The Increasing Congregation

Source: Dorothy Richardson, ‘Continuous Performance VI: The Increasing Congregation’, Close Up vol. I no. 6, December 1927, pp. 61-65

Text: It is the London season. Not a day must be lost nor any conspicuous event. And the cinema, having been first a nine months wonder and then, almost to date, a perennial perplexity, matter for public repudiation mitigated by private and, with fair good fortune, securely invisible patronage, is now part of our lives, ranks, as a topic, alongside the theatre and there are Films that must be seen. We go. No longer in secret and in taxis and alone, but openly in parties in the car. We emerge, glitter for a moment in the brilliant light of the new flamboyant foyer, and disappear for the evening into the queer faintly indecent gloom. Such illumination as there will be, moments of the familiar sense of the visible audience, of purposefully being somewhere, is but hail and farewell leaving our party again isolated amidst unknown invisible humanity. Anyone may be there. Anyone is there and everyone, and not segregated in a tier-quenched background nor packed away up under the roof. During the brief interval we behold not massed splendours bordered by a row of newspaper men, but everyone, filling the larger space, oddly ahead of us.

“What about a Movie? That one at the Excelsior sounds quite good.” Suggestions made off-hand. A Theatre is a rarity, to be selected with care, anticipated, experienced, discussed at great length, long remembered. But a film more or less is neither here nor there. May be good may be surprisingly good in the way of this strange new goodness provided for hours of relaxation and that nobody seems quite sure what to think of. It will at least be an evening’s entertainment, a welcome change from talk, reading, bridge, wireless, gramophone. And the trip down town revives the unfailing bright sense of going out, lifts off the burden and heat of the day and if the rest of the evening is a failure it is not an elaborately arranged and expensive failure.

There’s pictures going on all over London always making something to do whenever you want to go out specially those big new ones with orchestras. Splendid. It’s the next best thing to a dance and sure to be good you can get a nice meal at a restaurant and decide while you’re there and if the one you choose is full up there’s another round the corner nothing to fix up and worry about. And it’s all so nice nothing poky and those fine great entrance halls everything smart and just right and waiting there for friends you feel in society like anybody else if your hat’s all right and your things and my word the ready-mades are so cheap nowadays you need never go shabby and the commissionnaires and all those smart people about makes you feel smart. It’s as good an evening as you can have and time for a nice bit of supper afterwards.

It is Monday. Thursday. The pence for the pictures are in the jar beside the saucer of coppers for the slot metre. But folded behind the jar are unpaid bills. In the jar are threepence and six halfpence … “Me and ‘Erb tonight, then we’ll have to manage for Dad and Alf Thurdsay and then no more for a bit. … Whatever did we used to do when there was no pictures? Best we could I s’pose, and must again.”

“Never swore I wouldn’t go again this week. Never said swelp me. Might be doin’ worse. Its me own money anyway.”

“Goin’ on now. This minute. Pickshers goin’ on now. Thou shalt not ste… Goin’ on and me ‘ere. It won’t be, if I pay it back. …”

And so here we all are. All over London, all over England, all over the world. Together in this strange hospice risen overnight, rough and provisional but guerdon none the less of a world in the making. Never before was such all-embracing hospitality save in an ever-open church where kneels madame hastened in to make her duties between a visit to her dressmaker and an assignation, where the dustman’s wife bustles in with infants and market-basket.

Universal hospitality. See that starveling, lean with loathing, feeding his unknown desperate longings upon selected books, giving his approval to tortoiseshell cats. He creeps in here. Braving the herd he creeps in. His scorn for the film is not more inspiring than the fact of his presence.

And that pleasant intellectual, grown a little weary of the things of the mind, his stock-in-trade. He comes not for ideas, but to cease in his mild circling, to use the cinema as a stupifier, forty winks for his cherished intelligence. He will go away refreshed to write his next article.

