New York

Source: Paul Morand (trans. Hamish Miles), New York (London: William Heinemann, 1931 [orig. pub. 1930]), pp. 198-199

Text: As for the Roxy, that surpasses the impossible. Find a way through those dense crowds queued up there all day long; pass the tall gold-laced ushers, at once door-keepers and custodians of order; enter this Temple of Solomon. The overheated air is unbreathable, the din of the mechanical orchestra, which one failure in the electricity could bring to a standstill, is merciless; amid palm-trees and gigantic ferns one moves forward into the Mexican palace of some Spanish governor whom the tropics have turned stark mad. The walls are of a reddish rough-cast, treated with a liquid to give a semblance of age, and the brazen doors of the Ark of the Covenant open into a hall with golden cupolas, in old style, and a ceiling with storied panels. Satan has hung this disused sanctuary with scarlet velvet; a nightmare light falls from bowls of imitation alabaster, from yellow glass lanterns, from branching ritual candlesticks; the organ-pipes, lit from beneath by greenish lights, make one think of a cathedral under the waves, and in the wall are niches awaiting sinful bishops. I find a seat in a deep, soft fauteuil, from which for two hours I witness giant kisses on mouths like the crevasses of the Grand Canyon, embraces of titans, a whole propaganda of the flesh which maddens, without satisfying, these violent American temperaments. It is more than a Black Mass; it is a profanation of everything – of music, of art, of love, of colours. I vow I had there a complete vision of the end of the world. I saw Broadway suddenly as one vast Roxy, one of those unsubstantial treasures, one of those joy-baited traps, one of those fleeting and illusory gifts won by the spells of wicked magicians.

Comments: Paul Morand (1888-1976) was a French author and intellectual. He made trips to New York between 1925-1929, resulting in his travel book New York, published in French in 1930. The Roxy Theatre was located at 7th Avenue and 50th Street, off Times Square in New York City. It seated 5,920 (originally 6,200), and opened on 11 March 1927. It was named after its manager, the cinema impresario Samuel L. ‘Roxy’ Rothafel.

A Journey Round the Globe

The interior of Wyld’s Great Globe, Illustrated London News, 7 June 1851, via Wikimedia Commons

Source: Anon., ‘A Journey Around the Globe’, Punch, or the London Charivari, vol. 21 (1851), pp. 4-5

Text: We did not even take a carpet-bag, or a tooth-brush, or a clean collar with us. All our luggage consisted of a walking-stick and a postage-stamp. The latter we parted with at the end of our journey, to acquaint our friends that we had been round the Globe in perfect safety.

We have our doubts whether ladies will approve much of this new style of travelling. It dispenses with everything in the shape of luggage.

Our only passport was a shilling. This passport is very convenient. It requires no viséing. No allusions are made in it to your eyes; no questions asked about your name, residence, or nose. You present your passport at the door; it is taken from you; and you never see it any more. We wish every passport was as easy to obtain, and as easy to get rid of.

We like traveling round the Globe. First of all, there is not a single turnpike on the road. There is no dust, nor any throwing of eggs nor flour, as on the journey from Epsom – and again, there are no beggars, as in Ireland, — no revolutions, as in France – no monks or mosquitos, as in Italy, – and no insults, as in America. It is as easy as going up stairs to dress, and coming down in to dinner.

The journey is made on foot. Young ladies who cannot travel anywhere but in their own carriage, must abandon all thoughts of travelling round the Globe. It is true, the journey might be made on horseback, but then the horse must be one of those “trained steeds” from ASTLEY’s, which are taught to run up ladders without missing a single step. The travelling, it must be confessed, is rather steep and resembles very much a journey up the Monument. This resemblance, however, arises entirely from the peculiar formation of the interior.

In this respect MR. WYLD has made a grand discovery. He satisfactorily proved that the interior of the Globe is not filled with gases, according to AGASSIZ; or with fire, according to BURNET; neither has he filled it, like FOURIER, with water, as if the Globe were nothing better than a globe of gold fish. No; MR. WYLD has lately shown us that the interior of the Globe is occupied by immense strata of staircases!

These staircases rise above one another, like the steps in the Duke of York’s Column. This new theory must make traveling remarkably easy for persons who are occupied all day long in running up and down stairs, and seems as if it had been purposely laid down for maids-of-all-work, or poor relations on a visit.

Our first flight through the Globe – that is to say, when we came to the first landing place – convinced us that the crust of the Earth very much resemble the crust of a beefsteak pie that had been considerably overbaked. The inequalities on the surface, where the mountains are supposed to rise, represented to our ingenious fancy the bumps caused by the potatoes slumbering below, whilst the cracks through which the rivers are imagined to roll, disclosed to our mind’s eye the crevices in the crust that sometimes display such tempting glimpses of the rich gravy that is flowing underneath.

