Unreliable Memoirs

Source: Clive James, Unreliable Memoirs (London: Jonathan Cape, 1980), pp. 43-47

Text: Every Saturday afternoon at the pictures there was a feature film, sixteen cartoons and an episode each from four different serials. The programme just went on and on like Bayreuth. The Margaret Street children would join up with the Irene Street children and the combined mass would add themselves unto the Sunbeam Avenue children and the aggregate would join the swarm from all the other areas all moving north along Rocky Point Road towards Rockdale, where the Odeon stood. In summer the concrete paths were hot. The asphalt footpaths were even hotter: bubbles of tar formed, to be squashed flat by our leathery bare feet. Running around on macadamised playgrounds throughout the spring, by summer we had feet that could tread on a drawing pin and hardly feel it.

When you got to the Odeon the first thing you did was stock up with lollies. Lollies was the word for what the English call sweets and the Americans call candy. Some of the more privileged children had upwards of five shillings each to dispose of, but in fact two bob was enough to buy you as much as you could eat. Everyone, without exception, bought at least one Hoadley’s Violet Crumble Bar. It was a slab of dense, dry honeycomb coated with chocolate. So frangible was the honey comb that it would shatter when bitten, scattering bright yellow shrapnel. It was like trying to eat a Ming vase. The honeycomb would go soft only after a day’s exposure to direct sunlight. The chocolate surrounding it, however, would liquefy after only ten minutes in a dark cinema.

[…]

Everyone either ate steadily or raced up and down the aisles to and from the toilet, or all three. The uproar was continuous, like Niagara. Meanwhile the programme was unreeling in front of us. The feature film was usually a Tarzan, a Western, or the kind of Eastern Western in which George Macready played the grand vizier. At an even earlier stage I had been to the pictures with my mother and been continuously frightened without understanding what was going on – the mere use of music to reinforce tension, for example, was enough to drive me under the seat for the rest of the evening. At a later stage I accompanied my mother to every change of evening double bill both at Ramsgate and Rockdale – a total of four films a week, every week for at least a decade. But nothing before or since had the impact of those feature films at the Rockdale Saturday matinees.

In those days Johnny Weissmuller was making his difficult transfer from Tarzan to Jungle Jim. As Tarzan he got fatter and fatter until finally he was too fat to be plausible, whereupon he was obliged to put on a safari suit and become Jungle Jim. I was glad to to learn subsequently that as Jungle Jim he had a piece of the action and was at last able to bank some money. At the time, his transmogrification looked to me like an unmitigated tragedy. His old Tarzan movies were screened again and again. Many times I dived with Tarz off Brooklyn Bridge during the climactic scene of Tarzan’s New York Adventure. In my mind I duplicated the back somersaults executed by Johnny’s double as he swung from vine to vine on his way to rescue the endangered Jane and Boy from the invading ivory hunters. In one of the Tarzan movies there is a terrible sequence where one lot of natives gives another lot an extremely thin time by arranging pairs of tree trunks so that they will fly apart and pull the victim to pieces. This scene stayed with me as a paradigm of evil. No doubt if I saw the same film today I would find the sequence as crudely done as everything else ever filmed on Poverty Row. But at the time it seemed a vision of cruelty too horrible even to think about.

I can remember having strong ideas about which cartoons were funny and which were not. Mr Magoo and Gerald McBoing-Boing, with their stylised backgrounds and elliptical animation, had not yet arrived on the scene. Cartoons were still in that hyper-realist phase which turns out in retrospect to have been their golden age. The standards of animation set by Walt Disney and MGM cost a lot of time, effort and money, but as so often happens the art reached it height at the moment of maximum resistance from the medium. Knowing nothing of these theoretical matters, I simply consumed the product. I knew straight away that the Tom and Jerry cartoons were the best. In fact I even knew straight away that some Tom and Jerry cartoons were better than others. There was an early period when Tom’s features were puffy and he ran with a lope, motion being indicated by the streaks that animators call speed lines. In the later period Tom’s features had an acute precision and his every move was made fully actual, with no stylisation at all. Meanwhile Jerry slimmed down and acquired more expressiveness. The two periods were clearly separated in my mind, where they were dubbed ‘old drawings’ and ‘new drawings’. I remember being able to tell which category a given Tom and Jerry cartoon fell into from seeing the first few frames. Eventually I could tell just from the logo. I remember clearly the feeling of disappointment if it was going to be old drawings and the feeling of elation if it was going to be new drawings.

