Phyllis Bennett (PB-95-222)

Screenshot from Mutiny on the Bounty

In the late Summer of 1995, Phyllis Bennett answered a call in the East Anglian press for volunteers to take part in Cinema Culture in 1930s Britain, and eventually became one of the twenty-one individuals, couples and groups living in that region who were interviewed for the project later that year. One of four children, Mrs Bennett was born in Norwich in 1915 and had lived in the city all her life. On leaving school at fourteen she took a job at a printing works, but much of her working life was spent at the Daniels Brothers horticultural nursery in Bedford Street, Norwich. She was interviewed at her home on the Heartsease Estate in Norwich on 27 October and 17 November 1995.

Mrs Bennett's first interview showcases her familiarity with the history of Hollywood studios and films and the lives of Hollywood stars. She used to go to the pictures four times a week and regularly bought fan magazines, she recalls, and was impressed by stars' lives and the lifestyles portrayed in them. She admits that she no longer goes to the cinema, but still enjoys reading star biographies and watching films and programmes about films on TV. Her impressive collection of books and magazines prompts numerous recollections: some sixty film personalities and over forty films are referred to in the course of the interview. The private lives of the stars--Clark Gable's womanising, preference for blondes, and many marriages, for example--are discussed in depth. She remembers the Saturday matinees of her childhood, paying for admission with jam jars and rabbit skins, and being riveted by the cliffhangers that closed episodes of the weekly serial. Naming the Norwich cinemas she frequented, Mrs Bennett notes with regret that few remain.

Her second interview is focussed mainly on film stars, their lives and their films, with less emphasis on her own cinemagoing memories. An enthusiast for Hollywood films made before, during, and after the 1930s ("My films were everything to me"), Mrs Bennett shows the interviewer the album of star photos, film details, and so on covering the years from the 1930s to the 1950s that she created herself and had professionally bound at her workplace (very much against the rules). She continues to read widely about the lives of Hollywood stars, and her assessment of them is based largely on their star personae, the kinds of (often less than perfect) people they were in real life, and their ageing and mortality. Particularly prominently featured in the conversation are special favourites Clark Gable and Norma Shearer, but in the course of the interview over eighty film personalities and more than sixty films are named and discussed, with Mrs Bennett also alluding to classic films recently, or soon to be, broadcast on TV.