Happy youth, happy childhood, weary women of all classes for whom at home there is no resting-place. Sensitives creep in here to sit clothed in merciful darkness. See those elders in whose ears sound always the approaching footsteps of death. Here, now and again, they are free from the sense of moments ticked off. See the beatitude of the stone-deaf. And that charming girl lost, despairing in the midst of her first quarrel who would no more go to an entertainment alone than she would disrobe herself in the street. But this refuge near her lodgings opens its twilit spaces and makes itself her weepery.

Refuge, trysting-place, village pump, stimulant, shelter from rain and cold at less than the price of an evening’s light and fire, drunkenness at less than the price of a drink. Instruction. Peeps behind scenes. Sermons. Homethrusts for hims and for hers, impartially.

School, salon, brothel, bethel, newspaper, art science, religion, philosophy, commerce, sport, adventure; flashes of beauty of all sorts. The only anything and everything. And here we all are, as never before. What will it do with us?

Comments: Dorothy Richardson (1873-1957) was a British modernist novelist. Through 1927-1933 she wrote a column, ‘Continuous Performance’ for the film art journal Close Up. The column concentrates on film audiences rather than the films themselves.

Links: Copy at Internet Archive

Just William

Source: Richmal Crompton, extract from Just William (London: George Newnes, 1922), pp. 13-17

Text: It all began with William’s aunt, who was in a good temper that morning, and gave him a shilling for posting a letter for her and carrying her parcels from the grocer’s.

“Buy some sweets or go to the Pictures,” she said carelessly, as she gave it to him.

William walked slowly down the road, gazing thoughtfully at the coin. After deep calculations, based on the fact that a shilling is the equivalent of two sixpences, he came to the conclusion that both luxuries could be indulged in.

In the matter of sweets, William frankly upheld the superiority of quantity over quality. Moreover, he knew every sweet shop within a two miles radius of his home whose proprietor added an extra sweet after the scale had descended, and he patronised these shops exclusively. With solemn face and eager eye, he always watched the process of weighing, and “stingy” shops were known and banned by him.

He wandered now to his favourite confectioner and stood outside the window for five minutes, torn between the rival attractions of Gooseberry Eyes and Marble Balls. Both were sold at 4 ounces for 2d. William never purchased more expensive luxuries. At last his frowning brow relaxed and he entered the shop.

“Sixpennoth of Gooseberry Eyes,” he said, with a slightly self-conscious air. The extent of his purchases rarely exceeded a penny.

“Hello!” said the shopkeeper, in amused surprise.

“Gotter bit of money this mornin’,” explained William carelessly, with the air of a Rothschild.

He watched the weighing of the emerald green dainties with silent intensity, saw with satisfaction the extra one added after the scale had fallen, received the precious paper bag, and, putting two sweets into his mouth, walked out of the shop.

Sucking slowly, he walked down the road towards the Picture Palace. William was not in the habit of frequenting Picture Palaces. He had only been there once before in his life.

It was a thrilling programme. First came the story of desperate crooks who, on coming out of any building, glanced cautiously up and down the street in huddled, crouching attitudes, then crept ostentatiously on their way in a manner guaranteed to attract attention and suspicion at any place and time. The plot was involved. They were pursued by police, they leapt on to a moving train and then, for no accountable reason, leapt from that on to a moving motor-car and from that they plunged into a moving river. It was thrilling and William thrilled. Sitting quite motionless, he watched, with wide, fascinated eyes, though his jaws never ceased their rotatory movement and every now and then his hand would go mechanically to the paper bag on his knees and convey a Gooseberry Eye to his mouth.

The next play was a simple country love-story, in which figured a simple country maiden wooed by the squire, who was marked out as the villain by his moustachios.

After many adventures the simple country maiden was won by a simple country son of the soil in picturesque rustic attire, whose emotions were faithfully portrayed by gestures that must have required much gymnastic skill; the villain was finally shown languishing in a prison cell, still indulging in frequent eye-brow play.