But the serials were what caught my imagination most, especially the ones in which the hero was masked. It didn’t occur to me until much later that the producers, among whom Sam Katzman was the doyen, kept the heroes masked so that the leading actors could not ask for more money. At the time it just seemed logical to me that a hero should wear a masked. It didn’t have to be as elaborate as Batman’s mask. I admired Batman, despite the worrying wrinkles in the arms and legs of his costume, which attained a satisfactory tautness only in the region of his stomach. But Robin’s mask was easier to copy. So was the Black Commando’s. My favourite serials were those in which masked men went out at night and melted mysteriously into the urban landscape. Science fiction serials were less appealing at that stage, while white hunter epics like The Lost City of the Jungle merely seemed endless. I saw all fourteen episodes of The Lost City of the Jungle except the last. It would have made no difference if I had only seen the last episode and missed the thirteen leading up to it. The same things happened every week. Either two parties of white hunters in solar topees searched for each other in one part of the jungle, or else the same two parties of white hunters in solar topees sought to avoid each other in another part of the jungle. Meanwhile tribesmen from the Lost City either captured representatives of both parties and took them to the High Priestess for sacrifice, or else ran after them when they escaped. Sometimes white hunters escaping ran into other white hunters being captured, and were either recaptured or helped the others escape. It was obvious even to my unschooled eyes that there was only about half an acre of jungle, all of it composed of papier mâché. By the end of each episode it was beaten flat. The screen would do a spiral wipe around an image of the enthroned High Priestess, clad in a variety of tea-towels and gesturing obdurately with a collection of prop sceptres while one of the good white hunters – you could tell a good one from a bad one by the fact that a bad one always sported a very narrow moustache – was lowered upside down into a pit of limp scorpions.

Comments: Clive James (born 1939) is an Australian broadcaster, critic, poet and essayist. These extracts from his first volume of memoirs cover the period of the late 1940s. The films mentioned include Tarzan’s New York Adventure (USA 1942), Batman (1943, 15 episodes), The Secret Code (USA 1942, 15 episodes, featuring ‘The Black Commando’) and The Lost City of the Jungle (USA 1946, 13 episodes). There were numerous Jungle Jim films from 1948 onwards. Rockdale is a suburb of Sydney.

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.

Family Life and Work Experience Before 1918

Source: Excerpt from interview with Maud Agnes Baines, ref. C707/13/1-2, Thompson, P. and Lummis, T., Family Life and Work Experience Before 1918, 1870-1973 [computer file]. 7th Edition. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor], May 2009. SN: 2000, http://dx.doi.org/10.5255/UKDA-SN-2000-1

Text: Q: And cinemas – were there cinemas?

A: Oh we did sometimes go to cinemas if they – if the programme was suitable, you see, if father went to see what they were like first of all.

Q: And then they’d let you go if it was all right?

A: Yes, if it was suitable, yes, I remember enjoying that.

Q: Did your parents give you any pocket money?

A: We had very little, I forget what it was – something like thrupence a week.

Q: Was that regular – every week?

A; Oh yes – then it went up to sixpence or something.

Q: Do you remember what you spent it on?

A: Sweets. Toffee apples – we had toffee apples – I don’t know if you ever see then now. They used to be quite nice. They lasted such a long time too!

Comments: Maud Baines was born in Enfield, London in 1887. She was one of seven children of a men’s clothing designer who worked in Bond Street. She was interviewed on 28 July 1972, one of 444 people interviewed by Paul Thompson and his team as part of a study of the Edwardian era which resulted in Thompson’s book The Edwardians: The Remaking of British Society (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1975).

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).

A Life in Movies

Source: Michael Powell, A Life in Movies: An Autobiography (London: William Heinemann, 1986), pp. 90-91

Text: There was a cinema at Chantilly. There were local cinemas everywhere in those days. Chantilly was not a large town, but I think it had two. The one near us was down a side street and advertised that it was open for business by an electric buzzer which rang until the show started. I can hear that remorseless bell shattering the calm under the plane trees whenever I think of Chantilly. It is curious how the French, most sensitive of nations, are insensitive to noise, particularly if it is a new and splendid noise that stands for Progress.

