riley (UK 1937). Younger’s Shopper’s Gazette was produced by Younger Publicity Service and ran from the 1920s to the 1940s. An example can be seen on the website of the Media Archive for Central England.

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

A Sociology of the Cinema

Source: Emilie Altenloh, Zur Soziologie des Kino: Die Kino-Unternehmung und die Sozialen Schichten Ihrer Besucher, translated in part (by Kathleen Cross) as ‘A Sociology of the Cinema: the Audience’, Screen, vol. 42 no. 3, Autumn 2001, p.267

Text: Do you go to the theatre, public lectures, concerts, variety shows?
I go to almost everything. On Mondays I go to the cinema, Tuesday I stay at home, Wednesday I go to the theatre. Fridays I have gymnastics at 9.30 pm and Sundays I go walking in the woods with my girlfriend from next-door.

What do you enjoy best?
I particularly enjoy Mozart’s music, Richard Wagner’s dramas and Schiller’s dramas in the court theatre and national theatre on Sundays.

Do you go to the cinema? How often? On your own or with others?
Cinema now and then, but not on my own.

When do you usually go to the cinema (day of week, time of day)?
On weekdays between 8 30 and 11 pm.

What kinds of film do you like best?
Love dramas, stones about trappers and Red Indians, current news from around the world and films about aviation and airship travel.

What have been your favourites?
Das Leben im Paradies/Life in Paradise, Fremde Schuld/Strange Guilt, Die keusche Susanna/Chaste Susanna and Moderne Eva/Modern Eve, all four-acters.

Which cinema do you like best? Why?
The Saalbau, it’s dark, with a nice programme.

Comments: Emilie-Kiep Altenloh (1888-1985) was a German politician and economist with strong social welfare interests. Over 1912/13 she conducted a study of cinemagoers in Mannheim, Germany, part of which involved a questionnaire sent to 2,400 cinemagoers in Mannheim asking about their gender, age, social standing, marital status, employment, religious persuasion, politics and filmgoing habits. Altenhoh’s methodology and conclusions continue to be of great interest to cinema historians. Her published study is in two parts, covering production and audiences. It reproduces little from the completed questionnaires: this submission from a fifteen-year-old machine-fitter is an exception. The favourite films mentioned appear to be, in order: unknown, Um fremde Schuld – Eine Episode aus dem Leben (Germany 1912), Die keusche Susanna (Germany 1911 – a one-reel synchronised sound film of the Jean Gilbert operetta, not a four-part film), and unknown, but presumably derived from the 1912 operetta Die moderne Eva by Victor Holländer and Jean Gilbert.

Links: Complete German text
English translation of Audiences section

A Sociology of the Cinema

Source: Emilie Altenloh, Zur Soziologie des Kino: Die Kino-Unternehmung und die Sozialen Schichten Ihrer Besucher, translated in part (by Kathleen Cross) as ‘A Sociology of the Cinema: the Audience’, Screen, vol. 42 no. 3, Autumn 2001, p.267

Text: Do you go to the theatre, public lectures, concerts, variety shows?
I go to almost everything. On Mondays I go to the cinema, Tuesday I stay at home, Wednesday I go to the theatre. Fridays I have gymnastics at 9.30 pm and Sundays I go walking in the woods with my girlfriend from next-door.

What do you enjoy best?
I particularly enjoy Mozart’s music, Richard Wagner’s dramas and Schiller’s dramas in the court theatre and national theatre on Sundays.

Do you go to the cinema? How often? On your own or with others?
Cinema now and then, but not on my own.

When do you usually go to the cinema (day of week, time of day)?
On weekdays between 8 30 and 11 pm.

What kinds of film do you like best?
Love dramas, stones about trappers and Red Indians, current news from around the world and films about aviation and airship travel.

What have been your favourites?
Das Leben im Paradies/Life in Paradise, Fremde Schuld/Strange Guilt, Die keusche Susanna/Chaste Susanna and Moderne Eva/Modern Eve, all four-acters.

