The people and the pictures. The British working class and film in the 1930s

  • Peter Stead


‘Nothing but films, films, films’ was J. B. Priestley’s complaint about the entertainment available to him in Leicester one autumn evening in 1933.1 A few years later the Welsh novelist Jack Jones recalled his mother’s resigning herself to the fact that it was ‘Nothing but pictures now’.2 We are reminded then that what was increasingly referred to as ‘going to the pictures’ had become a popular form of recreation in the 1920s and then almost a way of life in the 1930s. There was no shortage of social observers to record the staggering statistics: London had 266 cinemas by 1921, Liverpool had 69 by 1932; by 1938 some 20 million tickets were being sold every week which meant that 40 per cent of the people went to the pictures once a week and 25 per cent, the first and perhaps only genuine ‘movie buffs’, went at least twice a week.3


Labour Movement Good Film Local Cinema American Film Popular Front 
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  1. 1.
    J. B. Priestley, English Journey (1934) p. 121 of 1937 cheap edition.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Jack Jones, Unfinished Journey (1938) p. 185.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Taken from various references in C. L. Mowat Britain Between the Wars (1955) which is still unrivalled as an account of the era.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    D. H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928) p. 158 of Penguin edition.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    J. B. Priestley, The Good Companions (1929) p. 227 of Penguin edition.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    B. L. Coombes, Miners Day (1945), p. 28.Google Scholar
  7. 9.
    For the unemployed see Hilda Jennings, Brynmawr (1934), for women J. B. Priestley, English Journey, p. 201Google Scholar
  8. Fenner Brockway, Hungry England (1932) p. 33 et seq. Google Scholar
  9. for juveniles A. J. Lush, The Young Adult (1941).Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Gwyn Thomas, A Frost on My Frolic (1953 — reprinted 1968), chap. VII.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Allen Hutt, The Condition of the Working Class in Britain (1933) p. 177.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Dylan Thomas, Portrait of the Artist As A Young Dog (1940).Google Scholar
  13. 14.
    H. J. Edwards, The Good Patch (1937) p. 162.Google Scholar
  14. 15.
    Raymond Durgnat, A Mirror for England (1970) p. 6.Google Scholar
  15. 16.
    Gilbert Seldes, Movies for the Millions (1937) p. 4.Google Scholar
  16. 26.
    Paul Rotha, ‘The Movies and Reality’, Sight and Sound, vol. 6, no. 22, p. 90. Truffaut is quoted at the outset in Roy Armes, A Critical History of British Cinema (1978).Google Scholar
  17. 29.
    Paul Rotha, Rotha on the Film, (1958) p. 255.Google Scholar
  18. 33.
    The outstanding book on Documentary is William Stott, Documentary Expression and Thirties America (1973)Google Scholar
  19. and the world in which British documentary film-makers worked is best explained in Samuel Hynes, The Auden Generation (1976).Google Scholar
  20. 42.
    Roger Manvell, Film (1944) pp. 67–9 of the Pelican edition.Google Scholar
  21. 45.
    The Citadel (1938), directed by King Vidor, and The Stars Look Down (1939), directed by Carol Reed.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Nicholas Pronay and D.W. Spring 1982

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter Stead

There are no affiliations available

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