The films were mostly serials, like the French films I had seen at the Palais de Luxe in Canterbury. One of my earliest movie images is of Fantomas, the Master Crook of Paris. When he wasn’t wearing white tie and tails, a can, a top hat, and an opera-cloak, he was in black tights with a black mask, performing incredible feats of hide-and-seek with the police. The image that stays with me is of an open cistern of water in the attic of some house. The police dash in, in pursuit of Fantomas, and find nobody. Baffled, they withdraw, but the Chief takes one last look at the cistern, sees a straw floating on the surface of the water, gives it an idle flush. Aha! we all think. And sure enough! As the last policeman goes, the water stirs and bubbles and the black form of Fantomas appears from the depths, between his lips the straw through which he has been breathing! I can see now his black figure, glistening like a seal’s, smiling triumphantly at the camera. For, in silent films, one learnt to “register” to the camera.

Candy and the movies have always gone together, and in the intervals at Chantilly girls moved up and down the aisle chanting “pochettes surprises!esqimaubriques!” There were frequent intervals. In 1919 most films were short comedies. In addition they were playing an interminable serial in fifteen episodes of The Three Musketeers, and there was another serial staring the famous French boxer Georges Carpentier. I believe that d’Artagnan was Aimé Simon-Girard, and as a movie historian I ought to check it with the dates, but I really don’t think it matters. Aimé Simon-Girard was in practically every romantic French costume film of that decade and the Musketeers serial may have been a year later. The Carpentier film I remember well. He was not an actor of any kind, but he was charming, and his flattened nose on his pretty face gave him a different look. The film was full of stunts, of course. All serials had to be full of stunts: jumping on and off moving trains. onto moving automobiles, flights on the edge of high buildings, all the tricks of the trade, from Georges Méliès to Superman. Carpentier moved obligingly (he had a pleasant smile) through the scenes, and we all thought he was splendid. Films were tinted then: the predominant colour of the Carpentier serial seemed to be green. The Musketeers did their stuff in a sort of Old Master yellowish-brown, suitable for cloak and rapier adventures. Night scenes, of course, were blue.

Comment: Michael Powell (1905-1990) was a British film director. His family stayed for a time immediately after the First World War at Chantilly in France, where his father had a share in a hotel. Les Trois Mosquetaires with Aimé Simon-Girard was made in 1921; the Georges Carpentier serial is probably Le trésor de Kériolet (France 1920).

Handling the Visitor

Source: ‘Handling the Visitor’, Moving Picture World, 9 October 1909, pp. 482-483

Text: The first impressions are the most durable. When we enter a moving picture house the impression formed on our minds at the threshold of the theater is the one that lasts. If we meet a polite and courteous usher, who shows us to our seats, we are disposed ab initio to take a favorable view of the entertainment. If there is not too much light in the auditorium but just light enough to enable us to distinguish surrounding objects and persons, then we are disposed to compliment the management upon its adroitness in striking the happy mean between darkness and light. For the proper lighting of a moving picture house is a problem of adjustment. You do not want total darkness; you do not want too much light. You want just enough to be able to see your way about without impairing the brilliancy of the picture.

Sometimes you are allowed to find your seat as best you may ; then you run the risk of treading upon a man’s corns or a lady’s dress, and then are proportionately cursed. As a rule, however, it is to the credit of moving picture theater owners that they have courteous ushers and attendants. The more vigorous these latter are in excluding undesirable visitors, the better for the reputation of the house. We have more than once had to complain of the presence of people under the influence of strong waters or who go to sleep and snore, thus disturbing the enjoyment of their fellow visitors. But moving picture theaters are rising so much in popular esteem that this sort of thing is rapidly becoming a feature of the past. Many picture theater exhibitors are vying with each other in the proper care of their audiences.

