Revisit the 1930s through two classic films shot in Bolton
Two classics of British cinema, both partly shot in Bolton, will be screened at Bolton Little Theatre on Saturday 16 October 2021 at 230pm
The 1934 feature Sing As We Go! Stars Lancashire-born Gracie Fields and includes scenes shot in Bolton and Blackpool. In true Saturday matinee style, the feature film will be preceded by a short, Humphrey Jennings’s Spare Time. Inspired by Mass Observation and its ‘Worktown’ project, Jennings’s 1939 documentary looks at the leisure activities of coal, steel and cotton communities across Britain, with footage from Sheffield, Manchester and Pontypridd as well as Bolton.
The event is hosted by the Cinema Memory and the Digital Archive: 1930s Britain and Beyond (CMDA), a research project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and based across Lancaster University, the University of Glasgow University, and Queen Mary University of London. The project’s chief aim is to make the Cinema Culture in 1930s Britain archive easily and freely accessible to members of the public for the very first time, in the form of an online digital archive. A number of interviews, letters, memorabilia and other materials relating to Bolton and its cinemas (along with other areas of Britain) can already be accessed on our website, with more being added frequently – www.lancs.ac.uk/CMDA
Alongside the films, there will be short introductory talks from experts from Bolton and beyond, and archival materials relating to Bolton and its cinemagoing history–including items from CMDA’s and Live From Worktown’s own collections –will be on display in the theatre’s Forge studio .
Call for Papers: ‘From Cinema Culture to Cinema Memory’ 6 – 9 April, 2022 Lancaster University, UK
Keynote Speakers: Professor Annette Kuhn (Queen Mary University of London)
Professor Daniela Treveri Gennari (Oxford Brookes University)
‘From Cinema Culture to Cinema Memory’ is a three-day conference that invites speakers to discuss a range of themes relating to cinema culture and cinema memory from across the world. The conference will mark the climax of a 3-year AHRC-funded project, ‘Cinema Memory and the Digital Archive: 1930s Britain and Beyond’ (CMDA). The project gathers together a range of material relating to cinema memory in a comprehensive digital archive, a vast amount of which has been made available to view freely online for the first time. Information on this project can be found here: www.lancs.ac.uk/cmda. The relationship between cinema culture and cinema memory is explored in ‘From Cinema Culture to Cinema Memory: a Conceptual and Methodological trajectory’ (Kuhn, upcoming)
Key themes to explored at the conference are:
What is cinema memory?
In what ways can memory studies contribute to film studies?
What methodologies are there for researching cinema memory?
What is the relationship between audience research and cinema memory?
What aspects of cinema culture are related to cinema memory?
What is the place of the film text within cinema memory studies?
To what extent can creative outputs benefit the study of cinema memory?
What is the relationship between cinema history and cinema memory?
What options are there for storing material relating to cinema memory?
How do archives assist in projects related to cinema memory?
Gender, race, class, sexuality and cinema memory
Space, place, and cinema memory
The conference seeks above all to reflect the spirit of CMDA’s remit to revisit and re-assess archival and primary source materials collected as part of the pioneering ESRC funded project, ‘Cinema Culture in 1930s Britain’ (1994-97). That project and its methods, approaches and outputs were formative influences on the creation of what we now consider to be the New Cinema History, with CMDA now drawing influence from the outputs, project and methods that have been carried out under the banner in the intervening twenty-five or so years. As such, ‘From Cinema Culture to Cinema Memory’ welcomes submissions that share in this sense of revisionism and development for the study of cinema culture, cinema memory and a desire to test the boundaries of our methods and approaches.
We invite proposals for twenty-minute papers and anticipate the event being in person, but will be planning for the inclusion of virtual attendance should it be necessary. Whilst not obligatory, we would welcome papers that in some manner reflect upon the materials and findings hosted within our bespoke website/digital archive, which is continually being updated with new items from the archive. You can find out more about the research design of our interview holdings here: https://www.lancaster.ac.uk/fass/projects/cmda/index.php/history/research-design/. A more detailed discussion of the methods and approaches from ‘Cinema Culture in 1930s Britain’ can be found in the appendixes of An Everyday Magic (Kuhn, 2002: 240-54).
We will make available bursaries (to contribute to costs of UK travel, conference fee and accommodation) for up to four post-graduate applicants. Please note in your application if you wish to be considered for a bursary.
Please submit abstracts of no more than 500 words along with a brief (150-word maximum) biography to CMDA@Lancaster.ac.uk by 30th November 2021.
If possible, please also indicate if you would plan to attend the conference in person or via online remote delivery. Your answer at this stage is not definitive and is only to aid our planning.
Keynote speaker biographies:
Annette Kuhn is Professor and Research Fellow in Film Studies at Queen Mary University of London and a Fellow of the British Academy. Publications include Family Secrets: Acts of Memory and Imagination; An Everyday Magic: Cinema and Cultural Memory; Little Madnesses: Winnicott, Transitional Phenomena and Cultural Experience; and, with Guy Westwell, Oxford Dictionary of Film Studies. She was Director of the ESRC project ‘Cinema Culture in 1930s Britain’ and is currently Co-Investigator of ‘Cinema Memory and the Digital Archive (AHRC).
