At the pictures
In 1901, the film industry was still in its infancy
and many of its early products now seem to us to be amateurish.
Local entrepreneurs, such as Sagar Mitchell and James Kenyon
(who were based in Blackburn at the turn of the century),
made 'local films for local people'. These have been described
as social records of late Victorian and early Edwardian life.
Filming groups of workers leaving their factory or workplace
could guarantee a local audience, all anxious to see themselves
in a 'moving picture'.
Films were shown at fairgrounds, music-halls,
village halls, private parties, and even disused shops. Purpose-built
cinemas, known as 'electric palaces' or 'bioscope theatres'
did not appear until about 1904. One turn of the century viewer,
George Pearson, recalls his first show:
It was outside a derelict greengrocer's shop. The hawk-eyed
gentleman on a fruit-crate was bewildering a sceptical crowd
peroration was magnificent: 'You've seen pictures of people
in books, all frozen stiff. You've never seen people come
alive in pictures, moving about natural like you and me. Well,
go inside and see for yourself living pictures for a penny'
The tin apparatus burst into a fearful clatter, and an oblong
picture slapped onto the sheet and began a violent dance.
After a while you discerned it was a picture of a house, but
a house on fire. Flames and smoke belched from the windows,
and someone mounted a fire escape, little human figures darted
about below, and then
Bang! Everything ended. The light
went up. The show was over. Exactly one minute. I had been
to the cinema.
(from Rachael Low & Roger Manvell's The History
of British Film (1948).)
Enter the 1901
cinema to view film clips.
Electrophones and music halls
The electrophone was a telephone-based
service that allowed subscribers to listen in to concerts,
theatrical performances and even sermons in fashionable churches,
either at home or at listening-in points. This now almost-forgotten
predecessor of radio - or even the internet - was available
in 1901 to those who had the money to pay for it. It ceased
to be viable in the 1920s, partly due to competition from
The performances broadcast on the electrophone included those
from music-halls, which were still very popular in 1901. For
those who lacked the time or money for 'regular' theatre, the
music-hall variety show provided a cheaper and simpler alternative.
As H. Chance Newton, writing in George R. Sims' Living London,
remarked, the audience:
can take or leave the entertainment at any hour
they please - the programme given being, of course, everything
by "turns" and nothing long. Besides all this -
and it is an important factor - there is the chance of enjoying
a smoke, a luxury prohibited in all theatres run under the
Lord Chamberlain's licence.
In December 1901 the Hackney Empire in east London was opened
as a music-hall; it survives today as a theatre.
Pubs were also important venues for relaxation and entertainment.