This notion of the pie is not in the least overdone; for really the heat of the Globe is equal to that of any baker’s oven. We don’t wonder at this, when we observed at every turn that there were small jets of gas bursting out of the Earth, in a number almost sufficient to roast a prize ox at any of the ensuing elections. The combustion of these several gases raises the atmpsphere of the almost to boiling point; and we are confident that if any one, anticipating a long journey round the Earth, took his dinner with him, he could cook it on the spot, free of expense.

The most curious thing is, that the higher a person ascends in the World, the hotter it becomes for him; so that when he has reached the greatest elevation man can attain, he suddenly finds the World too hot to hold him, and is obliged to come down again with a run. This is a fine lesson of world ambition, which we experienced, for once, ourselves. We felt the heat so excessive, and, fancying the Arctic Regions must be of all regions the coldest in the World, we steamed our panting way up there; but, will it be believed? – accustomed as we are always to be at the top of the Pole – we could not stand the climate of early peas and pine-apples, that is almost at forcing-height in those icy districts; and we were compelled to run down stairs to the Tropics as fast as we could, in order to get cool again. It is lucky that there are parts of the Globe where a person can breathe with comfort, or else MR. WYLD would have made us regret that we had ever come into the World at all!

Exterior of the Great Globe, Illustrated London News 7 June 1851, via Wikimedia Commons

And of this we should have been profoundly sorry; for, to speak the truth, this World is a most beautiful one. It is most agreeable to stand in the centre of the Earth, and to see yourself surrounded by oceans and continents, – first, to, feast of a bit of land, and then to drink in with your eyes a whole Atlantic-full of water. Drink as much as you will, you cannot take all the water in. You dread lest the waters should close in around you, and swallow you up like a cork in the middle of a water-butt. You cling to the railings for support; but the sight of land cheers you the next moment. All the World is before you; you have only to choose where to go to. With a patriotic rush your eyes run to England, and you are wonder-struck at a country which occupies so large a space in the thoughts of the world, should take up so little room on the surface of it. England, that has filled so many leaves in the world’s history, is scarcely the size of a cabbage leaf; and London, which prides itself upon being the centre of civilisation, is not half so big as TOM THUMB’s nose.

The World, as has often been remarked by moralists before, is exceedingly hollow; but then, if it were not, we could never have seen it for one shilling. This is very lucky; for it has enabled MR. WYLD to present to us the Globe in the shape of a geographical globule, which the mind can, take in at one swallow. You see the comparative heights of all the mountains, and the comparative sizes of the different continents. Everything is measured to the nicety of a fashionable tailor; and we must say, that in no worldly quality do we admire MR. WYLD so much as in the moderation of his measurement. Most men when they are given an inch take an ell; but MR. WYLD, with a modesty that is beyond all measure, was given ten miles, and he has only taken an inch! – for that is the magic scale with which he has compressed volcanoes into a thimble, and condensed lakes into the size of a tea-cup!

Not only are the features of the different continents carefully portrayed but an attempt has also been made to give the face of each an individual complexion. For this purpose MR. WYLD has called in the assistance of MR. BEVERLEY, whose brush must now enjoy, if it did not before, a world-wide renown. Warm colours are given to warm climates – dead colours to barren districts — neutral colours to countries of which little is known; whilst a generous couleur de rose is thrown over those parts where the Sun of civilisation is supposed to shine the strongest. Here and there, you see glittering red points burning away like the tops of the lighted cigars that are made in chocolate. These are volcanic mountains, and the authority for painting them that colour, has been taken from the celebrated Mountain in the French Chambers, which we all know is excessively volcanic, and particularly Red.

The general effect is very curious. Here a country looks like an immense cabbage-leaf, flattened out, half green and half decayed, with an immense caterpillar crawling right over it, in the shape of a chain of mountains. There a country resembles an old piece of jagged leather hung up against the wall to dry, with large holes that have been moth-eaten out of it. On one side you will see a cluster of islands, like dead leaves on the water, whilst, opposite to it will be some large tract of land looking vesicated, with the rivers running close to one another, like the veins in an anatomical engraving. Above your head will be hanging an old rug, like Russia, looking half-burnt and half-blistered by live coals that had fallen upon it, whilst underneath your feet may be spread Africa, like an immense skin – in some parts red and tawny, like a lion’s — and in others a rich yellow, with beautiful black marks, like the stripes on a leopard’s back. Fancy these, and many hundred others, hung up, in monster frames with endless margins of blue-water, and you will have a vivid conception, though perhaps not a very picturesque one, of the Globe which WYLD has suspended, like a fine, suggestive, picture, on the wall, for us to look at. The great pity is, you cannot see the picture all at once. It is cut in two by the hideous stair case. But this may have been run up purposely to show us that “one half the Globe doesn’t know what the other half is doing.”

