Films and newsreels
The newsreel was dependent on the cinema circuit, and was not restricted to Pathé. It would change with the program each week
The Regal Cinema had British Gaumont News and the
Empire Cinema had Pathé News.
When I was growing up in the 1940s and 50s, a typical cinema programme consisted of two films, trailers for future films
and a newsreel, presumably, so called because it was on a reel of film. This
news always seemed to me to be put together by Pathé, whose emblem was a crowing cockerel with
full sound effects. However, I have since learnt that Pathé was merely the
newsreel for my local Ritz cinema and that there were other newsreels - see
the box on the right.
Although all the newsreels were in black and white, they
were at least moving images compared to newspapers. So people often went to the pictures just to see the newsreel and then leave. They went
for a boxing match, or a football match or some big battle that our troops had
been involved in.
There was one newsreel that I can remember to this day,
even though I must have been less than five years old at the time.
It was in a Regal Cinema.
To my horror I watched as babies were thrown into the air and then caught on
the spikes of soldiers' bayonets; as women
were buried alive; and thousands of dead bodies were lying in the streets.
It was the Fall of Nanking, when the Japanese captured Nanking in China. If you can get this footage from the Gaumont archives,
you can see for yourself. It is history in the raw.
In wartime, everyone relied on the newsreels to keep up
visually with what was happening, even though a new edition only came out
at weekly intervals, changing with the programme.
B was never a formalised film classification. There was the main film along with the trailers and newsreel and what was termed a second feature.
Early on, children didn't have to be accompanied by an Adult to watch an A.
It was only an advisory classification as was the H for Horror.
The X classification, which replaced the H for
Horror wasn't introduced until 1951, well after colour had taken over.
Newsagents showed posters to advertise current
films in the local cinemas. They were given complimentary tickets as payment.
The two films were informally rated by perceived quality, with a B rating for the poorer
of the two. I never heard of the better of the two having an A rating, because
in my time
A was reserved for films suitable for adults. Children could see A rated films
if accompanied by an adult, and they could see U rated films unaccompanied.
X rated films were for adults only and were either horror or sexually explicit.
I particularly remember the films being in black and white, although there were
a few in colour.
Publicity for the programme
Billboard advertising several films from the 1940s. Photographed
in Milestones Museum, Basingstoke.
Click for a larger image.
Everyone always knew the programme on locally because they frequently walked
past the local cinema where there was no shortage of billboards. Also all the
cinemas in the wider locality advertised in the local paper. (There was of course
no internet to access.)
In my experience people always tried to watch the feature film from the beginning,
even if they had to arrive in the middle of the other items.
Somewhat surprisingly, my mother never seemed to take any notice of the starting
times of the films and - judging by how often we had to stand to let newcomers
along the rows - she was not alone in this. It was quite normal for us to arrive in
the middle of a film and 'see it round' in the next sequence and hence put together
the story line afterwards. I suppose that the enjoyment of the event was in
seeing people moving around on a large screen, rather than in the plot.
Interruptions to the programme: broken films
Reel-to-reel film projector as used in cinemas - screen shot from an old
The light from the cinema projector showing up in the dusty air above
the audience's heads. Screenshot from an old film.
The film was stored on large reels and during projection it wound from a
full reel to an empty one. Not infrequently the film broke. There was a whirring
sound, the screen went messy and then black. After perhaps half a minute,
the film started again, the projectionist having spliced the film back
Sometimes the flow of the film was interrupted by a handwritten message superimposed
on the screen. Presumably someone had come in from outside needing to contact
a customer urgently.
The message usually just asked a particular person to come
to Reception. It happened to me the day my father died in 1971, which was the
last time I ever went to the Ritz.
One day during WW2 I was sitting in the Regal Cinema in Edmonton when a
message come up on the screen stating, "An air raid is in progress. Anybody wishing to leave the cinema can do so". The film continued to run and nobody moved. There was a saying at the time, "If it's got your name on it, it will get you [anyway, wherever you are]"
As already mentioned, there were also interruptions from customers arriving mid-film.
The national anthem
At the end of the evening programme, the organ played the National Anthem.
I am told that something appropriate like the Union Jack or the royal family
was shown on the screen at the same time, although I don't remember that. Everyone
- well, almost everyone - stood for the National Anthem. Occasionally a few
people made a beeline for the exit before the National Anthem started, but everyone else glared at them. I don't
suppose they noticed.
The film stars
This was the heyday of Hollywood and many of the actors who always seemed
to be known as 'film stars' were household names. I collected their photographs
by posting off requests to the production companies in Hollywood and invariably
received a large signed photograph in return. At least, I thought it was signed,
although it was probably a reproduced signature. I often received unsolicited
autographed photographs too. I am surprised that this was regarded as a cost-effective
form of advertising, but it certainly happened.
This website Join me in the 1900s is a contribution to the social history of everyday life in early to mid 20th century Britain, seen through personal recollections and illustrations, with the emphasis on what it was like to live in those times. It is © Pat Cryer.