Next came another love-story — this time of a noble-hearted couple, consumed with mutual passion and kept apart not only by a series of misunderstandings possible only in a picture play, but also by maidenly pride and reserve on the part of the heroine and manly pride and reserve on the part of the hero that forced them to hide their ardour beneath a cold and haughty exterior. The heroine’s brother moved through the story like a good fairy, tender and protective towards his orphan sister and ultimately explained to each the burning passion of the other.

It was moving and touching and William was moved and touched.

The next was a comedy. It began by a solitary workman engaged upon the re-painting of a door and ended with a miscellaneous crowd of people, all covered with paint, falling downstairs on top of one another. It was amusing. William was riotously and loudly amused.

Lastly came the pathetic story of a drunkard’s downward path. He began as a wild young man in evening clothes drinking intoxicants and playing cards, he ended as a wild old man in rags still drinking intoxicants and playing cards. He had a small child with a pious and superior expression, who spent her time weeping over him and exhorting him to a better life, till, in a moment of justifiable exasperation, he threw a beer bottle at her head. He then bedewed her bed in Hospital with penitent tears, tore out his hair, flung up his arms towards Heaven, beat his waistcoat, and clasped her to his breast, so that it was not to be wondered at that, after all that excitement, the child had a relapse and with the words “Good-bye, Father. Do not think of what you have done. I forgive you,” passed peacefully away.

William drew a deep breath at the end, and still sucking, arose with the throng and passed out.

Once outside, he glanced cautiously around and slunk down the road in the direction of his home. Then he doubled suddenly and ran down a back street to put his imaginary pursuers off his track. He took a pencil from his pocket and, levelling it at the empty air, fired twice. Two of his pursuers fell dead, the rest came on with redoubled vigour. There was no time to be lost. Running for dear life, he dashed down the next street, leaving in his wake an elderly gentleman nursing his toe and cursing volubly. As he neared his gate, William again drew the pencil from his pocket and, still looking back down the road, and firing as he went, he rushed into his own gateway …

Comments: Richmal Crompton (1880-1969) was a British writer, best known for her series of Just William books, featuring the 11-year-old schoolboy William Brown. The first volume, Just William, from which the above extract comes (the opening to chapter one, ‘William Goes to the Pictures’) was published in 1922. The description of a picture palace show reads more like a pre-war programme of short films than a standard 1922 film show. The story continues with William applying the lessons he has learned from seeing the films to real life, with chaotic results. My thanks to Adam Ganz for suggesting this entry.

Links: Copy at Project Gutenberg

Trial of Manuel Goldberg

Source: Louise Vallers, cited in Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 7.0, 10 December 2013), January 1907, trial of GOLDBERG, Manuel (23, stickmaker) (t19070108-19)

Text: LOUISE VALLERS, wife of Henry Vallers, 129, Whitechapel Road, E.

We keep a Bioscope Exhibition. I was there on the evening of December 22 last, between five and six, when prisoner came in on see the exhibition. The charge for admission was one penny. He tendered a half-crown. The people pay at the door as they enter. This is the coin marked by myself. I took it and gave him two separate shillings and fivepence change. He said to me, “Are there no tickets?” I said, “No,” and he went to the door again and beckoned to another man to come in. The other man came up, and he also gave me a half-crown for his admission, for which I gave him two and fivepence change. This is the one. I looked at them, being two half-crowns looked suspicious. I tested both of them with acid, and found they were bad. The second-man kept by the doorway, but the prisoner walked right to the end of the shop and sat down and waited for the exhibition. When the second man noticed that I saw the coins were no good, he took to his heels and ran away. I then closed my shop door and sent for a constable. I went up to prisoner, and said, “This half-crown is no good to me,” and detained him till the other people in the shop had left. I gave him the coin back again. He simply said, “Not” and gave me a two shilling piece and ten halfpennies for his half-crown. A constable came in and I gave him in charge.

Comments: This is evidence from a witness at the trial of Manuel Goldberg, alleged user of counterfeit coinage, at the Central Criminal Court, London. He was found not guilty.