Comments: Wyld’s Great Globe was a panoramic entertainment built in the shape of a globe, which was exhibited in London’s Leicester Square 1851-1862. It was created by the British mapmaker and MP James Wyld (1812–1887). The Great Globe was hollow, with iron staircases and platforms enabling visitors to see the world’s surface displayed on the inside to a scale of 10 miles to the inch, in plaster of Paris. It was 60 ft 4 ins in diameter, and was contained within a building around 180 ft square with 20 ft walls and a domed roof. As Punch notes, the gas lighting, combined with the crowds, made the interior uncomfortably hot. The entrance price was a shilling, two shillings and sixpence on Thursdays and Saturdays. The exhibition was accompanied by hourly lectures, moving panoramas, and displays of cartographic equipment in adjoining galleries. The Great Globe, which opened on 2 June 1851, was a huge success in its first year of operation, boosted by crowds that came to London for the Great Exhibition. It remained in Leicester Square for another ten years, after which it was torn down. Mr. Beverley was William Roxby Beverley, a theatrical scene painter.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

The Crowd

Source: Extract from Louis Delluc, ‘The Crowd’ (originally ‘La Foule’, Paris-Midi, 24 August 1918, p. 2), reproduced and translated in Richard Abel (ed.), French Film Theory and Criticism: a History/Anthology, 1907-1939 – Volume I: 1907-1929 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1988), p. 161

Text: Another audience. At the Saturday evening screening of the only cinema palace of the town, the Tout-Aurillac, a first-run and second-run house. Convalescents, billeted soldiers, respectable families, respectable young girls, the smoke from pipes, the ritornellos of an untuned piano, all in a deep, dark, cold cinema with Le Courrier de Washington on the marquee.

They also screened La Lumière qui s’éteint, an English film previewed in Paris last winter. Despite its almost unanimous lack of culture, the audience was deeply moved by the inner adventures of Maisie, Dick, and Torp. And you know what became of the great Kipling’s work on film. An ordinary anecdote, badly decorated and photographed, with a sad, heavy actor playing Dick – when will we see Douglas Fairbanks in the part? – a fop as Torp, a fool as Maisie, and unbelievable Arab battles, let’s be blunt, a cardboard Sudanese Khartoum. There is a film to do over again.

Why was this rough peasant audience affected in front of this artless and unauthorized gaucherie? Will it understand even more when the same drama becomes a quite beautiful film?

Comments: Louis Delluc (1890-1924) was a French film director and pioneering film critic, writing on diverse aspects of film culture for French newspapers from 1917 onwards. Le Courrier de Washington was the French title for the American serial The Perils of Pauline (1914). La Lumière qui s’éteint is presumably The Light That Failed (1916), an American rather than an English film, directed by Edward José and starring Robert Edeson as Dick, Claude Fleming as Torp and Lillian Tucker as Maisie. Aurillac is in the Auvergne region of south-central France.

Comparison between Theatres and Films

Source: H.G., quoted in J.P. Mayer, Sociology of Film: Studies and Documents (London: Faber and Faber, 1946), pp. 113-114

Text: I do not know wether [sic] I am to be considered lucky that I happened to have a wireless on when the Brainstrust [sic] was discussing the subject on which I am going to endeavour to write about.

First the cinemas [sic] good points.

One is always sure of being able to hear and see what is going on. Whereas in the thatre [sic] you are not, unless one is very near the stage, a position which is not very suitable because one can see the actors and actresses make-up.

In wartime the theatre is apt to be drab and the costumes look as if they have seen better days, also in the films one does not expect colour, unless it is in Technicolour [sic] which is very pleasing to the eye in days of war.

Once I was in the pictures seeing a film in Techni-colour called Best Foot Forward with Lucille Ball it was lovely, and the warning went, it was a very heavy raid, but I was much to interested to think about it.

I do not think that the theatre could get one, so concentrated in programme, to forget about it.

Unless one is fond of comedy the theatre can be very boring, if the artists are not good. But films must be good or at least good enough to pass the critics (who allows the films fit for the public).

Plays are not too bad in theatres, but are also apt to be boring.

Last year my sister took my mother and I to see Arsenic and Old Lace. Mummy hated it, but would not tell my sister so because it may have hurt her feelings.

Mummy hated it because (a) She could not hear properly and only caught snatches of the conversation; (b) She was bored stiff, because all they seemed to do was open and shut a box by the window.

I like plays, and during the examinations I went to see The Lisbon Story it was a very spectacular show, and we had a very good seat, which makes all the difference.

In the cinemas it is warm and not so draughty as theatres.

