Hilda Bennett (HB-95-223)

The Regal, Wells next the Sea
Uploaded by LenGazzard. Creative Commons (Attribution) License via cinematreasures.org

In Autumn 1995, Hilda Bennett came into contact with Cinema Culture in 1930s Britain through Cranmer House care home in Fakenham, Norfolk, joining the twenty-one individuals based in East Anglia who were interviewed for the project as core informants. Mrs Bennett was born in Walsingham, Norfolk in 1923, into a large family headed by a dock labourer father. On leaving school at the age of fourteen she took a job as a nanny, and after her marriage became a housewife. Mrs Bennett took part in two interviews at Cranmer House: on 24 October 1995 she was interviewed along with two other female clients: Mabel Manning, born in 1909, left school at fourteen and went to work as a housemaid; Alice [Marchbank?], born in 1915, left school at sixteen and found work as a "babysitter". On 21 November 1995 Mrs Bennett gave a solo interview.

Conversation between the three participants in Mrs Bennett's first interview opens with reflections on the kinds of films they liked, with cowboys, musicals, and gangsters being the agreed favourites. They also enjoyed comedies--preferring the films of Laurel and Hardy to those of George Formby, who could "Go too far with his jokes." As to star preferences, the elegant fashions and outstanding dance moves on show in Astaire and Rogers films are referred to a number of times. Not claiming to be avid cinemagoers (they went because "there was nothing else to do"), the interviewees--all of whom had gone into domestic service on leaving school, and probably had little free time--recall weekly Saturday trips to the pictures in the nearest town, Wells next the Sea. They remember cinemas as busy, noisy places, where you might--at the risk of adult disapproval--secretly meet up with a boyfriend. Noting that the older generation was very strict at a time, they maintain, when the streets were safe and front doors could be left unlocked, they lament today's lack of discipline, while at the same time expressing approval of the fact that schools have become far more relaxed places for children.

In her solo interview, asked about the distinctive qualities of her favourite films and stars, Mrs Bennett recalls that she tended to prefer the female stars whose hairstyles and makeup inspired her ("I thought that was me in there, you know"). She reiterates that as a child she enjoyed cowboy films and was later drawn to Astaire and Rogers and to crooners like Bing Crosby. She mentions the strict religious observance of her childhood--three times to Chapel on Sundays; her parents' disapproval of cinema on religious grounds; the strength of local objections to Sunday film shows and the consequent absence of anything to do in town on a Sunday. Mrs Bennett's memories of going to the pictures before the war ("a wonderful thing") suggest that there was nonetheless pleasure to be had. She recalls enjoying the munificence of the continuous performance, which allowed her to stay in the cinema all day for threepence; and notes that the cinema was an agreeable meeting place. She stresses, however, that although she admired the makeup, the hairstyles, and the fashions, she did not aspire to the upmarket lifestyles portrayed in many films: "You knew you couldn't have anything like that."