Daniela Treveri Gennari is Professor of Cinema Studies at Oxford Brookes University with a research interest in audiences, memories, film exhibition and programming. Daniela is currently leading the AHRC-funded project European Cinema Audiences: Entangled Histories and Shared Memories. Amongst her recent publications, the jointly authored monograph Italian Cinema Audiences. Histories and Memories of Cinema-going in Post-war Italy (Bloomsbury: London/New York, 2020). Daniela is also a member of the Steering Committee for the AHRC funded project Cinema Memory and the Digital Archive: 1930s Britain and Beyond.
Kuhn, A. (2002) An Everyday Magic: Cinema and Cultural Memory. London and New York: I. B. Tauris
Kuhn, A. (upcoming). ‘From Cinema Culture to Cinema Memory: a Conceptual and Methodological trajectory’. In: Egan, K., Smith, M., and Terrill, J. Researching Past Screen Audiences, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Last Autumn I posted an explanation of how the interviews conducted as part of Cinema Culture in 1930s Britain were planned and managed (‘Annette Kuhn talks about a key aspect of CCINTB’s research design’, 23 October 2020). The other significant element in the project’s memory work with 1930s cinemagoers was a questionnaire survey. The survey was not part of the original plan, but came about as a result of the overwhelming response received to calls for potential interviewees. Hundreds of letters, enquiries, and offers of information poured in from all over Britain, and it became apparent that the project had generated much more interest than could be accommodated through interviews alone. Our funder, the Economic and Social Research Council, agreed to the plan to invite those correspondents who were not selected for interview to take part in a postal questionnaire survey.
The questionnaire was kept short and simple, and designed–through the choice, framing and ordering of questions–to stimulate recall of events and experiences of more than sixty years earlier. Questionnaires were sent out in two batches: 129 in May 1995 and 97 in December 1995. Of these 226 questionnaires, a total of 186 were returned, representing an encouraging response rate of over 82 per cent. Questionnaires were processed using SPSS, a software package widely used in the social sciences for quantitative data analysis.
Left: May 1995 (Deanna Durbin pictured) Right: December 1995 (Edward G. Robinson pictured)
Three-quarters of the respondents found out about the project through announcements in a local newspaper or a specialist publication for the elderly (Table 1, below). Although no gender balance was planned or intended, respondents divided themselves more or less equally as to gender: of the 186, 91 (49 per cent) were male and 95 (51 per cent) female. Some six in ten were born between 1915 and 1924, the median year of birth being 1922 (Table 2). Nearly one-third of all respondents had lived in the southeast of England during the thirties (Table 3), and the majority lived in larger towns and cities as opposed to small towns and rural areas.
Just over half of the respondents finished their full-time education at the age of fourteen or below: that is, at the minimum school-leaving age for their generation, for whom education beyond elementary school was a minority experience. The women, however, were rather more likely than the men to have received a secondary education. At the end of their full-time education, the largest single group of men and women entered jobs classified as skilled: these included secretarial and clerical occupations (accounting for more than 27 per cent of all respondents) as well as certain types of administrative and craft jobs. A substantial additional group found work in sales occupations, and another group in agriculture and other primary occupations. In general, as might be expected of a self-selected sample, the people taking part in this survey appear to have had slightly more formal education, and to have worked in jobs requiring greater skill and/or more training, than would be expected in their age group as a whole.
The completed questionnaires are in the process of being scanned, and a number are currently viewable on the CMDA website via the home pages of selected CCINTB participants [example – Myra Schneiderman].
For a copy of the questionnaire and a report of the findings of the survey, see Annette Kuhn, ‘Cinemagoing in Britain in the 1930s: report of a questionnaire survey’, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, vol. 19, no. 4 (1999), pp. 531-543.
My last blog, which took a look at the rankings of British and Hollywood film stars at the British box office during the 1930s, closed with some observations on the changes in British filmgoers’ star preferences that took place towards the end of the decade, noting that these coincided with significant shifts in meanings of femininity in Britain. (‘The distinctive tastes of British cinemagoers’, 21 March 2021′)
The year 1937 appears to mark a key moment in this regard. In that year, a musical comedy featuring an unknown teenage soprano scored a surprise hit at the British box office. Three Smart Girls (Henry Koster, US, Universal, 1936) co-stars Deanna Durbin, Nan Grey and Barbara Read as sisters who conspire to remove their father from the clutches of a gold digger and effect a reconciliation between their estranged parents. On its British release in May 1937, Picturegoer‘s reviewer Lionel Collier ranked Three Smart Girls ‘outstanding’, calling it ‘one of the year’s most entertaining pictures’; and in his annual survey of the year’s films, Film Pictorial columnist John Milford hailed its Canadian-born co-star Deanna Durbin as the success of 1937 (Picturegoer, 22 May 1937; Film Pictorial, 1 January 1938). On this occasion at least, the critics were in tune with the mood of the cinemagoer: in 1938, readers of Film Pictorial voted Durbin the year’s most popular star, and by the following year she had scored top ranking at the British box office.
Unusually, there exists quite a lot of direct evidence from contemporary cinemagoers concerning the special appeal of this young performer. One Picturegoer reader wrote to the magazine to praise Durbin: ‘In these days when the world is topsy-turvy with so much to make humanity weep, it is good to…render utmost gratitude for a talented, youthful star’s contribution to every filmgoer’s happiness’ Picturegoer, 28 January 1939). This comment catches the mood, the spirit and the content of the admiration inspired by Deanna Durbin, and suggests that her popularity was as deep as it was wide. There was clearly something about the Durbin image which seized the imaginations and stirred the hearts of millions of young cinemagoers.