Which cinema do you like best? Why?
The Saalbau, it’s dark, with a nice programme.

Comments: Emilie-Kiep Altenloh (1888-1985) was a German politician and economist with strong social welfare interests. Over 1912/13 she conducted a study of cinemagoers in Mannheim, Germany, part of which involved a questionnaire sent to 2,400 cinemagoers in Mannheim asking about their gender, age, social standing, marital status, employment, religious persuasion, politics and filmgoing habits. Altenhoh’s methodology and conclusions continue to be of great interest to cinema historians. Her published study is in two parts, covering production and audiences. It reproduces little from the completed questionnaires: this submission from a fifteen-year-old machine-fitter is an exception. The favourite films mentioned appear to be, in order: unknown, Um fremde Schuld – Eine Episode aus dem Leben (Germany 1912), Die keusche Susanna (Germany 1911 – a one-reel synchronised sound film of the Jean Gilbert operetta, not a four-part film), and unknown, but presumably derived from the 1912 operetta Die moderne Eva by Victor Holländer and Jean Gilbert.

Links: Complete German text
English translation of Audiences section

Will you take me in, mister?

Source: David Rayner, contributed by the author.

Text: My earliest memory of picturegoing was on my fourth birthday in April, 1951, when I was taken by my mother and my godmother to the Essoldo, Wellington Road South, Stockport, to see Victor Mature and Hedy Lamaar in Cecil B. DeMille’s Technicolor epic “Samson and Delilah”. I can still remember being very impressed by the sight of Samson pushing apart the pillars of the temple of Dagon and quite literally bring the house down (or in this case, the temple)! I also remember I kept turning around in my seat and looking up at the dancing beam of blue light that came from way up there and that seemed to have something to do with the happenings on the large screen, never dreaming at the time that, eleven years later, I, too, would become a cinema projectionist (although not at the Essoldo, Stockport).

“Will you take me in, mister?”

I began going to the pictures on my own in 1957, when I was ten years old. Going to the pictures in those days was a very different experience to what such things are like today. For my ninepence admission money, I could get to see a feature; a supporting feature; a cartoon; a newsreel; a short and the adverts and trailers. Performances were continuous from 1 p.m. until 10:15 p.m. and you could go into the cinema at any time and, if, when you got inside, the feature was halfway through, you simply sat through the rest of the programme until the feature came on again and then you watched it around to the part where you had come in. I had moved from Stockport to Stoke-on-Trent by that time and, with around 25 cinemas in the Stoke-on-Trent area in the 1950s, there were plenty of films to choose from, especially with most cinemas changing their programme three times a week, on a Sunday, Monday and Thursday.

Of course, I was too young to be allowed in to see an X certificate film, but when an A certificate film was showing (children not allowed in unless accompanied by an adult), I, like many other youngsters at the time, used to wait outside the cinema and ask a man going in if he would take me in with him. None ever refused and, if the man took a liking to me, he would pay for my ticket, thus saving me having to spend my pocket money. After you got inside, sometimes the man would go and sit somewhere else and leave you to it, or sit alongside you and share a bag of sweets with you. These days, modern parents would be totally horrified by such a then commonplace practice. However, incidents of being groped by a man who had taken a boy in to see an A film were rarer than you might think, and, although it did happen to me a couple of times, when I was 12 and 13, I never heard of it happening to any other boy.

Comment: David Rayner was born in 1947 and in adult life became a cinema projectionist (now retired). X certificates were introduced in the UK in 1951, limiting exhibition to those aged over 16 (raised to over 18 in 1970).

The Journals of Sydney Race

Source: Ann Featherstone (ed.), The Journals of Sydney Race 1892-1900: A Provincial View of Popular Entertainment (London: The Society for Theatre Research, 2007), pp. 78-79

Text: Saturday January 20th, 1897
Caldwells have been showing the ‘Living Pictures’ in their shop on Long Row for some time past now and tonight I went there to see them. This marvellous invention which only appeared last year is, I take it, a development of Edison’s Kinetoscope. In each case, I believe, an enormous number of photographs, taken consecutively, are whirled with speed of lightning, before your eyes. In this case the pictures are thrown onto a screen by a magic lantern. The screen at Caldwells was placed between us and the operator and when all the lights had been put out the pictures were thrown on it, in size about five feet by three or four I should think. The following were among the views I saw:

Place of the Opera, Paris with numerous buses, cabs and passengers continuously passing.

