Denis Houlston (DH-95-034)

‘Picturegoer Postcard Club’ membership card

Mr A. D. (Denis) Houlston responded to a call in the Manchester Evening News for volunteers to take part in Cinema Culture in 1930s Britain, and was among the twenty-two individuals living in the Greater Manchester area who were interviewed for the project as core informants during 1995. Born in Levenshulme in 1917, he lived there all his life apart from a period of war service. His father worked as a chief clerk in a printing works and his mother was a housewife. On leaving school at the age of seventeen, Mr Houlston went into clerical work, first as an office boy and later as a cost clerk and cashier. He was interviewed in his home on 26 April and 25 May 1995.

In his first interview, Mr Houlston speaks at length about cinemas in his neighbourhood, showing a keen feeling for the local topography and its changes over the years. He even takes the interviewer for a walk around the area, pointing out places where the cinemas had once been. His recollections of cinema exteriors and interiors is unusually vivid, as is his memory both of cinema programmes and of scenes or images in the films that he enjoyed as an adolescent. Having liked Westerns as a boy, he recalls that with the onset of puberty the focus of interest turned towards sex: in a time of innocence and restraint, he says, films were a source of education as well as of entertainment. He talks of his preference for blondes over brunettes (Madeleine Carroll was his favourite star); for sophisticated romantic comedy over gangster films (Lubitsch was his preferred director); and, notwithstanding his amused dismissal of the lah-di-dah accents of some British actors (”sspeack licke thaht, yew knyow?”), for British films and stars over their Hollywood counterparts. Toward the end of this interview, Mr Houlston donates his entire memorabilia collection to CCINTB.

In his second interview, Mr Houlston talks about writing letters to British film stars—and receiving replies; and about seeing British film actors onstage in Manchester and getting their autographs. He muses on reasons for going to the cinema and on the particular pleasures of other pastimes, like reading and listening to the wireless, as against the particular pleasures of cinema; about watching a film for the story vs watching it for the star: “You went [to the cinema] purely for pleasure!”

Documents, Memorabilia and Related Links
Greater Manchester home page
Scan of letter (DH-95-034PL01) | Transcript
Scan of letter (DH-95-034PL02) | Transcript
Scan of letter (DH-95-034PL05) | Transcript
Scan of letter (DH-95-034PL13) Transcript
Picturegoer Postcards
Golden Albums
Autographed Postcards and Photographs

Publications drawing on materials in Mr Houlston's interviews, letters and memorabilia:
Kuhn, A. (1999). ‘Memories of Cinema-Going in the 1930s’, Journal of Popular British Cinema, 2: 100-120.
Street, S. (2000). British Cinema in Documents. Routledge: 158-166.
Kuhn, A. (2009). ‘Film Stars in 1930s Britain: A Case Study in Modernity and Femininity’, in Tytti Soila (ed.), Stellar Encounters: Stardom in Popular European Cinema. John Libbey:180-194.