Flea-pits and Picture Palaces at Whiteways – Rottingdean

Another series of talks for the autumn got off to a good start with Sarah Tobias,

   talking about “FLEA-PITS & PICTURE-PALACES”

The history of cinema-going, particularly in Brighton & Hove 1896-1960, including rare footage of silent films, filmed in Hove. This in the opening of the Duke of York’s Picture Theatre in Brighton.

Sarah is a social historian and a lecturer and seemed to know every detail of the beautiful architecture of our lost picture palaces. It was easy to imagine how exciting it must have been for ordinary people to enter such grand places and to see things they had never experienced up there on the screen – jungle animals, newsreel items, comedy.  She also had many interesting anecdotes, one was about usherettes spraying the audience with flea killer. It was, however, a fact that if a projectionist married an usherette they could no longer work in the same theatre.

Some of the early cinemas had coffee shops and ballrooms as well as films, people in the audience had visited some of those that had been demolished in their youth.

Apparently there appeared to be special light in Shoreham and this attracted some of the early film makers to make films there.

Sarah reminded us of  films associated with Brighton including ‘National Velvet’,  written by Enid Bagnold  in 1935 and filmed in 1944 staring Elizabeth Taylor. Enid Bagnold lived in North End House in Rottingdean where the garden inspired her play ‘The Chalk Garden’.  Of course this family has another famous name associated with it, the late Enid Bagnold’s great-grandchild is Samantha Cameron wife of the Prime Minister.

Other famous Brighton films were ‘Brighton Rock’, ‘Genevieve’ and  ‘Oh What a Lovely War’ the film in which our family performed with marionettes they had made especially for it in 1969. I still have them!   We also knew Kenneth More who starred in ‘Genevieve’ because we often performed  with our marionettes at the private parties of the stars and for the aristocracy!

After a break in the proceedings which included a glass of wine, Sarah ended the evening by running some very old films.  One was a drama featuring Hove fire station and rescuing a family from a fire.  There were newreel items and some comedy, namely featuring a lot of washing and the appearance of one of two chimney sweeps!  We all joined in with boos and cheers. Of course the original films would have had a musical accompaniment on the piano too.

Sarah has a great website with details of several other talks in the near future. http://sarah-tobias.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/events-courses-classes-lectures-talks.html

The talks at Whiteways are always interesting and the audience  friendly, the price of £7.00 includes a glass of wine and nibbles in the interval. Great atmosphere, fun evening. Worth checking out this autumn’s programme. http://www.rwc.org.uk/page3.html

All around us last night were prints for silent auction, the proceeds from which will help the continuing to fund the centre. There is also a market of  secondhand items open this week.

        some pics in silent auction.


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all Ann’s films are on this very long link!


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