Jean Gowing was born in 1919 in Hartismere, Suffolk, the only child of a well-to-do farmer living near the town of Halesworth. In March 1996 she came into contact with Cinema Culture in 1930s Britain through her friend Ida Jarron, and sent the project: a list of titles and dates of films that she saw during the second half of the 1930s; a pocket diary for the year 1937 in which she kept a daily record of her activities, including trips to the cinema; and a scrapbook of clippings from 1930s film magazines. She donated the film list and the scrapbook and kindly gave permission for the diary to be photocopied in its entirety before it was returned. Miss Gowing’s list suggests that she saw close to three hundred films, mostly in double bills, between April 1934 and 30 December 1939—around fifty films a year on average, while her diary records forty-nine cinema visits during the year 1937. Each daily diary entry begins with a brief weather report (“Dull”; “Quite sunny”, etc) and records her activities of the morning and afternoon, with occasional mentions of evening activities. All, or virtually all, of her trips to the cinema took place in the afternoon; and in her diary she never mentions the title of the film or the name of the cinema, but invariably notes who she went with. The entry for Friday 16 July, for instance, reads: “Sunny. Sold flags in the morning and [sea] bathed with Ida. Went to Ida’s for tea and we played tennis and went to the pictures.” Having guests for tea, or having tea at someone else’s house, is frequently mentioned; there are regular trips to Yarmouth and occasional excursions in the family car, as well as short stays in London that might involve art gallery visits and other cultural activities. The daily entries suggest that Miss Gowing usually went to school in either the morning or the afternoon, rarely all day (she would have been eighteen at this time, presumably a sixth-former enjoying relative freedom). Accordingly, the entry for Thursday 23 September reads: “Sunny. Went to school in the morning. Went to the flicks in the afternoon with Mummy.” Crosschecking this latter against her list of films reveals that on this occasion Miss Gowing and her mother saw the Deanna Durbin film Three Smart Girls. All in all, Miss Gowing’s diary reveals a highly active social life with many visits to and from friends and relatives and numerous hobbies and outings—tennis, dances, school art club, and more.
A sample page from Jean Gowing's scrapbook (JG-96-003MM001)