Animation of the various outfits of our Deanna Durbin Paper Doll (CMA-AK-96-001MM001)
A study of film stars and of audiences’ responses to them offers a useful route to understanding those affective aspects of film reception which are the key to any proper understanding of cinema culture. Film stars being at once real–they are living human beings–and unreal–their presence on screen is in effect an absence–constitute ideal figures of fantasy, objects of desire, identification and projection. In the film industry–particularly in the ‘age of the dream palace’–film stars stood for ideals of glamour and success of a sort that could scarcely figure in the day-to-day lives of most cinemagoers. They also held out models for the era’s nascent consumerism, and models of success based in an individualistic ethos. To this extent, there is a considerable element of aspiration in many forms of fan worship. Such aspiration may then translate itself into consciously held beliefs and attitudes and outwardly expressed behaviours.
This seems to be true of the fan worship surrounding Deanna Durbin in the late 1930s and early 1940s. In 1945, in a pioneering in-depth study of cinemagoers’ ‘experiences and self-interpretations’, the sociologist J.P. Mayer visited cinemas to talk to audiences and distribute questionnaires. Through the pages of Picturegoer, he invited readers to write essays and letters expressing their feelings about the films and about how cinema had affected their behaviour. Despite the fact that in 1945 her heyday as a star had already passed, Deanna Durbin is mentioned spontaneously, and always with great enthusiasm and warmth, in many of the replies Mayer received. These responses suggest that Durbin inhabited the inner lives of her male fans as a much idealised fantasy object; while for her female fans she offered a model for behaviour and self-image in their own daily lives:
‘I fell in love with Deanna Durbin and my love has grown for her every day. It is not just calf love or a passing infatuation but it’s the real thing’ (male, age 28)
‘Deanna Durbin…not only inspires both young and old with the melody of her voice, but also has the power to stimulate and sustain me….When Deanna sings she seems to sing to me alone’ (male, age 39)
‘I wanted to be as much like her as possible, both in my manners and clothes….If I found myself in any annoying or aggravating situation…I found myself wondering what Deanna would do, and modified my own reactions accordingly. She had far more influence on me than any amount of lectures or rows from parents would have had’ (female, age 22)
‘It was Deanna whom I have to thank for initiating me into my first attempt at curling my hair….Of course, my mother had to be consulted, but she agreed with me that if it was all right for Deanna, then it should be all right for me…’. (female, age 22)
‘I used to tell my “boy-friend of the moment” to note the way Robert Stack held Deanna in his arms and kissed her [in First Love]’ (female, age 19)
‘I wore boleros, when I was fourteen or so, because Deanna Durbin did, and boleros were obviously youthful and becoming to girls of that age’ (female, age 19)
‘I model the majority of my wardrobe on the clothes Miss Durbin wears. I pride myself they suit me, and therefore I feel confident in myself (for surely you know how much nice clothes go towards a woman’s poise and mannerisms!)’ (female, age 19)[i]
Advert for One Hundred Men and a Girl (1937) on the front page of the March 1938 edition of Bolton’s Tatler (CM-20-001RP021)
These testimonies indicate that for her fans Deanna Durbin in various ways represented ‘higher things’. For the women at least, this sense of elevation and inspiration translates itself into modes of self-expression and behaviour in their day-to-day lives, into their images of themselves as young women, and into their experiments with clothes, cosmetics, and courtship behaviour.
It is often noted that the root of star appeal lies in the capacity of a star image to appear at once extraordinary and ordinary. A gap between star and fan is opened up, and in it flourishes desire–‘I want to be like her’; while at the same time there is a sense of familiarity, attainability–‘I can be like her’. The Durbin star image mobilises this play of ordinary and extraordinary to construct, inter alia, a model of youthful femininity which sits well with a newly aspirational, and slightly daring, modern woman who enters cultural currency in late 1930s Britain.[ii] At the same time, the image lies within the reach of the ‘ordinary’ adolescent girl, rendering it both acceptable and attainable (‘if it was all right for Deanna, then it should be all right for me’). This offers a mix of safety and risk which might have obvious appeal to an adolescent at a time when girls in their teens were still regarded as children, and when there existed few models to help them negotiate the transition from girlhood to womanhood.
From the start of her film career, articles about Deanna Durbin in the popular press stressed both her extraordinary musical gifts and her very ordinary qualities as a schoolgirl. A month or two before the release of Three Smart Girls, for example, Picturegoer alerted its readers to the forthcoming debut of ‘a young girl with a fully matured voice of opera quality’, who nonetheless must carry on attending to her lessons and taking care of her pet spaniel be’ (‘Fair, famous and fourteen’, Picturegoer, 6 March 1937). As Deanna rose to fame, emphasis was laid increasingly upon her normality and naturalness: she is just ‘an ordinary nice American girl’ who happens to love music and can’t help singing (‘Schoolgirl star’, Film Weekly‘ 29 May 1937). And she is being sensibly brought up by a caring and watchful mother for whom Deanna is ‘that rare, refreshing combination of youth, sophistication and talent that every mother hopes her daughter will be’ (‘Bringing up a breadwinner’, Picturegoer, 4 February 1939). As the Durbin cult filtered into the cultural competences of young British women, references to ‘smart girls’ became ubiquitous.