Some children skipping with a gentleman or two playing about with others, a boy watering the garden with a hose, and at the rear the traffic of a street seen through the railings.

Two gentlemen playing cards in a Restaurant. One accuses the other of cheating and after an argument they fight, the table, etc., at the finish being cleared off by a grinning waiter.

The sea washing over the promenade and some watering place. The photograph did not bring out the waves very clearly, but we could see them dashing up and down and at times leaping the promenade.

Three girls in a skirt dance. These showed up well.

Fire engines turning out of the Fire Station.

Two men wrestling.

A scene, apparently at an Exhibition; a fountain in the centre and a circular train coming in and discharging its passengers.

The Czar in Paris. This was very good. We first saw the road lined on each side with mounted soldiers. At his side was a row of Cuirassiers and it was very strange to see a horse shake its head while the man sat quite motionlessly. The effect of standing figures making a sudden movement was the most curious of all in the pictures. Down this road pressed by the military came the procession; squadrons of cavalry, carriages, a troupe of Arabs (easily distinguished by their dress and manner of riding), more carriages and more cavalry and then the Czar and Czarina and their escort. The cavalry rode in bunches and you could almost hear them trotting so lifelike was their manner, and it was curious to notice officers, every now and then, forging ahead of their troops.

A railway station. A porter and one or two officials came bustling along and then the train came slowly in. Passengers got out and hurried off and others got in and after an interval the train moved off, some in carriages put their heads out of the windows as it did so. It was funny to see a door open and a lady and gentleman jump out, apparently from a flat surface containing nothing.

There were other scenes which I do not remember and the affair was distinctly novel and wonderful. The pictures lasted about a minute and unlike the Kinetoscope did not seem to disappear almost as soon as they appeared. You had time to take in the scene fully and there was a leisurely air about it though you know that the operator was working as fast as his machine would allow him.

Comment: Sydney Race (1875-1960) was the working-class son of a cotton mill engineer and worked as an insurance clerk in Nottingham. His private journal documents the different kinds of entertainment he witnessed in Nottingham. This show featured either Lumière or possibly Pathé films.

Cinematographs – Truth and Fiction

Source: ‘Cinematographs – Truth and Fiction’, The Times [London], 9 April 1913, p. 11

Text: At the present moment the popularity of picture palaces and the reason for it are directing a good deal of attention to the state of the public mind. But these sudden crazes are not new: 30 years ago it was croquet, 15 years ago it was cycling, ten years ago it was roller-skating. It seems that from time to time, like a person lying long in bed, we turn over and try a new position. Nevertheless, whenever it happens, the more thoughtful part of the race becomes alarmed, collects statistics, and wonders what this development, which it chooses to call backsliding, is caused by. We have lately been told that picture palaces are preventing us from going to church, from going to the theatre, from going to public houses, and from reading novels. On the other hand, we may find encouragement in the fact that the number of people who use works of reference is increasing.

One need not be thoughtful, or specially anxious about the future of the race, or a great believer in the value of statistics, and yet one may wonder as one walks down the Strand or Oxford Street or Tottenham Court Road why these excessively brilliant doorways which star the pavement at such short distances apart prove so irresistibly attractive. It is true that the management often provide tea for nothing, and the carpets are very thick, and the attendants as finely grown as Royal footmen, and all these things are good; but without such attractions, when the door is unlit and down a back street, and the seats are hard and the attendants meagre and peremptory, we go – we pay our sixpence, we sit there until the first picture begins to come over again, and directly the programme is changed, which is not as often as it should be, we pay our sixpence and go once more.