Too much attention cannot be erven to the cleanliness of the house; to its proper ventilation, and, then to the preservation of quiet and order amongst the audience. Again the sale of candies, with the noisy vocal accompaniments of the vendors is, we think, generally to be deprecated. Many high class moving picture theater exhibitors refuse to do this on the ground that the better kind of visitor is excluded by these cheap jack methods. Others again have objected to the lantern slide advertisements of candies which are put on the screen. Personallv we object to this sort of thing, as we think it tends to lower the dignity of a moving picture theater.

The eternal feminine hat is always a source of much irritation to mere man. It is difficult to see how the admonition to the fair creatures to remove their hats can be dispensed with, for in this regard the average woman is quite a savage person. It is a matter of pure indifference to her as to how much inconvenience the person sitting behind her may be put to by the wearing of her hat. She bought it to wear; to be looked at; to be admired and envied on all and any occasion, and if she has to remove it “hell hath no fury like a woman” deprived of her pet hat.

We have sat behind rows of these things in a church, as well as in a moving picture theater, and our profanity has been too deep for vocal expression. Clergymen anathematize them; caricaturists make fun of them; men curse and criticise them. So what are we to do, except suggest that wherever possible before a woman enters a moving picture theater she must be made to understand that she must remove her hat. He will be a brave moving picture exhibitor who always successfully does this.

On general principles, therefore, we put it that the less advertising matter there is thrown on the screen, the less an audience is made to feel that the object of a moving picture theater exhibitor in getting them into his house is to extract something more than the admission money from them, the more likely that house will find public favor and continuous support. It is annoying, to say the least of it, to an average person of refinement to have a considerable part of his time taken up in reading announcement slides about ladies’ hats, candies and the like. What we are insisting upon is the exclusion as far as possible of the mere huckstering element of a moving picture entertainment, and the making for everything possible in the way of orderliness, neatness, good sanitation, plenty of light, but not too much of it, courtesy on the part of the ushers and in short the general atmosphere of comfort, if not luxury, which the public at large always looks for in a place of entertainment and pleasure. There is one little convenience which we think the public would always appreciate, and we are surprised that it is not taken up, namely the circulation amongst the audience of synopses of the stories of the films shown. Of course, these things could not be read in a dark house, but there is no reason why even in a continuous performance there should not be brief intermissions when the programme, if such we may call it, could be read by the audience. Some moving picture houses we know supply programmes, but none that we are aware of print anything about the stories of the films. This is a point we commend to the enterprising moving picture exhibitor. Anything which makes for the comfort of an audience is bound to result in a continuous patronage and the building of the family support which is one of the surest roads to success in conducting places of public entertainment.

Comment: This article in chapter four in a Moving Picture World series, ‘The Modern Moving Picture Theatre’.

Links: Available from the Internet Archive

Family Life and Work Experience Before 1918

Source: Excerpt from interview with Mrs Alfreda Elicia Holmes, C707/4002, Thompson, P. and Lummis, T., Family Life and Work Experience Before 1918, 1870-1973 [computer file]. 7th Edition. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor], May 2009. SN: 2000, http://dx.doi.org/10.5255/UKDA-SN-2000-1

Text: A: Oh but now I must tell you something that might interest you, do you know – do you know the – that cinema in Drayton Gardens. The Barons. The Paris Pullman now, it used to be called the Bolton cinema you see. Well on a Saturday morning, they did – they did a marvellous thing. From ten o’clock ’til twelve – they used to have a childrens – do, and you could get in for threepence. And – many a Saturday morning when I’d saved up – I’d take the children.

Q: What kinds of things would they have on?

A: Oh cowboys of course, cowboys and Indians and things like that and somebody playing the piano you know. Whathaveyou you see. And of whenever the – whenever the – cowboys looked like – you know, we used to sort of – shout out you see. We were quite convinced that that – it was because they could hear us through the screen, that that’s why they – that’s why they moved quickly you see, and – and of course the cowboys always won of course, I mean the Indian spears, you know, never – never sort of – hit them properly you know. And – and – but of course we used to walk – we used to walk from – where we were living then, in Knightsbridge, to – you know, so it didn’t cost us anything in bus fares you see. And – I used to try and contrive to get, you know, a little bag of sweets to have in between, ’cos it was typically a children’s do you know, and you had to be doing something you know, during the time. But that was the result of our – that was – that was our – our main – and – and every Christmas – I remember – my mother always used to take us to the Chelsea Palace here, that is now – it’s this big – huge building you know, the Granada people had it, and – we used to go to pantomime. We used to go up in the gods, we used to love it. That also used to be threepence in those days, most things used to be about threepence you know, in those days.