Links: Full trial record at Old Bailey Online

Little Wilson and Big God

Source: Anthony Burgess, Little Wilson and Big God (London: Heinemann, 1987), pp. 30-31

Text: At the age of six a social function was imposed upon me that had everything to do with entertainment, though not necessarily of the comic kind. On Queen’s Road there were two cinemas – the Rex and the Electric. They faced each other, like the Globe and the Rose playhouses on the Elizabethan South Bank, but not in true rivalry. Going to one on a Monday and Thursday (the day the programme changed) did not prevent your going to the other on a Tuesday and Friday, if you could afford it. The cinemagoer’s criteria had more to do with hygiene than with the quality of the entertainment offered. The Rex was called a bughouse and the Electric not. The Electric used a superior disinfectant like a grudging perfume; the Rex smelt of its patrons and its lavatories. With the Rex, it was said, you went in in a blouse and came out with a jumper. So it was to the Electric that the children of Lodge Street went, clutching their pennies, on a Saturday afternoon. Because I lived at the Golden Eagle I was called Jackie Eagle, and ten or twelve boys would, after midday dinner, cry out for Jackie Eagle from the verge of the public bar the law forbade them to enter. They would hold on to me in their redolent jerseys all the way down Lodge Street and left and over on Queen’s Road. I was the only one of them who could read.

The manager of the Electric did not wish too many even of his front rows to be defiled by children, and so we were jammed three to a seat, with a gaping black auditorium behind us clean for the evening’s two houses. So I began a lifetime’s devotion to the cinema, a one-sided love affair in which I was more bruised than caressed. In those old silent days the art was almost an aspect of literature. I hear my little treble voice crying the text aloud for the benefit of even big louts whom the reading mystery had passed by. ‘Kiss me, my fool’, mouths the Spanish gipsy siren, and the cabellero who proposed knifing her trembles so that his knife silently clatters to the floor, ‘Came the dawn’, a regular cliché. We saw Rudolph Valentino in The Sheik and Ben Turpin in The Shriek. There was The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (‘What’s that mean, kid?’), with artistic camera-masks that varied the shape of the frame. There was a Chester Conklin comedy which began with lovers kissing on a doorstep. ‘The end’, the legend said. There were roars of kids cheated. ‘Of a perfect day.’ That was all right, then, but the humour was too adult for relief: the buggers were clearly not to be trusted. There was one frightful shock for me. A character with a dirty beard and gabardine spoke, and then the black screen filled with unintelligible letters. I know now it was Hebrew; I even remember a beth and a ghimel. To my illiterates it was all one, and there was bafflement and then anger at my failure to twang it off. ‘Thought you said the bugger could read.’ So I improvised a flight of suitable invective. No piano played in the pit: we were too cheap for music.

Comments: Anthony Burgess (1917-1993) was a British novelist and literary critic, whose book A Clockwork Orange was filmed in 1971 by Stanley Kubrick. His childhood was spent in Manchester. His 1986 novel The Pianoplayers features a pianist who plays for silent films, based on Burgess’ father who played the piano in pubs and cinemas. His memoir is of particular interest for providing evidence of silent films in some places being shown without music into the 1920s. It was common practice in some cinemas of the 1910s and 20s to cram three children onto two seats; three per seat sounds improbable. The films mentioned include The Sheik (USA 1921), The Shriek of Araby (USA 1923) and The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (USA 1921).

Little Wilson and Big God

Source: Anthony Burgess, Little Wilson and Big God (London: Heinemann, 1987), pp. 30-31

Text: At the age of six a social function was imposed upon me that had everything to do with entertainment, though not necessarily of the comic kind. On Queen’s Road there were two cinemas – the Rex and the Electric. They faced each other, like the Globe and the Rose playhouses on the Elizabethan South Bank, but not in true rivalry. Going to one on a Monday and Thursday (the day the programme changed) did not prevent your going to the other on a Tuesday and Friday, if you could afford it. The cinemagoer’s criteria had more to do with hygiene than with the quality of the entertainment offered. The Rex was called a bughouse and the Electric not. The Electric used a superior disinfectant like a grudging perfume; the Rex smelt of its patrons and its lavatories. With the Rex, it was said, you went in in a blouse and came out with a jumper. So it was to the Electric that the children of Lodge Street went, clutching their pennies, on a Saturday afternoon. Because I lived at the Golden Eagle I was called Jackie Eagle, and ten or twelve boys would, after midday dinner, cry out for Jackie Eagle from the verge of the public bar the law forbade them to enter. They would hold on to me in their redolent jerseys all the way down Lodge Street and left and over on Queen’s Road. I was the only one of them who could read.

