picture palaces and 'going to the pictures'
The Ritz cinema, Edgware, reproduced according to the terms and conditions
of Flickr. Click for a larger image.
Seeing the photo of a Ritz cinema so water stained
was awful for me. I remember the Ritz at Bowes Road in its heyday as a gleaming white
When I grew up in the 1940s and 1950s, no-one ever spoke of 'going to the
cinema' or 'going to the movies' or even 'seeing a film'. It was always 'going
to the pictures'. I don't think I properly registered the word 'cinema' until
the late 1950s. Older people still spoke of 'picture palaces' and 'picture houses'.
Where I lived in Edgware, north London, our cinema was at the corner of Station
Road and Manor Park Crescent. It was called The Ritz.
There were several national groups of cinemas, with each group showing the
same programme at the same time, normally for a week. These groups were
known as 'cinema circuits'. The main ones I remember
were ABC, Gaumont (also known as Gaumont British), Odeon and Savoy. If a programme somewhere didn't happen to
appeal, there was always another cinema, belonging to another circuit, not far
Our Edgware Ritz was part of the ABC cinema circuit.
The popularity of the cinema
Going to the pictures was extremely popular. There was nothing similar
at home because ordinary families didn't yet have
televisions. Even in the late
1950s, as televisions trickled into homes, the screens were tiny and the choice
of programme was small.
Going to the pictures was an outing for young and old alike. So most
towns and large villages had their own cinema.
In the 1940s and early 1950s I went to the cinema with my mother, who always took me as
a treat on the last afternoon of the school holidays. In the later 1950s I went with
my friends in the evenings.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s I also went to
Saturday Morning Pictures which was
for children and teenagers.
Prices of cinema seats
In the forties I think the pricing at one time was 9d (in
pre-decimal money) for the rows nearest the screen; a
shilling for those further back; 1/6d for the rear ones,
and 2/- for the balcony. The further back you sat the less necessary it was to swivel your head to encompass the whole screen.
I don't remember how much it cost to go to the cinema but fortunately
others' recollections are better than mine - see the box. I do remember,
though, that prices increased for seats further away from the screen.
Presumably the distance was considered easier on the eyes. In the front
seats, known as the 'stalls' it was also tiring to have to keep looking
slightly upwards at the screen.
Going to the pictures once a week was cheap enough to be within
the means of ordinary families as treat.
Cinemas during the war
Although I was too young to go to cinemas or theatres in the
Second World War, and my mother would never have left me to go by herself, I understand
that they closed fairly early in the evenings to allow people to get home before
the air raids started.
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.