Advert for Snowfire Powder Cream from July 1939 copy of Woman magazine. (CM-20-001AD003)
In her screen persona as much as in her star image, Deanna Durbin figures as the ideal role model for the adolescent girl negotiating familial constraints and nascent femininity. The basic Durbin film character is a matchmaker, an effervescent teenager who innocently–but not without encountering trouble on the way–meddles in the affairs of adults. In the end, she always wins through to a happy ending, an uplifting song and a beaming smile.[iii] The screen persona of a young woman whose youthful enthusiasm and energy fuels her determination to solve the problems of the adults around her endeared Durbin to her young fans, while rendering her acceptable to their parents.
The fuss about Durbin’s first screen kiss–in First Love (Henry Koster, US, Universal 1939)–is most revealing in this context. Anticipated in the British popular film press for nearly two years, and already held out as a tease in at least two of her films (the titles of That Certain Age [Edward Ludwig, US, Universal, 1938] and Three Smart Girls Grow Up [Henry Koster, US, Universal, 1939] reveal much about the nature of the Durbin image and the discourses around adolescence and femininity it embodied), the long awaited clinch was characteristically esteemed by British critics to be in the best of taste, eschewing ‘the polluting influence of Hollywood’s diseased mind’, and ‘handled with the most immaculate respect for standards of good taste and common sense’ (‘Deanna’s first kiss’, Picturegoer, 30 December 1939).
The star persona of Deanna Durbin and the fandom that surrounded her in the years immediately before and after the outbreak of World War II condense key discourses around cinema culture and femininity in circulation during that period. Durbin stands at once for the consistent popularity of musical comedy films and stars with British cinemagoers, for the distinctiveness of British audiences’ preferences among Hollywood stars and films, for an idiosyncratically British predilection for juvenile stars, and for the ‘good taste’ and ‘quality’ demanded by sections of the British filmgoing public. At the same time, her rise to fame forms part of the broader shift in British filmgoers’ tastes apparent after 1937. As an adolescent girl, Durbin also stands for a typical British cinemagoer of the period, while her unusual musical talent gestures towards a world distant from that in which the average working-class and lower-middle-class British girl lived her daily life. Durbin stands above all for new femininities which entered cultural circulation in the late 1930s and fed into wartime models of British womanhood.
CMDA assets relating to Deanna Durbin include:
Cinegram No.5: 100 Men and a Girl. 1938. AK-96-001PM003
Bolton’s Tatler: Front Page with 100 Men and a Girl. March 1938. CM-20-001RP021
Picturegoer Cover: Deanna Durbin and Melvyn Douglas in That Certain Age. 28 January 1939. CM-20-001AR055
Woman: Three Smart Girls Cosmetics advertisement. 1 July 1939. CM-20-001AD003
Celebrity Paper Dolls “Deanna Durbin”. 1991. AK-96-001MM001
W.E. Mills. The Deanna Durbin Fairy Tale. 1996. AK-96-001BK010
[i] The first and the last two quotations are from J.P. Mayer, Sociology of Film: Studies and Documents (London: Faber and Faber, 1946), pp.182, 237 and 188; the rest are from his British Cinemas and Their Audiences: Sociological Studies (London: Dennis Dobson Ltd, 1948), pp.60, 90, 83, and 42.
[ii] For a more detailed discussion see Annette Kuhn, ‘Cinema culture and femininity in the 1930s’, in Christine Gledhill and Gillian Swanson (eds), Nationalising Femininity. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1996: 177-192.
[iii] William K. Everson, ‘The career of Deanna Durbin’, Films in Review, vol.27, no.9 (1976), pp.513-29.
Critics and historians of cinema agree that Hollywood’s command of the world’s cinema screens was well under way by the mid 1920s, and that this domination was more or less secured by the early 1930s, when the ‘talking picture’ was established. Since Hollywood provided the majority of films screened in Britain, its influence is very apparent in British filmgoers’ tastes throughout the 1930s. But if British fans took Hollywood to their hearts, the Hollywood they embraced was very much their own.
A consistently popular type of film among British cinemagoers was undoubtedly the musical comedy. The early 1930s especially saw a cycle of well-received ‘Viennese musicals’, most of them from Hollywood. Among these were Ernst Lubitsch’s The Love Parade (US, Paramount, 1929; UK general release 1930), voted Best Film of 1930 by readers of the magazine Film Weekly.
The distinctive quality of British cinemagoers’ tastes emerges especially strongly in their preferences among Hollywood films and stars, however. Although this is true across the board (for example, among Hollywood stars favoured particularly by British audiences are the ‘quality’ actors Ronald Colman and Norma Shearer), again a predilection for the musical seems to set British preferences apart. Thus although Shirley Temple was top box office on both sides of the Atlantic for several consecutive years, a number of other Hollywood musical stars scored degrees of box-office success in Britain that they did not enjoy in their own country–Jeanette MacDonald and Deanna Durbin, for example.
United States box-office rankings
source: International Motion Picture Almanac, 1933-41
British box-office rankings
source: International Motion Picture Almanac, 1937-41
British box-office rankings: stars of British-made films
source: International Motion Picture Almanac, 1937-41
An interesting finding to emerge from a study of the tastes of the cinema audience of the 1930s relates to paradigms of femininity embodied in the personae of Britain’s favourite female stars: all of them conspicuously lack attributes of overt, adult, sexuality. While the more glamorous Hollywood stars of the 1930s found relatively little favour, films starring performers who were, or appeared, pre-pubescent, rated highly with British audiences. Hollywood’s Shirley Temple and Deanna Durbin are the most prominent instances of this tendency, but there are others.