But what is the reason of it? Why do we invariably find the hall full of men and women, old, elderly and young, paying their sixpences, listening intently, going away and coming again? No doubt we are all feeling much the same thing, and we are driven to drop in by some such experience as this.

After trudging for an hour and a half in and out of tubes, shops, omnibuses, hard pavement for the feet, grey sky between the houses, wind blown, with uncharitable people to confront, there comes a moment when it is no longer to be borne. Whoever you are, whatever your tastes, you stop at some street corner and declare that you must immediately escape. The only question is whether it shall be to a church or to a picture gallery or to a publichouse [sic] or to a library. Each of these offers some kind of relief from the stony superficiality, the inhospitality, the impersonality of the street. Each offers some kind of resting room where you may recollect your human soul. At the same time each demands a certain effort, a certain chafing and stamping if one may so call it, before one is comfortably aglow. It is now that the lighted doorway presents itself. The picture palace offers immediate escape with the least possible expenditure of energy. You have only to lean back in a well-wadded chair, and you are floated upon some ambling dance tune down southern streets, or to the dusty jungle where the lion crouches, or to the centre of some public pageant, where merely to trace the expressions of the faces is to be in at the making of history. The street is only a few yards away, and five minutes ago you were cold and wind blown like the rest; but now that is nothing, or is a dream. You are now in the position most comfortable to man – sitting at ease, observing, speculating, ruminating, imagining, with hardly any trouble to yourself. All the work seems to be done for you. The marvellous way in which an illusion, strong enough to defeat circumstances, is created at once, without any effort of imagination, must be attributed chiefly to the fact that the picture moves. You never have time to be bored by one picture before it changes, becomes another picture, becomes not only a picture but a story, something which has a separate life of its own. Meanwhile you are being worked upon, as indifferent music that goes straight to the obvious emotion does work upon one, and made to feel without willing it rather more than is reasonable.

But this is only part of the secret, for the stream of traffic outside has no such power to please. A great part of the enchantment must lie in the fact that the most trivial scene – let us say a meet of coaches in Hyde Park – when cut off from its surroundings becomes for some queer reason significant, even emotional, as it seldom does in reality. Looking up from an arm-chair in a darkened room you see as you have never seen before. The horses and the women and the trees appear on the sheet as if they had nothing to do with the future or with the past, as if the whips would never descend, or the grooms swing up behind, or the horses trot off down the road to Richmond. Let alone the strange way in which isolating something from its context heightens the meaning, there is the sheer excitement and curiosity of the sights themselves. For the first time we see wild beasts creeping down to the pools to drink, or ice-fields grinding each other in the Polar sea. We might almost say that for the first time we see flowers unfolding and waves breaking on the beach.

Indeed the only grudge we have against the management of picture palaces is that they will go to any amount of trouble and expense in dramatizing romantic stories which take place, we believe, in cardboard castles in the outskirts of Paris, when the streets are full of pictures at once more comic, more tragic, and possessed of the incomparable recommendation that they are true. Suppose that, instead of inventing an improbable love story complicated by a couple of fierce brown bears in the Rocky Mountains, which has to be conveyed by trained actors carefully made up and craggy steeps that fail to convince, we had simply 12 o’clock yesterday in London, Paris, Moscow, Madrid, New York, Rome. The effect would be far more striking, and we must suppose a tenth part as expensive. Those half-dozen pictures of real people going about their businesses in real streets on different sides of the world, with all the little oddities and incidents that one would delight in detecting, would set up an image of the earth and mankind that would surpass all the lovers and all the bears in America.