In the theatre one is seeing the thing actually being done, and every thing is more or less real, where as in the cinema, one is seeing something that has been practised to perfection, and if one is seeing what I term a THRILLER! one knows that if somebody in the picture has been killed he or she is not really dead.

So … on the whole I think pictures are better, most of them come from Hollywood and America has all the best stars and I do not think the english [sic] film star has a chance.

In the pictures the story has been picked out and the unnecessary parts cut and the best parts brought out, and in my opinion the films are infinately [sic] better than the theatre and if not in your opinion, better, they are very good entertainment, and I don’t know what a lot of us would do without them.

Comments: J.P. (Jacob Peter) Mayer was a German sociologist at the London School of Economics. His Sociology of Film draws on a large amount of evidence gathered through questionnaires and submissions received through invitations published in Picturegoer magazine. The above response comes from the section ‘Children and Adolescents and the Cinema’. The contributors for this section came from a school in Hampstead, with the children being described by Mayer as female, mostly middle class, on average not older than twelve-and-a-half.

Links: Copy at Internet Archive

Trapped in “Black Russia”

Source: Ruth Pierce, Trapped in “Black Russia”: Letters June-November 1915 (Boston/New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1918) pp. 118-119

Text: Yes, we go from café to cinematograph and try and keep warm.

I’ve never liked moving pictures before. Here they are presented differently than in America. Some of the plays I’ve seen have the naïveté and simplicity of a confession. Others interpret abnormal, psychopathic characters whose feelings and thoughts are expressed by the actors with a fine and vivid realism. There is the exultation of life, and the despair, the aggression and apathy, the frivolity and the revolt. The action is taken slowly. There are no stars. You look at the screen as though you were looking at life itself. And the films don’t always have happy endings, because life isn’t always kind. It often seems senseless and cruel and crushes men’s spirits. I wish we could have these films in America instead of the jig-saw puzzles I’ve seen.

Comments: Mrs Ruth Pierce was an American living in Russia in 1915, but little else seems to be known about her. Her book is ostensibly a set letters written to her parents while she and her husband tried to get out of war-torn Russia. At the time of the cinema trip described here she was living in Kiev (then part of the Russian Empire). Russian films of the period were indeed distinguished by their psychopathic elements and tendency towards unhappy endings.

Links: Copy at Internet Archive

Trapped in "Black Russia"

Source: Ruth Pierce, Trapped in “Black Russia”: Letters June-November 1915 (Boston/New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1918) pp. 118-119

Text: Yes, we go from café to cinematograph and try and keep warm.

I’ve never liked moving pictures before. Here they are presented differently than in America. Some of the plays I’ve seen have the naïveté and simplicity of a confession. Others interpret abnormal, psychopathic characters whose feelings and thoughts are expressed by the actors with a fine and vivid realism. There is the exultation of life, and the despair, the aggression and apathy, the frivolity and the revolt. The action is taken slowly. There are no stars. You look at the screen as though you were looking at life itself. And the films don’t always have happy endings, because life isn’t always kind. It often seems senseless and cruel and crushes men’s spirits. I wish we could have these films in America instead of the jig-saw puzzles I’ve seen.

Comments: Mrs Ruth Pierce was an American living in Russia in 1915, but little else seems to be known about her. Her book is ostensibly a set letters written to her parents while she and her husband tried to get out of war-torn Russia. At the time of the cinema trip described here she was living in Kiev (then part of the Russian Empire). Russian films of the period were indeed distinguished by their psychopathic elements and tendency towards unhappy endings.

Links: Copy at Internet Archive

Mass-Observation at the Movies

Source: Jeffrey Richards and Dorothy Sheridan (eds.), Mass-Observation at the Movies (London/New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1987), p. 229.

Text: Commercial traveller, aged 35, Leamington Spa.

Once per month I go to the films. This is when my car is greased at a neighbouring garage, and I find it convenient to sit in the warmth and comfort of a cinema until the operation is complete. I cannot remember 6 films I have seen, I saw Dear Octopus this week. I liked it. I had not one damned Yankee accent in the whole film. The usual strident idiocies of Hollywood were absent. I did not, as usual, feel like vomiting. And even the news short did not as usual give the impression that Americans only were fighting the Germans. If you want an opinion about films you will have to go to others. My opinions are perhaps illinformed [sic], but they are definite, if given vent to, they make me swear.

Comment: Mass-Observation carried out a series of studies in 1930s and 1940s into how people in the UK lived, through a mixture of observation, diaries and invited comments. This comment comes from a directive issued in November 1943 asking the question ‘What films have you liked best during the past year? Please list six films in order of liking and give your reasons for liking them.’ Dear Octopus was a British film, made in 1943, based on the play by Dodie Smith.

An Everyday Magic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.