The manager of the Electric did not wish too many even of his front rows to be defiled by children, and so we were jammed three to a seat, with a gaping black auditorium behind us clean for the evening’s two houses. So I began a lifetime’s devotion to the cinema, a one-sided love affair in which I was more bruised than caressed. In those old silent days the art was almost an aspect of literature. I hear my little treble voice crying the text aloud for the benefit of even big louts whom the reading mystery had passed by. ‘Kiss me, my fool’, mouths the Spanish gipsy siren, and the cabellero who proposed knifing her trembles so that his knife silently clatters to the floor, ‘Came the dawn’, a regular cliché. We saw Rudolph Valentino in The Sheik and Ben Turpin in The Shriek. There was The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (‘What’s that mean, kid?’), with artistic camera-masks that varied the shape of the frame. There was a Chester Conklin comedy which began with lovers kissing on a doorstep. ‘The end’, the legend said. There were roars of kids cheated. ‘Of a perfect day.’ That was all right, then, but the humour was too adult for relief: the buggers were clearly not to be trusted. There was one frightful shock for me. A character with a dirty beard and gabardine spoke, and then the black screen filled with unintelligible letters. I know now it was Hebrew; I even remember a beth and a ghimel. To my illiterates it was all one, and there was bafflement and then anger at my failure to twang it off. ‘Thought you said the bugger could read.’ So I improvised a flight of suitable invective. No piano played in the pit: we were too cheap for music.

Comments: Anthony Burgess (1917-1993) was a British novelist and literary critic, whose book A Clockwork Orange was filmed in 1971 by Stanley Kubrick. His childhood was spent in Manchester. His 1986 novel The Pianoplayers features a pianist who plays for silent films, based on Burgess’ father who played the piano in pubs and cinemas. His memoir is of particular interest for providing evidence of silent films in some places being shown without music into the 1920s. It was common practice in some cinemas of the 1910s and 20s to cram three children onto two seats; three per seat sounds improbable. The films mentioned include The Sheik (USA 1921), The Shriek of Araby (USA 1923) and The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (USA 1921).

Saturday Morning Cinema in the 1930s

Source: Terry Gallacher, ‘Saturday Morning Cinema in the 1930s’, from Terence Gallacher’s Recollections of a Career in Film, http://terencegallacher.wordpress.com/2010/11/23/saturday-morning-cinema-in-the-1930s, published 23 November 2010

Text: I did not visit the cinema very often during my childhood. The seats cost four to six pence during the week, so I would be taken by my mother or my father. My mother would take me in the afternoon so that we could get home for her to get dinner on.

I always knew why my father took me to the cinema. He would always fall asleep soon after arrival and would sleep through until it was time to go home. My father relied on me to wake him up at the appropriate time and then tell him what the film was all about. I think that, maybe, at this time I started the process of learning to be a film editor for which memory is everything.

My principal visits to the cinema were on a Saturday morning. It was a ritual which started in 1937. Around eight o’clock in the morning, I would approach my mother for some pocket money. She might give me two pennies, sometimes three, my dad would give me the same. On a bad week, I would have as little as three pence in total. Then I would go up to my Granddad’s room and ask him if he had any money for me to go to the pictures. He would ask me to pass him his small terracotta jar, with a lid, from here he took out some farthings and he would count out four. I had to have four pence to get into the Moorish styled cinema, the Alcazar which started at nine in the morning and ran until midday. Here we would see a couple of “B” movies about kids and animals and then a large number of serials like “Tailspin Tommy”, “The Perils Of Pauline” and “Flash Gordon” and films such as “Tarzan” with Johnny Weissmuller, and the “b westerns” of “Buck Jones” and “Tim McCoy”.