The versions of famous novels and imaginary adventures which fill three-fourths of the programme appeal, of course, to our love of story-telling, and if they tend to be a little monotonous they have the advantage that moving pictures are simpler, quicker, more direct than the best printed prose can ever hope to be. Whether in this extraordinary greed of the eye we are to see reason for alarm or not, we do not know. We are inclined to expect that the eye in England has been rather cruelly starved. At the present moment, at any rate, it will take anything you choose to give it, as long as it moves quickly and is exactly like life. We are ready to look at places, people, animals, plants, waves, things that never happened, things that were written about, things that could no possibly happen anywhere. What the brain does with all this material it is difficult to say. Judging from personal experience, we should be inclined to believe that it remains quiescent during the greater part of the time, amused but not stimulated; that there are scattered moments of pure revelation; and, that, for the rest, a marvellous confusion reigns, a welter of music, of facts, of fiction, of forms. It is not life, it is not art, it is not music, it is not literature. Whether, all the same, we are fumbling towards some new form of art which is to have movement and shape, to be like life and yet to be selected and arranged as a work of art, who can say? In the meantime we have a fury for seeing and remain happy, greedy and terribly indiscriminate.

Comment: I write about the significance of this fascinating, anonymous article in ‘A Fury for Seeing: Cinema, Audience and Leisure in London in 1913′, Early Popular Visual Culture, vol. 6 no. 3 (November 2008) [available online through restricted academic services only]

Yesterday's Sunshine

Source: Verne Morgan, Yesterday’s Sunshine: Reminiscences of an Edwardian Childhood (Folkestone: Bailey Brothers and Swinfen, 1974), pp. 122-126

Text: The Moving Pictures, as we called them, first came to Bromley when I was about seven. They made their début at the Central Hall, and the performances took place on Friday nights. There were two houses, one at five o’clock for the children and one at seven for the grown-ups. The programmes lasted approximately one hour, and consisted of a succession of short films. Indeed some of them would last no longer than three or four minutes and there would be an appreciable wait in between while the man in the box got busy threading the next reel.

The Central Hall was a vast place with a huge gallery encircling it. It was used mostly for political meetings and the like, and quite often a band concert would be held there too. But it also had a pronounced ecclesiastical leaning and the man who owned it belonged in some way to the church and was avidly religious. He was an elderly man and wore pince-nez spectacles to which were attached a long black cord. He was a man of extremely good intentions and loved to stand upon the platform making long speeches spouting about them. Unfortunately, he had the most dreadful impediment and it was quite impossible to understand a word he said. But I well remember the enthusiastic claps he got when he eventually sat down, not because we had appreciated what he said so much as the fact that he had at last finished. The film programme could then begin.

The operating box was a temporary affair, and was perched up at the rear of the gallery. I used to get a seat as close to it as possible so that I could see how it was all done. The lighting was effected by a stick of black carbon, about the size of a piece of chalk, which lit up the small box with a brilliant blueish-white light and had a blinding effect if you looked right at it. Occasionally it would burn low and the operator would push it up a bit; this would be reflected by the density of light on the screen. The screen itself was also of a temporary nature, it was in fact little more than a large white sheet weighted at the bottom to keep it taut. Any movement close to it would cause it to wobble, and the picture would go a little peculiar. We were not critical of such minor details. The very fact that the picture moved was enough to satisfy us.

As each small reel was finished the operator would place it outside for re-winding, his box being of limited dimensions. On account of this I was able to study the technique as to how the pictures appeared to move. It was so simple I could hardly believe it. I told my Brother about it; I told my Mother about it; I told lots of people about it. But no one believed me. So, to prove myself right, I set about editing a film on my own account. I drew a succession of pictures in pencil on the bottom of a hymn book in church. Each one was just that little bit different, so that when the pages were flicked over the overall picture appeared to move. This technique, in ‘flicker’ form, has, of course, been used in many ways since then, but at the time it was entirely my own idea, and I was middling proud of it. I can’t say that anybody was particularly impressed, but at the time it thrilled me beyond description. In due course I pictorialised all the hymn books I could lay my hands on, during the sermon and other breaks in the church service. They consisted mostly of football matches with someone scoring a goal. Or it might be a boxing match with someone getting knocked out. Or an exciting race with a hectically close finish. Anything that inspired my sporting instincts was in course of time recorded in the hymn books of St. Luke’s Church, Bromley. I have often wondered since what the effect must have been on the boy who eventually took my seat in the choir pew when he found what he had inherited. I can only hope that he had as much enjoyment out of watching animated pictures as I had got out of drawing them.

