A Child in the Forest

Source: Winifred Foley, A Child in the Forest (London: BBC, 1974), p. 169

Text: It wasn’t exactly the gods; it was steps that served for both purposes. Peanut shells and sweet wrappings crackled under our feet, as Blodwen found us a space to sit. The tang of orange peel fought with tobacco and the warm body odour rising from the stalls and balcony.

Between the films there were live turns, and these had just started. I was bewitched with surprise and delight; soon stolen hats, my domestic shortcomings, and even homesickness faded from my consciousness.

There was a troupe of Japanese jugglers, made exquisitely miniature and deft by the distance. Next came three trim girl dancers, tapping out their lively dancers with identical precision. I was spellbound.

Anna Rogers, the fifteen-year-old wonder girl, came next. She seemed uncannily clever. She must have been. She was only sixteen when I saw her name on a playbill in South London five years later.

‘Not bad turns this week,’ observed the sophisticated Blodwen. ‘Not bad!‘ They were magic people, so clever, so beautiful! Aladdin himself couldn’t have been more dazzled, when the Genie’s lamp transported him to the treasure cave, than I was that first night in the Olympia picture house, Shoreditch.

The film, Drums of Love, was completely lost on me. The heroine lying about on skin-covered divans, languishing for whatever it was she was missing, didn’t have my sympathy.

Comment: Winifred Foley (1914-2009) gained fame through her memoir of an impoverished childhood in the Forest of Dean, first serialised by BBC radio in 1973. The book covers time spent in London in the 1920s. Shoreditch Olympia had been a variety theatre which included films in its programme but became a full-time cinema in 1926. However, Drums of Love, directed by D.W. Griffith, was made in 1928. Possibly memories of the show and the film seen have been confused.