Of course, they were all designed to get us back there next week. Mostly these cliff-hangers were cheating us. Tailspin Tommy would be left plunging to earth in a dive that he could not possibly pull out of. Next week, he would be seen about a hundred foot higher and he pulls out of the dive without a problem. Thus I occupied my Saturday mornings.

The audience were exclusively children, no adults were allowed. Most of the children were restless and rowdy. Frequently the noise of the audience would be greater than the characters on the screen. At this point, the resident warder would march down the centre aisle shouting “Quack”, “Quack”. With my fourpenny ticket, I could sit in the circle, far away from the rabble below. They were so bad, fights were not unknown among the roughest of them. If I could not have got fourpence to sit in the circle, I would not go. It took me a long time to work out that the warder was shouting “Quiet”, it really did sound like “Quack”.

If I had a good day and had rustled up another two pence, I could join the “tuppenny rush” at the Hippodrome across the road. The management of the Hippodrome, early experts in marketing, arranged to open their performance thirty minutes after the show ended at the Alcazar. All those children trying to go from the Alcazar to the Hippodrome would evacuate the former at high speed, run down to the crossing, over the road and queue up outside the latter hall of entertainment.

Traffic was held up while this mob moved from one cinema to the next. The main reason for the rush was that the Hippodrome only held half as many as the Alcazar and you couldn’t risk the chance that more wanted to go to the Hippodrome than it could hold.

In the Hip’, the films were older; the rowdiest of the Alcazar audience were sure to attend (their parents probably suffered considerable hardship raising the extra two pence, just to get rid of them for a few more hours); there were broken seats; seats with the most outrageous mixtures of spilled food, forcing us to inspect each seat before sitting down. The projector frequently broke down, the audience would go wild. They would shout “Ooh, Ooh, Ooh” until the picture came back. For me there was no refuge in a circle, there wasn’t one and there was no “Quack” man. In the Hippodrome, there was only the occasional cry of pain as a rowdy became the recipient of a thick ear. The warder in the Hip’ was silent, but quite active. I don’t know why I went there.

Sadly, the Alcazar was bombed in a very early wartime raid on North London on August 23rd 1940, while the Hip’ was pulled down, much to the relief of the local populace.

Comments: Terence Gallacher is a former newsreel and television news manager and editor who now documents his career through his website http://terencegallacher.wordpress.com. The Alcazar and Hippodrome were in Edmonton, London. The post is reproduced here with the kind permission of its author.

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.

Movies and Conduct

Source: ‘Female, 20, white, college junior’, quoted in Herbert Blumer, Movies and Conduct (New York: Macmillan, 1933), p. 132

Text: However, I received one of the greatest disappointments of my young life, I believe, when I went to a movie that ended sadly. I cannot remember what it was, but it surely revolutionized my ideas. I had always believed that no matter how badly things seemed, everything would turn out happily in the end. Some people had a long period of difficulties, and others were more fortunate, but both at some time would finally obtain their desires and would “live happily ever after.” I used to call that belief my philosophy (I liked the word), and comforted my playmates at every opportunity by telling them they just hadn’t reached the turning point yet. I had quite a group of followers who were the same friends with whom I went to the movies. I could always refer to the movies to confirm my beliefs until that fatal day. They asked for explanations and I couldn’t give any. I was almost heartbroken and finally went to mother and told her all about it. She didn’t laugh. I often wondered why. She talked to me for a long time and told me I must not take movies too seriously. They only showed a few experiences of lives of imaginary people, both pleasant and unpleasant. She told me I could pity people who must live as some did who were represented in the movies and at the same time by contrast appreciate my own opportunities. It was during this talk too that she impressed upon my mind that to obtain money was not the main aim in life, another idea I had gathered from movies. There were two parallel points she stressed, happiness for myself and happiness for others. I shall always remember that talk.