The Central Hall was situated close to the top of Bromley Hill, nearly three miles from where we lived. It was a long walk for small legs, and there was no public transport at that time. Yet, whatever the weather, we never missed. Every Friday, shortly after school hours, a swarm of happy-faced youngsters were to be seen all heading in the same direction. The Central Hall had become the centre of a new culture. But, as yet, only the school kids had caught on to it.

Then quite suddenly, the Grand Theatre in Bromley High Street, which up till then had housed nothing more spectacular than stage dramas of the “Maria Marten” and “Sweeney Todd” kind, put up the shutters and announced that in future Moving Pictures would take over. They would be put on once nightly with a full programme of films. A new firm moved in calling itself Jury’s. The old Grand was given a face-lift and transformed into a picture house.

This was revolutionary indeed.

The grown-ups were sceptical. But the programmes were of a higher standard than those at the Central Hall, and would sometimes have a two-reeler as the star attraction. The films began to take on a more realistic angle, with interesting stories, love scenes, cowboys and Indians, exciting battles and lots of gooey pathos.

People began to go.

When they announced a showing of the famous story “Quo Vadis” in seven reels, all Bromley turned out to see it. Even my father condescended, and grumbled volubly because he had to “line up” to get it (the word “queue” had not yet come into circulation).

It was the beginning of a new era. Very soon a place was built in the High Street, calling itself a cinema. Moving pictures were firmly on the map, and shortly to be called films. We watched with astonishment as the new building reached completion and gave itself the high-flown title of “The Palaise [sic] de luxe”.

Most of us pronounced it as it was spelt, “The Palace de lux”, but my cousin Daisy, who was seventeen and having French lessons twice a week, pronounced it the “Palyay dee Loo”. And she twisted her mouth into all sorts of shapes when she said it.

That being as it may, the Palaise de Luxe put on programmes that pulled in the crowds from far and near, and it wasn’t long before they engaged a pianist to play the piano while the films were in progress. I remember him well. A portly gentleman who hitherto had earned a precarious living playing in local pubs. He soon got into his stride and began to adapt his choice of music to the particular film that was being shown. If it was a comedy he would play something like “The Irish Washerwoman”; if it was something sad, he would rattle off a popular number of the day like, “If your heart should ache awhile never mind”, and if it was a military scene, he would strike up a well-known march. The classic example came when a religious film was presented and we saw Christ walking on the water. He immediately struck up a few bards of “A life on the ocean wave”.

Later on, all cinemas worthy of the name included a small orchestra to accompany the films, and in due course, a complete score of suitable music would be sent with the main feature film so as to give the right effect at the right moment.

The Palaise de Luxe was indeed a palace as far as we were concerned. We sat in plush tip-up seats and there were two programmes a night. Further, you could walk in any old time and leave when you felt like it. Which meant, of course, that you could, if you so desired, be in at the start and watch the programme twice through (which many of us did and suffered a tanning for getting home late). It was warm and cosy, and there was a small upper circle for those who didn’t wish to mix!

The projector was discreetly hidden away behind the back wall up in the circle, and no longer could you see the man turning the handle. We became conscious for the first time of the strong beam of light that extended from the operating box to the screen. It was all so fascinating and mysterious. The screen, too, was no longer a piece of white material hanging from the ceiling, it was built into the wall, or so it appeared, and it was solid, so that no amount of movement could make it wobble.

It quickly became the custom to visit the cinema once a week. It was the “in” thing, or as we said in those days, it was “all the rage”.

We learnt to discriminate. My Brother and I became infatuated with a funny little man who was just that bit different from the others. His tomfoolery had a “soul” we decided, and whereas we smiled and tittered at the others comics, we roared our heads off with laughter whenever this one came on the screen. We went to a great deal of trouble to find out who he was, for names were not very often given in the early days.

“He’s called Charlie Chaplin”, the manager of the cinema told us, a little surprised no doubt that one so young could be all that interested.