Among stars of British films, the juvenile actress Nova Pilbeam (perhaps best remembered today for her role in Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much [UK, Gaumont-British, 1934]) enjoyed a large following among some sections of the audience; as did Elisabeth Bergner–all but forgotten today–an actress adult in years but gamine in image. Both Pilbeam and Bergner received awards voted by filmgoers: Pilbeam from readers of both Picturegoer and Film Weekly for her role in Tudor Rose (Robert Stevenson, UK, Gainsborough, 1936); Bergner likewise (for Escape Me Never [Paul Czinner, UK, British and Dominions,1935]).
A few Cinema Culture in 1930s Britain participants still remember these actresses. Beatrice Cooper of Harrow [BC-95-208OT001], who enjoyed Pilbeam’s performance in Little Friend (Berthold Viertel, UK, Gaumont-British, 1934), recalls seeing her perform live at the Golders Green Hippodrome. Of “the brilliant, brilliant actress” Bergner, Mrs Cooper says: “…She came to this country, between the wars…. She made a film called Escape Me Never. Which was absolutely, it was revolutionary. Everybody queued up to see Elisabeth Bergner.” “Escape Me Never. Everybody was crazy about it. Erm, she had a special, very special appeal, Elisabeth Bergner. She was very childlike. In her appearance.” And in his diary entry for 7 May 1935, Glasgow informant Norman MacDonald [NM-92-005PW002] notes: “At night saw Elisabeth Bergner in Escape Me Never at the Gem Cinema and thought it a very fine picture.”
While this trend in cinemagoers’ tastes runs throughout the 1930s, a number of shifts are observable towards the end of the decade. Although the musical continues to maintain its appeal, for example, we see the emergence of a new generation of musical stars. In 1938, the year in which George Formby ousted Gracie Fields from her long-held position as top money-making star of British-made films, the Canadian-born Hollywood singer/actress Deanna Durbin shot virtually overnight into the position of Britain’s overall favourite star. Another juvenile musical performer, Mickey Rooney, also entered the British ratings in the late 1930s and, along with Durbin, displaced Shirley Temple from her top ranking.
These transitions are by no means confined to cinema culture, however. They coincide with significant shifts in meanings of femininity in Britain. But that’s another story….
Players Cigarette Card Album donated by Margaret Young (see full version in Memorabilia)
Sarah Neely’s report on two workshop events that took place at the Glasgow Women’s Library, 5 December 2020 and 15 January 2021
In addition to ensuring the digital accessibility of the materials gathered as part of the earlier project, Cinema Culture in 1930s Britain, the current project is also interested in encouraging further engagement with the collection. This includes making the material accessible to academic researchers, but also artists, creative practitioners, and the wider public. The project includes artist residencies which will explore the ways in which the collection can inspire new works of creative writing, moving image and audio works. We are also hosting a series of creative writing workshops which are open to the general public and are designed to introduce participants to some of the items in the collection, and hopefully stimulate their own creative responses to it.
The creative writing workshops will be held throughout the UK, in the locations where the fieldwork for the original project was conducted – Glasgow, Manchester, London and East Anglia. Although we had originally intended to host the workshops in person, the current pandemic has meant that at least the first few will have to be delivered online. The first two workshops, generously hosted by Glasgow Women’s Library in December 2020 and January 2021, were facilitated by GWL’s Donna Moore and myself, with excellent front-of-house support from Rachel Moir. The workshops featured as part of Creative Writing for Fearties, an ongoing series of workshops held by GWL, which aims to create a conducive writing environment for all – from the complete beginner to the more experienced writer.
If you have ever had the opportunity to visit the library, you will know what a welcoming and inspiring place it is to be. Although I wasn’t entirely sure how well an intimate writing workshop would translate on Zoom, Donna Moore did an incredible job capturing a sense of the nurturing space of the library through her own imaginative and supportive approach to facilitating the workshop. Both were productive sessions, with around a dozen participants in each, many of whom were happy to share their work with the group. It was great to see many of those who attended the first workshop, return for the second, and to see how their ideas developed.
Each session included a number of short exercises which drew from a different item in the collection. The majority of exercises engaged with short extracts from the project’s rich collection of interviews, but some exercises also incorporated various memorabilia such as cigarette cards.
What follows is a selection of some of the exercises and the writing created in response to them, which has been kindly shared by some of the workshop participants. Enjoy!
For the first exercise participants were asked to respond to a poem read by one of our respondents, Mary McCusker, during her interview in 1994. The poem, ‘Saturday Matinee’, by Edith Little, published in the book When Sixpence was a Fortune (Heatherbank Press, 1978), offers the writer’s own, personal description of the experience of going to the cinema in Glasgow in the 1930s.
You can hear Mary McCusker reading the poem here:
The following presents a selection of the workshop participants’ personal reflections on their own memories of cinemagoing.
“Oh mister, gonny let us in?”
I remember this so well from my own childhood in Beith, Ayrshire, and standing outside the now-demolished George Cinema. Saturday matinees were an important feature of my life, and I couldn’t wait for the next one to come around.
One particular Saturday stands out, and the memories are bittersweet. It was 1982, and the very last film shown in the George. Things had changed and the advent of the video recorder put many of the old picture houses out of business, including my local. I queued up outside with most of the town, it seemed, to see E.T. Excitement was high as it was the must-see film of the year. I couldn’t wait to get inside.
As the show time neared, the cinema manager appeared to unlock the double glass door. I can still picture him. A big, very round man in a shirt and tie.