Comment: American sociologist Herbert Blumer’s Movies and Conduct presents twelve studies of the influence of motion pictures upon the young, made by the Committee on Educational Research of the Payne Fund, at the request of the National Committee for the Study of Social Values in Motion Pictures. The study solicited autobiographical essays, mostly from undergraduate students of the University of Chicago, and presented extracts from this evidence in the text. Most of the evidence relates to picturegoing in the 1920s. The interview extract is given in the chapter ‘Emotional Detachment’.

Links: Copy on Internet Archive

Not Expecting Miracles

Source: Alice Linton, Not Expecting Miracles (London: Centerprise Trust, 1982), p. 13

Text: On Saturday mornings when we would get a penny from mother, we went to the cinema in East Road. There was a serial called ‘Pearl White’. Poor Pearl White was always experiencing terrible dangers in those silent films and although I was terrified watching it and always felt that it was me going through all those awful dangers, yet it so fascinated me that I couldn’t keep away.

Comment: Alice Linton was born in Hoxton, London, in 1908. Pearl White was the name of the actress, of course; she was the star of the serial The Perils of Pauline (USA 1914).

The Classic Slum

Source: Robert Roberts, The Classic Slum: Salford life in the first quarter of the century (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1971), pp. 140-141

Text: Cinema in the early years of the century burst like a vision into the underman’s existence and, rapidly displacing both concert and theatre, became both his chief source of enjoyment and one of the greatest factors in his cultural development. For us in the village the world suddenly expanded. Many women who had lived in a kind of purdah since marriage (few respectable wives visited public houses) were to be noted now, escorted by their husbands, en route for the ‘pictures’, a strange sight indeed and one that led to much comment at the shop. Street corner gossip groups for a time grew thin and publicans complained angrily that the new fad was ruining trade: men were going to the films and merely calling in at the tavern for an hour before closing time. The disloyalty of it! Children begged, laboured and even thieved for the odd copper that would give them two hours of magic, crushed on a bench before the enchanting screen.

Moralists were not long in condemning cinema as the tap-root of every kind of delinquency. Cinema owners protested virtue: one kept an eight-foot-long poster across his box office: ‘CLEAN AND MORAL PICTURES. Prices – 2d. and 4d.’ In our district the Primitive Methodist chapel, recently bankrupt and closed, blossomed almost overnight into the ‘Kinema’. There during the first weeks would-be patrons of its twopenny seats literally fought each night for entrance and tales of crushed ribs and at least two broken limbs shocked the neighbourhood. In the beginning cinema managers, following the social custom of the theatre, made the error of grading seats, with the most expensive near the screen and the cheapest at the back of the house. For a short time the rabble lolled in comfort along the rear rows while their betters, paying three times as much, suffered cricked necks and eye strain in front. Caste and culture forbade mixing. A sudden change-over one evening, without warning, at all the local cinemas caused much bitterness and class recrimination. By 1913 our borough still retained its four theatres, but already thirteen premises had been licensed under the Cinematograph Act.

Yet silent films for all their joys presented the unlettered with a problem unknown in theatres – the printed word. Often in the early days of cinema, captions broke into the picture with explanations long, sententious and stage-ridden. To bypass this difficulty the short-sighted and illiterate would take children along to act as readers. In this capacity I saw my own first film. When the picture gave place to print on the screen a muddled Greek chorus of children’s voices rose from the benches, piping above the piano music. To hear them crash in unison on a polysyllable became for literate elders an entertainment in itself. At the cinema many an ill-educated adult received cheap and regular instruction with his pleasure, and some eventually picked up enough to dispense with their tutors. Yet in spite of all the aids to culture and learning, unknown fifty years before – compulsory education, free libraries, the spate of cheap print, the miles of postered hoarding, and the cinema, the brightest lure of all – among the lower working class a mass of illiterates, solid and sizeable, still remained.

Comment: Robert Roberts (1905-1979) became an English teacher following his Salford childhood, where his parents ran a corner-shop. His book is a classic of working-class autobiography.