Comment: Alfreda Holmes was born in 1902 in Kensington, London, the eldest of five. Her father was a restaurant manager, the mother was a lady’s maid. She was interviewed on 18 July 1972 and 20 July 1973, one of 444 people interviewed by Paul Thompson and his team as part of a study of the Edwardian era which resulted in Thompson’s book The Edwardians: The Remaking of British Society (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1975). The Bolton Picture Playhouse was at 65 Drayton Gardens, South Kensington.

Family Life and Work Experience Before 1918

Source: Excerpt from interview with James Malone, C707/245/1-2, Thompson, P. and Lummis, T., Family Life and Work Experience Before 1918, 1870-1973 [computer file]. 7th Edition. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor], May 2009. SN: 2000, http://dx.doi.org/10.5255/UKDA-SN-2000-1

Text: Q: There weren’t so many other recreations for working men in those days were there? [meaning pubs]

A: Well the cinema was a penny, come out for a packet of sweets, and there was clubs and turns, you know, old time – what they used to call old time variety…

Q: … How did you spend Saturdays as a child?

A: Oh now I’ve got to think now. – Saturdays – oh I suppose Saturdays to me was a – oh I know, we used to go to a cinema called the Star cinema, a penny. And we used to wait – ’til the pianist came down the aisle. We used to call him curly and when he come down we all used to stand and scream, good old Curley. And I remember Saturday afternoons a penny …

Q: … Did she [mother] ever go out to enjoy herself?

A: She used to go to the cinema with my father. By the way she behaved and other women too in a cinema – they used to live with it, they used to talk to the actors. She used to say to ’em, look behind you, and – he never done it. He done it, you see, it was very good indeed. They lived with it. Well I remember my mother coming out of the cinema with my father and I was very – very young and I remember what she said to him she said, Jim – she should never have married that man, he’ll never be any good to her. Now that’s what I call – living with a picture, that is true. Yes.

Q: How often would they go to the pictures?

A: Oh once or twice a week. People used to really cry at the cinema them days, when the lights went up you look around – see ’em all tears down their eyes you see. Used to snivel.

Comment: James Malone was born in Highgate, London 1904, eldest of four. ather was carpenter and joiner, often out of work, and the family was extremely poor, frequently moving house after evictions. .Malone wrestled for Great Britain as a middle-weight in the Olympic Games of 1928 and 1932. He was interviewed on 2 and 26 March 1971, one of 444 people interviewed by Paul Thompson and his team as part of a study of the Edwardian era which resulted in Thompson’s book The Edwardians: The Remaking of British Society (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1975).

Family Life and Work Experience Before 1918

Source: Excerpt from interview with Henry Elder, C707/71/1-2, Thompson, P. and Lummis, T., Family Life and Work Experience Before 1918, 1870-1973 [computer file]. 7th Edition. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor], May 2009. SN: 2000, http://dx.doi.org/10.5255/UKDA-SN-2000-1

Text: Q: Did you go to music-halls?

A: Oh yes. Oh yes. You go – I think I told you the Islington Empire. Yes, the Islington Empire that was the Islington Empire. Yes, that was line up and tuppence to go in. Oh yes.

Q: What about cinemas?

A: Well, the first cinema that ever I went to was the corner of Lime Street and Caledonian Road which is a shop now, and it was no bigger than a shop and it was – a recognised thing for me to be tipped out of there because they used to issue you with a ticket and when you’d seen the programme they come round and collect this coloured ticket when you’d seen the programme. Well, I used to dive underneath the seat to see it – see it again.

Q: What programmes would they be?

A: It – used to have a little sheet up I suppose no bigger – no bigger than six foot square and a bloke’d come round every now and again and squirt water on it and then you’d have cowboys and Indians as well call it – and a bloke with a drum making the bullets. And sometimes the screen used to fall down. Yes, that’s the first place that ever I remember seeing the pictures.

Q: How old would you have been then?

A: Oh, let’s see. I was still at school. About twelve I suppose – about twelve years of age.