We queued to get our wee paper tickets, then queued again for sweeties. My dad took me that day, and he was just as excited as I was. I remember that wee sweetie kiosk so vividly. A packet of Munchies and a glass bottle of Coke in hand, I ran up two flights to the balcony. I only got to go to the balcony if my dad took me. Such wonderful memories.
by Karen McIntosh
My cinema going life began with my grandmother in the late 1950s and what a magical surprise it all was.
I loved the rich velvet curtains with braided gold tassels that swung aside at the beginning of each film. I loved the smell of pipe smoke, perfume, hair oil and dust. I loved the feel of the plush seats under my bare legs and the arrival of the ice-cream girl with her torch and frilly apron that heralded the Interval.
I remember the building, the shell shaped lights, the grand staircases and gilded handrails that scrolled along the walls. I remember the thick carpet under my feet but I’ve forgotten all of the films we saw apart from one – Samson and Delilah. Victor Mature was about to be blinded but I never saw it because my grandmother silently put her hand across my eyes.
by Diane Schofield
I think a few old decaying small cinemas still existed in tiny wee remote towns in the 1980s. Grown- ups talked about the luxury of the cinema with marble, lush chairs and curtains sliding across the screen. Oh, and of course, intermissions. But I have only one memory of curtains at the cinema. Possibly my first trip with my aunt and cousins, probably we saw a Disney movie.
Other early memories of birthday and back-to-school trips include the time I persuaded my parents to sit right at the front. Oh, what a mistake that was. Also, there was the time the Guide leaders took us to a 12 certificate film. I wasn’t quite legal, but mum was there. It must have been alright. And, finally, dating in and at the cinema. The darkness and privacy: oh, what a delight.
Oh, by-the-way I don’t like the cinema anymore. It’s too loud, too cold, too expensive and not right.
Before lockdown it was mum and dad who were telling us tales of their weekly trips to “Golden Oldies” screenings.
A Plateful of Peas
For this exercise, we asked participants to respond to an extract from an interview with Margaret Young and Mollie Stevenson, two sisters from Cambuslang, Glasgow. In the interview, they recall going to the Elder Cinema and one particularly memorable occasion when they went for a ‘plateful of peas’ before a rather queasy tram journey home. Recalling the event, Margaret describes: “coming all the way from Govan to Riddrie on a yellow tram, through Bridgeton Cross. By the time we got home I was, I think I was green!” You can listen to the full interview here.
A short prose piece and poem inspired by the sisters’ vivid description follows below.
“I didn’t eat peas for years after that.”
Inside the picture house, watching those Hollywood movies, I felt like a film star too. The colours, the glamour, the beautiful women. Katherine Hepburn, with her haughty, slightly androgenous air. Ginger Rogers, with legs that twirled expertly around the dance floor. Bette Davis, scary yet vulnerable. I lapped it up. It was my escape.
I wanted it to go on forever. But it couldn’t, of course. As I stepped outside, into the grey, soot-ridden streets of Govan, Hollywood was gone. Not for me champagne and caviar. A plate of peas, and a long tram-ride home, back to drab and dreary Glasgow. But that two hours on a Friday kept me going all week, with dreams of something more, of life beyond our town.
by Karen McIntosh
Mushy peas and scabby knees
After the pictures,
me and my sister would
come out, from dark to light;
two moths flying backwards.
Cowboy images were still playing
on the inside of my eyelids.
We’d hold sweaty palms
so as not to lose each other,
as the crowds spilled out.
But also to keep the story going,
squeezed in between us
that while longer.
Our mother always bought us
mushy peas after.
She always said they were our favourite.
And we’d never tell her otherwise,
so as not to ruin the magic.
But we’d regret it every time.
After two winding tram rides home,
sat together on the same seat,
and me and my sister
were as green as the peas.
By Amy B. Moreno
We returned to Mollie and Margaret’s memories of cinema in our second workshop. Listening to the two sisters’ interview sometimes feels like you are eavesdropping on a lifelong conversation about the cinema. In an extract used for one of the workshop exercises, their familiarity with each other is echoed in the patterns of their speech as the two try to work out the name of Austrian-British actress, Elizabeth Bergner. You can listen to the extract from the interview here (Note: interviewer’s voice is a little faint):
Below is an entertaining reimagining of what could have been another one of the sisters’ conversations.
Molly and Margaret
Molly: D’ yi’ mindae where your John always went oan his holidays when he was wee? Ah wis thinkin’ aboot aw they stories he use tae tell the other day.
Margaret: It wis, eh… it wis wae an auld spinster auntie cried Euphemia.
Molly: Euphemia! Oh aye… whit a name.
Margaret: Dundee, wis it no?
Molly: A summer holiday in Dundee?!
Margaret: Aye. Well, beggers cannae be choosers, Molly. Ye take a holiday whur yur given one. He use tae talk aboot the watter in Dundee.
Margaret: Fishin’, paddlin’. Rock pools an’ that.
Molly: … In Dundee?
Margaret: Aye, that’s whit Ah said. Dundee.
Margaret: Dinnae look it me like that, Molly, Ah’m no doddery. No yet, oneywey.
Molly: Fair enough.
Margaret: Naw. No Dundee.
Molly: Wis is Dunoon, hen?
Margaret: Aye, it wis Dunoon right enough.
Molly: Aye, Dunoon.
Margaret: Ah wis right aboot Euphemia, but. Whit a name.
