Children's Saturday cinema in the era of silent films

typical old cinema showing silent films

Saturday morning cinema, known then as 'Saturday morning pictures' was a treat for children on Saturday mornings when they were of course off-school. During the early 20th century, it was a wonderful form of escapism for children of ordinary working class families. This page gives firsthand experiences of Saturday Morning Pictures in the era of silent films which lasted from the late 19th century to the late 1920s.


By the webmaster's mother (1906-2002) from firsthand observations, edited with further research by the webmaster

My experience was at the Alcazar in Edmonton, but I know that it was typical of elsewhere throughout England.

Costs of going to the Saturday morning pictures

We paid a penny each to see the programme and then came out with an orange or a bag of sweets. This was good value, but the picture palace [cinema] was always packed, so it no doubt made a good profit.

In my family, and almost certainly in others, it was worth the money for my mother to get us children away from 'under her feet' as she always had a lot to do.

Sound effects for the silent films

As the films were silent ones, there was always a the pianist who would give effects by playing music to add to the excitement of what was being shown. Pianists invariably were good at this. It must have been quite difficult as they had to learn their parts well in order to play the right sort of music at the right time. I know that cinemas had organs later in the century, but this was not in my time.

We children, ourselves, would add our own sound effects. The films may have been 'silent' but the auditorium certainly wasn't.

When gringo [which seems to have been a term for a bad American in a film] was about to attack from behind, we children would shout out, "Look behind you" - as if she could hear us! - and boo. How we would scream when the hero was about to fall from a five storey building! Children of today would not turn a hair at such things.

In fact, we childrenwould join in with whatever the action on the screen by cheering, booing, hissing and clapping.

The serial

There was always a serial running over several weeks. The Perils of Pauline come to mind. Every episode ended on a dramatic climax which kept us children coming back next week for more. The actress who featured a lot in the serials was Pearl White. The villain of the piece would capture her, tie her up and put her somewhere terrifying like on the railway line of an oncoming train.

The films

Some of the films that were shown were Charlie Chaplin comedies, Buster Keaton stunts, Harold Lloyd thrillers and Laurel and Hardy slapsticks.

Saturday Morning Pictures in later years

I understand that the experience of Saturday Morning Pictures was quite different when the 'talkies' arrived - see the page on Saturday Morning Pictures in the 1940s, 50s and 60s.

Attendance at Saturday Morning Pictures began dropping off as televisions started coming into homes. According to Wikipedia, only 300 British cinemas were still putting on a Saturday matinee show for children by 1978.

If you can add anything to this page or provide a photo, I would be pleased if you would contact me.

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