Q: Did your parents give you any pocket money?

A: Yes – this is up at – when we done that – a farthing for a farthing worth of sweets.

Comment: Henry Elder was born in 1896 in Swindon Street, Gray’s Inn Road, London. His family then moved to Cumberland Street for 24 years, living in 8-room tenement house shared with other families. His father was musician, who worked in piano manufacturing as a finisher. He was interviewed on 30 October and 2 November 1969, one of 444 people interviewed by Paul Thompson and his team as part of a study of the Edwardian era which resulted in Thompson’s book The Edwardians: The Remaking of British Society (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1975). My grateful thanks to Sam Nightingale of the Islington’s Lost Cinemas site for pointing out that the cinema on ‘Lime Street’ is in fact on the corner of Lion Street. It was the Variety Picture Palace – see http://www.islingtonslostcinemas.com/portfolio/variety-picture-palace.

An Autobiography

Source: Hymie Fagan, An Autobiography, n.d. [typescript] (Brunel University Library, 2-261), pp. 18-20, 41-42

Text: The Picture Palaces, as cinemas were then known, or the Bioscopes, were becoming very popular. I vaguely remember once going with my father to one in Shoreditch High Street, where I was given a bag of sweets, and he a packet of Woodbines to popularise the cinema still more. After his death I used to go to one in Brick Lane. Admission was one ha’penny. Only one film was shown, usually a cowboy and Indian film. We cheered the cowboys like mad and hissed and booed the Indians, for they were always the baddies.

The one-film shows were for the childrens’ matinees. When the film ended the lights went on, and the children ushered out, to enable the next show to start, but some of the boys hid under the seats, so that they could see the film again without paying. Finally the manager became aware of this, and at the end of each performance the attendant would poke under the seats with a long pole to flush out the stowaways, who were then somewhat forcibly removed.

There was another, more expensive, picture palace in Commercial Street, where the gallery cost one penny and the stalls sixpence. A full programme was shown, and not only cowboy and Indian films. Such dramas as “Leah the Forsaken” all about the plight of a Jewess caught in the toils of the Spanish Inquisition. Another was “The Indiarubber Man” who could scale high walls with amazing jumps and disguise himself by changing the shape of his face. Then there were the serials. The heroine in most of these was a star named Pearl White. She was usually left tied to the rails whilst an express came thundering down towards her. I remember her in one serial named “The Perils of Pauline”, and I underwent agonies of suspense each week, until I learned how she managed to escape in the following episode.

Real picture lovers, but poor like me, went into the gallery. Others, who simply wanted to snog in the dark, went into the stalls. Looking down into it, it seemed that nearly all the seats were empty, as indeed they were, for the snoggers preferred the walls round the stalls. The floors from the gallery to the stalls were knee-deep in orange peel and pea-nut shells.

To keep Pearl White’s image before the public the P.R.O. [?] composed a song about her. It went

My Little Pearl of the Army,
Pearl of my heart so true.
You’re the queen of the picture screen
And the pride of the whole world too.
Whilst the band plays Yankee Doodle
Rule Britannia too
There’s many a lad, who to die would be glad
For a Pearl of a girl like you …

… Apart from reading and swimming, another joy was the cinema. It was becoming very popular indeed and there was a children’s matinee every Saturday afternoon. Admission was one penny and since mother had no objection because of the Sabbath, I went regularly. I used to arrive almost before anyone else, queuing up impatiently at the box-office, and as the crowd of children grew, so did the yells demanding that it opened, which at last it did, dead on two o’clock. Chaplin was always shown since he was the favourite, and I remember falling off my seat, helpless with laughter at “Champion Charlie”. Then there was Douglas Fairbanks, whose athletic exploits I tried to emulate. Once after he had escaped from his enemies by jumping down a cliff by a series of ledges, I tried to do the same thing on our pitiful crumbling cliffs, but when I jumped onto the first ledge it crumbled under me and I hobbled home on a badly sprained ankle.

Comment: Hymie Fagan was born in Stepney, 1903 of a Jewish working class family. This is two extracts from his unpublished autobiography, the manuscript for which is held by Brunel University Library. The first section describes the pre-WWI period, second covers the war years.