By Amy B. Moreno
Film Stars and Cigarette Cards
The Cinema Memory and the Digital Archive collection also holds a selection of memorabilia donated by some of those who took part in the earlier project. This includes collections of cigarette card and photograph albums. For the workshops at Glasgow Women’s Library, Donna Moore sent participants a selection of items in advance of our workshop – including cigarette cards from Donna’s own personal collection! – which formed the basis for one of the writing exercises. Here are two more responses from Amy B Moreno and Karen McIntosh. While they are two very different approaches to the exercise, both wonderfully capture a sense of the ways in which the mystery and glamour associated with the object of the cigarette card, and the stars featuring on them, often sat incongruently with the everyday reality of their collectors.
Ah’ve paid mah penny fur the ‘attractive album’. Today, Ah got Valerie Hobson. Ah took the card fae Uncle Jim’s packet, along wae two crumpult fags. Ah wish Ah looked lik her; that way she’s beautiful withoot smiling. I bet naeb’dy ever tells her, “Cheer up, hen, it might never happen.”
How does she get hur hair tae sit like that? The weather and mah mammy’s kitchen scissors conspire tae create the damp pudding bowl on mah heid. Ahm gonnae practice mah signature like hurs – a strong, elegant V. Then the E and I that loop aff each other, holdin’ hands as if they’re walkin’ down some romantic tree-lined avenue, oan dainty feet.
Ah bet she doesnae have six little brothers and sisters, and half ae them in her bed every night. Ah bet she doesnae need tae steal fags aff her uncle Jim.
By Amy B Moreno
Having the right name is so important for a film star. Take Diana Dors. Now, there’s a perfect name for an actress, especially one as glamorous as Britain’s answer to Marilyn Monroe.
Would either woman have made such a splash as Diana Fluck or Norma Jean Baker? I doubt it.
You’ve got to imagine a name up in lights. Alliteration works when it comes to impact – Charlie Chaplin, Bogart and Bacall…..
by Karen McIntosh
Many thanks again to Donna and the team at Glasgow Women’s Library, and to all of the workshop participants, especially those who gave permission to share their work here. If you are interested in participating in one of our workshops, please keep an eye on our website and/or Twitter feed. Details of any future events will be posted there. In the meantime, feel free to explore the collection online. We hope that you will find something to inspire your own writing!
A key feature of the Cinema Culture in 1930s Britain Collection is the interviews that were conducted during the mid-1990s in four UK locations, Glasgow, Greater Manchester, East Anglia, and the London suburb of Harrow: these places were carefully chosen to give a spread of settlement patterns and class and regional cultures. Interviews were piloted in the city of Glasgow in the southwest of Scotland, where the project was based at that time. A centre of shipbuilding and other heavy industry in the 1930s, this self-styled ‘movie-mad city’ was reputed at the time to have Europe’s highest number of cinema seats per head of population. Greater Manchester in the northwest of England was an important centre of the textile industry up till the 1970s, and during the 1930s was home to many cinemas, old and new. Fieldwork in the Greater Manchester conurbation incorporated the towns of Bolton (the site of Mass-Observation’s 1930s ‘Worktown’ studies) and Bury, as well as the city of Manchester itself. Situated to the north-west of London, Harrow underwent considerable growth during the 1930s, becoming transformed from a semi-rural area to a prosperous metropolitan suburb boasting several new supercinemas. In the 1930s as today, the predominantly rural counties of Suffolk and Norfolk in East Anglia featured a variety of settlement patterns, including small towns and seaside resorts, as well as villages of various sizes; while farming was the area’s main industry.
Interviewees were sought in several ways. Most of the Glasgow informants were selected from people who had been in contact with me before CCINTB was launched in 1994: attendees at a 1992 Glasgow Film Theatre screening and talk on popular cinema in the 1930s completed short question sheets and left their contact details if they wished to remain in touch (example pictured below); an appeal in a local newspaper, The Glaswegian, drew inquiries from further interested parties. Other Glasgow interviewees were previous contacts of the project’s Research Fellow. Pilot interviews with upwards of thirty individuals were conducted in Glasgow in late 1994 and early 1995. In the other locations, participants were sought through appeals in local media and national publications for the elderly; approaches were also made to, and came from, institutions and organisations of various kinds (local history societies, friendship groups, housebound library users’ services, residential homes for the elderly, and so on).
One-Page Question Sheet
From the pilot interviewees in Glasgow and the first contacts elsewhere a total of seventy-eight core informants were selected, with a view to balancing demographic factors such as location and social class in the 1930s, gender, and ethnicity. All but three of these participants were interviewed more than once, the majority twice, and a handful three times. Forty-five people were interviewed on their own, the rest in couples or groups. Interviews were conducted by Research Fellow Valentina Bold, an experienced oral history researcher. Most took place in participants’ homes, and a few in day centres, residential homes, or group meeting places. A total of 186 hours of tape-recorded interview material was gathered from core informants, mostly during 1995. In all but a handful of cases (where audio was of very poor quality, for example), these interviews were transcribed during the 1990s, and some of the Glasgow pilot interviews have been transcribed more recently.
All interview audio of acceptable quality has now been digitised in both WAV and MP3 format and we are in the process of indexing and time-stamping each interview. To enable visitors to perform keyword searching of the interview transcripts synced to the audio, we are using the Oral History Metadata Synchronizer application, developed by the University of Kentucky Libraries. See the Participant Interviews area for details of how to access the interviews.
For further information on interviews, interviewees, and other aspects of CCINTB’s research design, see Kuhn, A. (2002) An Everyday Magic (London: I.B.Tauris), pp.240-254.