Comment: Verne Morgan lived in Kent, and became a writer of pantomimes and theatre sketches. Palais de Luxe cinemas were a chain, run by Electric Theatres (1908) Ltd. Jury’s Imperial Pictures was a producer and distributor, but did not manage cinemas. The period described is the early to mid-1910s: the Italian film Quo Vadis was made in 1913 and Chaplin’s first films were released in 1914. The mention of a piano player being introduced suggests that the earlier screenings had been watched without musical accompaniment.

Yesterday’s Sunshine

Source: Verne Morgan, Yesterday’s Sunshine: Reminiscences of an Edwardian Childhood (Folkestone: Bailey Brothers and Swinfen, 1974), pp. 122-126

Text: The Moving Pictures, as we called them, first came to Bromley when I was about seven. They made their début at the Central Hall, and the performances took place on Friday nights. There were two houses, one at five o’clock for the children and one at seven for the grown-ups. The programmes lasted approximately one hour, and consisted of a succession of short films. Indeed some of them would last no longer than three or four minutes and there would be an appreciable wait in between while the man in the box got busy threading the next reel.

The Central Hall was a vast place with a huge gallery encircling it. It was used mostly for political meetings and the like, and quite often a band concert would be held there too. But it also had a pronounced ecclesiastical leaning and the man who owned it belonged in some way to the church and was avidly religious. He was an elderly man and wore pince-nez spectacles to which were attached a long black cord. He was a man of extremely good intentions and loved to stand upon the platform making long speeches spouting about them. Unfortunately, he had the most dreadful impediment and it was quite impossible to understand a word he said. But I well remember the enthusiastic claps he got when he eventually sat down, not because we had appreciated what he said so much as the fact that he had at last finished. The film programme could then begin.

The operating box was a temporary affair, and was perched up at the rear of the gallery. I used to get a seat as close to it as possible so that I could see how it was all done. The lighting was effected by a stick of black carbon, about the size of a piece of chalk, which lit up the small box with a brilliant blueish-white light and had a blinding effect if you looked right at it. Occasionally it would burn low and the operator would push it up a bit; this would be reflected by the density of light on the screen. The screen itself was also of a temporary nature, it was in fact little more than a large white sheet weighted at the bottom to keep it taut. Any movement close to it would cause it to wobble, and the picture would go a little peculiar. We were not critical of such minor details. The very fact that the picture moved was enough to satisfy us.

As each small reel was finished the operator would place it outside for re-winding, his box being of limited dimensions. On account of this I was able to study the technique as to how the pictures appeared to move. It was so simple I could hardly believe it. I told my Brother about it; I told my Mother about it; I told lots of people about it. But no one believed me. So, to prove myself right, I set about editing a film on my own account. I drew a succession of pictures in pencil on the bottom of a hymn book in church. Each one was just that little bit different, so that when the pages were flicked over the overall picture appeared to move. This technique, in ‘flicker’ form, has, of course, been used in many ways since then, but at the time it was entirely my own idea, and I was middling proud of it. I can’t say that anybody was particularly impressed, but at the time it thrilled me beyond description. In due course I pictorialised all the hymn books I could lay my hands on, during the sermon and other breaks in the church service. They consisted mostly of football matches with someone scoring a goal. Or it might be a boxing match with someone getting knocked out. Or an exciting race with a hectically close finish. Anything that inspired my sporting instincts was in course of time recorded in the hymn books of St. Luke’s Church, Bromley. I have often wondered since what the effect must have been on the boy who eventually took my seat in the choir pew when he found what he had inherited. I can only hope that he had as much enjoyment out of watching animated pictures as I had got out of drawing them.

The Central Hall was situated close to the top of Bromley Hill, nearly three miles from where we lived. It was a long walk for small legs, and there was no public transport at that time. Yet, whatever the weather, we never missed. Every Friday, shortly after school hours, a swarm of happy-faced youngsters were to be seen all heading in the same direction. The Central Hall had become the centre of a new culture. But, as yet, only the school kids had caught on to it.

Then quite suddenly, the Grand Theatre in Bromley High Street, which up till then had housed nothing more spectacular than stage dramas of the “Maria Marten” and “Sweeney Todd” kind, put up the shutters and announced that in future Moving Pictures would take over. They would be put on once nightly with a full programme of films. A new firm moved in calling itself Jury’s. The old Grand was given a face-lift and transformed into a picture house.

This was revolutionary indeed.

The grown-ups were sceptical. But the programmes were of a higher standard than those at the Central Hall, and would sometimes have a two-reeler as the star attraction. The films began to take on a more realistic angle, with interesting stories, love scenes, cowboys and Indians, exciting battles and lots of gooey pathos.

People began to go.

When they announced a showing of the famous story “Quo Vadis” in seven reels, all Bromley turned out to see it. Even my father condescended, and grumbled volubly because he had to “line up” to get it (the word “queue” had not yet come into circulation).

It was the beginning of a new era. Very soon a place was built in the High Street, calling itself a cinema. Moving pictures were firmly on the map, and shortly to be called films. We watched with astonishment as the new building reached completion and gave itself the high-flown title of “The Palaise [sic] de luxe”.

Most of us pronounced it as it was spelt, “The Palace de lux”, but my cousin Daisy, who was seventeen and having French lessons twice a week, pronounced it the “Palyay dee Loo”. And she twisted her mouth into all sorts of shapes when she said it.

That being as it may, the Palaise de Luxe put on programmes that pulled in the crowds from far and near, and it wasn’t long before they engaged a pianist to play the piano while the films were in progress. I remember him well. A portly gentleman who hitherto had earned a precarious living playing in local pubs. He soon got into his stride and began to adapt his choice of music to the particular film that was being shown. If it was a comedy he would play something like “The Irish Washerwoman”; if it was something sad, he would rattle off a popular number of the day like, “If your heart should ache awhile never mind”, and if it was a military scene, he would strike up a well-known march. The classic example came when a religious film was presented and we saw Christ walking on the water. He immediately struck up a few bards of “A life on the ocean wave”.

Later on, all cinemas worthy of the name included a small orchestra to accompany the films, and in due course, a complete score of suitable music would be sent with the main feature film so as to give the right effect at the right moment.

The Palaise de Luxe was indeed a palace as far as we were concerned. We sat in plush tip-up seats and there were two programmes a night. Further, you could walk in any old time and leave when you felt like it. Which meant, of course, that you could, if you so desired, be in at the start and watch the programme twice through (which many of us did and suffered a tanning for getting home late). It was warm and cosy, and there was a small upper circle for those who didn’t wish to mix!

The projector was discreetly hidden away behind the back wall up in the circle, and no longer could you see the man turning the handle. We became conscious for the first time of the strong beam of light that extended from the operating box to the screen. It was all so fascinating and mysterious. The screen, too, was no longer a piece of white material hanging from the ceiling, it was built into the wall, or so it appeared, and it was solid, so that no amount of movement could make it wobble.

It quickly became the custom to visit the cinema once a week. It was the “in” thing, or as we said in those days, it was “all the rage”.

We learnt to discriminate. My Brother and I became infatuated with a funny little man who was just that bit different from the others. His tomfoolery had a “soul” we decided, and whereas we smiled and tittered at the others comics, we roared our heads off with laughter whenever this one came on the screen. We went to a great deal of trouble to find out who he was, for names were not very often given in the early days.

“He’s called Charlie Chaplin”, the manager of the cinema told us, a little surprised no doubt that one so young could be all that interested.

Comment: Verne Morgan lived in Kent, and became a writer of pantomimes and theatre sketches. Palais de Luxe cinemas were a chain, run by Electric Theatres (1908) Ltd. Jury’s Imperial Pictures was a producer and distributor, must did not manage cinemas. The period described is the early to mid-1910s: the Italian film Quo Vadis was made in 1913 and Chaplin’s first films were released in 1914. The mention of a piano player being introduced suggests that the earlier screenings had been watched without musical accompaniment.