Cinema memory: 1930s Britain and beyond – a Symposium
We are delighted to launch a call for interest for what will be a unique symposium, held (virtually) at Lancaster University on 22 and 23 January 2021. As part of the Cinema Memory and the Digital Archive research project, the symposium will offer an opportunity for a small number of scholars to engage with a sample collection of holdings from our archive. An exclusive pre-launch portal will be set up, containing a range of ethnographic participant data and other relevant artefacts, and we invite speakers to incorporate these materials into their papers. Of course, how this material is integrated is up to you – we anticipate that some may base their entire paper on the collection, whilst others may use the materials to complement or contrast their existing work and findings.
Speakers at the Cinema Memory: 1930s Britain and Beyond symposium will be amongst the first to have digital access to material that Annette Kuhn, a co-investigator on this project, collected and curated during her landmark Cinema Culture in 1930s Britain project, ahead of our roll-out launches over the coming year. A small example of such material can be found on our Twitter account – @cinema_memory – or on our current work-in-progress website – https://www.lancaster.ac.uk/cmda.
Once interest is registered, we will in due course provide access to the password-protected portal and ask interested parties to provide a brief abstract for their paper.
Following a brief gap, we’re back with another featured item! This time it’s not an item from the collection, but rather an area of the website that I would like to highlight; one that may prove to be of particular interest or value to academics interested in the process and life-span of a research project. Today’s featured item is then our timeline of the original Cinema Culture in 1930s Britain (CCINTB) project, an area of the website that started life as a tool to help the project staff learn more about what had preceded Cinema Memory and the Digital Archive (CMDA).
The timeline traces the history and important moments of CCINTB, before, during and after its funded period (1994-1997). You can click into each milestone to read more information about the event, and often there are links to further reading of useful documents. For example, for ‘Funding Success! (1994)’ we have provided a copy of the original funding application/proposal to the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). Later, ‘Final CCINTB Report to ESRC (1997)’ includes, as the title suggests, Annette Kuhn’s final report to the ESRC about the success, challenges and outcomes of the project to that point – certainly this is the type of document that I, as an early career researcher, had previously not had access to. Elsewhere, we have endeavoured to include PDFs or links to relevant publications, conference papers, example research questionnaires and other documentation that we hope will prove to be insightful and useful.
A final value of the timeline is in how it conveys the length of life of such a project – nearly thirty years in this instance. Often as a researcher it is easy to see a project’s funding dates (1994-97 for CCINTB) and assume that represents the totality of the endeavour. Yet, the timeline tells a very different story, a project that was a few years in the making, had three years of funding, yethas maintained a life ever since, culminating in a new project and funding period (CMDA, 2019-22).
Please feel free to take a browse of the timeline by clicking here or on the image below.
Time for another Picturegoer Magazine postcard as this week’s featured item!
Pictured below is Boris Karloff (1887 – 1869), who was born William Henry Platt in Surrey, England (now part of South London). Karloff is possibly best remembered for his roles within the Universal series of monster films, particularly as Frankenstein’s monster in Frankenstein (1931), Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and Son of Frankenstein (1939), as well as Imhotep in The Mummy (1932). Notably, Karloff was not initially credited for his role in the first Frankenstein, with the credits listing the actor as “?” for marketing purposes.
Unlike many of his contemporaries, Karloff maintained a strong screen acting career beyond the 1930s. It is arguable that this was achieved through a willingness to accept roles that could be considered ‘type cast’, as well as diversifying into new media and types of acting role. For example, Karloff continued to star in horror films throughout his life, building on his prestige and infamy as The Monster in Frankenstein along with his striking looks and eloquent but powerful voice. 1963 notably saw the release of two films starring Karloff with acclaimed horror director Roger Corman, The Raven and The Terror. Indeed, 1963 was a busy year for Karloff, as it also saw the release of Black Sabbath, directed by Italian low-budget horror specialist Mario Bava. That name may be familiar to you… Originally known as ‘Earth’, four young musicians from Birmingham wanted to change their name to avoid confusion with similarly named groups and ideally they wanted a moniker that reflected the dark and heavy form of music they played. By chance, across the road from their rehearsal space in 1969, a local cinema was showing Black Sabbath. Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Bill Ward and Geezer Butler decided to adopt the name and pioneered what we now call heavy metal (Froese, 2012: 20).
Beyond influencing horror (and inadvertently aiding the fledgling career of Ozzy Osbourne!), Karloff also took the opportunity to turn his hand to acting on the small screen. Indeed, he was an early adopter, starting his television career in the late 1940s and continued to appear in a number of television series over the remainder of his career, usually in a cameo or guest-starring role. Karloff also took advantage of his unique voice, becoming a voice actor for various spoken-word adaptations, ranging from Shakespeare to Peter and the Wolf . It is perhaps a combination of his television and voice acting work that Karloff is most famous for in the latter stage of his career, having narrated the made-for-television adaptation of How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966). How the Grinch… has become a staple of Christmas time viewing, with Karloff’s poetic and entrancing narration having become a common point of parody and homage within popular culture. Somewhat poetically, the man who became known for playing a monster, a figure of fear and who infamously drowns a young girl in Frankenstein, rounded out his career by becoming a voice of Christmas cheer and reassurance for countless children and families.
Froese, B. (2012). ‘”Is It the End, My Friend?” Black Sabbath’s Apocalypse of Horror”‘. In Irwin, W. (ed.) Black Sabbath and Philosophy: Mastering Reality. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell